What is bullying?

By Christian Claudio

Bullying is a widespread and serious problem that can happen anywhere.  It is not a phase children have to go through, it is not “just messing around”, and it is not something to grow out of.  Bullying can cause serious and lasting harm.

Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that bullying involves:
Imbalance of Power: people who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves

Intent to Cause Harm: actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm

Repetition: incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group

Types of Bullying

Bullying can take many forms. Examples include:
Verbal: name-calling, teasing
Social: spreading rumors, leaving people out on purpose, breaking up friendships
Physical: hitting, punching, shoving
Cyberbullying: using the Internet, mobile phones or other digital technologies to harm others
An act of bullying may fit into more than one of these groups.

Test Your Bullying Knowledge

How much do you really know? Check out these facts and myths about bullying.
FACT: People who bully have power over those they bully.
People who bully others usually pick on those who have less social power (peer status), psychological power (know how to harm others), or physical power (size, strength). However, some people who bully also have been bullied by others. People who both bully and are bullied by others are at the highest risk for problems (such as depression and anxiety) and are more likely to become involved in risky or delinquent behavior.

FACT: Spreading rumors is a form of bullying.
Spreading rumors, name-calling, excluding others, and embarrassing them are all forms of social bullying that can cause serious and lasting harm.

MYTH: Only boys bully.
People think that physical bullying by boys is the most common form of bullying. However, verbal, social, and physical bullying happens among both boys and girls, especially as they grow older.

MYTH: People who bully are insecure and have low self-esteem.
Many people who bully are popular and have average or better-than-average self-esteem. They often take pride in their aggressive behavior and control over the people they bