What Is Bullying?

Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated hurtful acts, words or other behavior—such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning—committed by one or more children against another. Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual in nature. For example:

•    Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting, and excessive tickling.

•    Verbal bullying includes hurtful name-calling, teasing, and gossip.

•    Emotional bullying includes rejecting; terrorizing; extorting; defaming; humiliating; blackmailing; rating or ranking of personal characteristic such as race, disability, ethnicity, or perceived sexual orientation; manipulating friendships; isolating; ostracizing; and peer pressure.

•    Sexual bullying includes many of the actions listed above as well as exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, sexual harassment, and abuse involving actual physical contact and sexual assault.

•     Cyberbullying is using the Internet or text messaging to intimidate, put down, or spread rumors about someone.

Who Is Bullied?

Victims can suffer far more than actual physical harm.

•    Grades may suffer because attention is drawn away from learning.

•    Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy, or dropping out.

•    Victims may lose or fail to develop self-esteem, experience feelings of isolation, and become withdrawn and depressed.

•    As students and later as adults, victims may be hesitant to take social, intellectual, emotional, or vocational risks.

•    If the problem persists, victims occasionally feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon carrying, or even suicide.

•    Victims are more likely than nonvictims to grow up being socially anxious and insecure, displaying more symptoms of depression than those who were not victimized as children.

•    Bystanders and peers of victims can be distracted from learning as well.

•    They may be afraid to associate with the victim for fear of lowering their own status or of retribution from the bully and becoming victims themselves.

•    They may fear reporting bullying incidents because they do not want to be called a “snitch,” a “tattler,” or an “informer.”

•    They may experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not standing up to the bully on behalf of their classmate.

•    They may feel unsafe, unable to take action, or out of control.

Bullies attend school less frequently and are more likely to drop out of school than other students. Several studies suggest that bullying in early childhood may be an early sign of the developing of violent tendencies, delinquency, and criminality.

Myths About Bullying

Myth #1: Sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt me.

Reality: Scars left by name calling can last a lifetime.

Myth #2: Children have to learn to stand up for themselves.

Reality: Children who get up the courage to complain about being bullied are saying they cannot cope with the situation on their own. Treat their complaints as a call for help. In addition, it is important to provide children with problem solving techniques and assertiveness training to deal with difficult situations.

Myth #3: Children should hit back—only harder.

Reality: This could cause serious harm. People who are bullies are often bigger and more powerful than their victims. This also gives children the idea that violence is a legitimate way to solve problems. Children learn how to bully by watching adults use their power for aggression. Adults have the power to lead by positive example.

Myth #4: It builds character.

Reality: Children who are bullied repeatedly have low self-esteem and do not trust others.

Myth #5: That is not bullying. They are just teasing.

Reality: Vicious taunting hurts and should be stopped.

Myth #6: There have always been bullies and there always will be.

Reality: By working together as parents, teachers and students we have the power to build a better future for our children. It takes time to change a culture and we need to work together to change attitudes about bullying.

Myth #7: Kids will be kids.

Reality: Bullying is a learned behavior. That is why it is important we change attitudes toward violence.

How to Prevent School Bullying


School-Level Interventions

•    Increase student reporting of bullying. To address the problem of students’ resistance to reporting bullying, some schools have set up a bully hotline. Some schools use a “bully box”: Students drop a note in the box to alert teachers and administrators to problem bullies. Others have developed student questionnaires to determine the nature and extent of bullying problems in school.

•    Develop activities in less-supervised areas. In these areas (e.g., schoolyards, lunchrooms), trained supervisors spot bullying and initiate activities that limit opportunities for it.

•     Reduce the amount of time students can spend unsupervised. Because much bullying occurs during the least supervised time (e.g., recess, lunch breaks, class changes), reducing the amount of time available to students can reduce the amount of bullying.

•    Stagger recess, lunch, and class-release times. This approach minimizes the number of bullies and victims present at one time, so supervisors have less trouble spotting bullying. However, supervisors must be mindful that most bullies are in the same grade as their victims.

•    Monitor areas where bullying can be expected, such as bathrooms. Adult monitoring can increase the risk that bullies will get caught but may require increased staffing or trained volunteers.

•    Assign bullies to a particular location or to particular chores during release times. This approach separates bullies from their intended victims. Some teachers give bullies constructive tasks to occupy them during release times. Careful victim monitoring is required to ensure that bullies do not pick on victims at other times.

•    Post classroom signs prohibiting bullying and listing the consequences. This puts would-be bullies on notice and outlines the risks they are taking. Teacher must consistently enforce the rules for them to have meaning. Schools should post signs in each classroom and apply age-appropriate penalties.

•    Have high-level school administrators inform late-enrolling students and their parents about the school’s bullying policy. This removes any excuse new students have for bullying, puts parents on notice that the school takes bullying seriously, and stresses the importance the school places on countering it.

•    Provide teachers with effective classroom-management training. To address bullying, schools should ensure that all teachers have effective classroom-management training. Because research suggests that classes containing students with behavioral, emotional, or learning problems have more bullies and victims, teachers in those classes may require additional, tailored training in spotting and handling bullying.

•    Form of a bullying prevention coordinating committee (a small group of energetic teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school staff who plan and monitor school activities.) This committee should develop schoolwide rules and sanctions against bullying, systems to reinforce prosocial behavior, and events to raise school and community awareness about bullying.

•    Hold teacher in-service days to review findings from student questionnaires or surveys, discuss bullying problems, and plan the school’s violence prevention efforts.

•     Schedule regular classroom meetings during which students and teachers engage in discussion, role playing and artistic activities related to preventing bullying and other forms of violence among students.

Administrative Interventions

The school principal’s commitment to and involvement in addressing school bullying are key. A principal who invests the time and energy to tackle the problem collaboratively and comprehensively generally will get the most effective results.

•     Assess the awareness and the scope of the bullying problems at school through student and staff surveys.

•     Closely supervise children on playgrounds and in classrooms, hallways, rest rooms, cafeterias, and other areas where bullying occurs in school.

•     Conduct schoolwide assemblies and teacher and staff in-service training to raise awareness regarding the problem of bullying and to communicate zero tolerance for such behavior.

•     Post and publicize clear behavior standards, including rules against bullying, for all students. Consistently and fairly enforce such behaviors.

•     Encourage parent participation by establishing on-campus parent centers that recruit, coordinate, and encourage parents to take part in the educational process and volunteer to assist in school activities and projects.

•     Establish a confidential reporting system that allows children to report victimization and that records the details of bullying incidents.

•     Ensure that your school has legally required policies and procedures for sexual discrimination. Make these procedures known to parents and students.

•     Receive and listen receptively to parents who report bullying. Establish procedures whereby such reports are investigated and resolved expeditiously at the school level to avoid perpetuating bullying.

•     Develop strategies to reward students for positive, inclusive behavior.

•     Provide schoolwide and classroom activities designed to build self-esteem by spotlighting special talents, hobbies, interests, and abilities of all students and that foster mutual understanding of and appreciation for differences in others.

Teacher Interventions

•    Provide students with opportunities to talk about bullying, and enlist their support in defining bullying as unacceptable behavior.

•    Involve students in establishing classroom rules against bullying. Such rules may include a commitment from the teacher to not “look the other way” when incidents involving bullying occur.

•    Provide classroom activities and discussions related to bullying and violence, including the harm that they cause and strategies to reduce their incidence.

•    Develop a classroom action plan to ensure that students know what to do when they observe a bully–victim confrontation.

•    Teach cooperation by assigning projects that require collaboration. Such cooperation teaches students how to compromise and how to assert without demanding. Take care to vary grouping of participants and to monitor the treatment of and by participants in each group.

•    Take immediate action when bullying is observed. All teachers and school staff must let children know they care and will not allow anyone to be mistreated. By taking immediate action and dealing directly with the bully, adults support both the victim and the witnesses.

•    Confront bullies in private. Challenging bullies in front of their peers may actually enhance their status and lead to further aggression.

•    Notify parents of both victims and bullies when a confrontation occurs, and seek to resolve the problem expeditiously at school.

•    Refer both victims and aggressors to counseling when appropriate.

•    Provide protection for bullying victims when necessary. Such protection may include creating a buddy system whereby students have a particular friend or older buddy on whom they can depend and with whom they share class schedule information and plans for the school day.

•    Listen receptively to parents who report bullying, and investigate reported circumstances so immediate and appropriate school action may be taken.

•    Avoid attempts to mediate a bullying situation. The difference in power between victims and bullies may cause victims to feel further victimized by the process or to believe they are somehow at fault.

Student Interventions

Students may not know what to do when they observe a classmate being bullied or experience such victimization themselves. Classroom discussions and activities may help students develop a variety of appropriate actions that they can take when they witness or experience such victimization. For instance, depending on the situation and their own level of comfort, students can do the following:

•     Seek immediate help from an adult and report bullying and victimization incidents to school personnel

•     Speak up and/or offer support to the victim when they see him or her being bullied (e.g., picking up the victim’s books and handing them to him or her)

•     Privately support those being hurt those being hurt with words of kindness or condolence

•     Express disapproval of bullying behavior by not joining in the laughter, teasing, or spreading of rumors or gossip

•     Attempt to defuse problem situations either single handedly or in a group (e.g., by taking the bully aside and asking him or her to “cool it”

Keeping Kids Safe: Helping Children Face Tough Issues

Defining the issue Bullying can be physical or social-emotional. It is characterized by an imbalance of power. It consists of repeated, systematic harassment by an individual or group.
The warning signs Withdrawal from family and school activities, shyness, stomachaches, headaches, not being able to sleep, sleeping too much, being exhausted, nightmares, social isolation, negative view of self, increasing difficulty with school achievement, and giving excuses not to go to school.
Significance of the problem Every day, 160,000 children miss school for fear of bullying. Sixty-one percent of students report witnessing bullying or taunting at least once a day (National Crime Prevention Council, 2003).
What you can do—Teach children and youth to… If they are bullied, tell the person to stop, walk away, avoid or ignore the teasing, make a joke, hang with friends, tell an adult. If they witness someone being bullied, help the person get away, recognize bullying behaviors, get an adult, recruit others to help the person, befriend the person, and speak up.
What you can do—Additional steps Be watchful—supervise young people on the playground, at bus stops, etc. Tell them that bullying is unacceptable. Reassure them and tell them they were right to talk to you about bullying problems. Work with other adults to help those who are bullied and those who bully others.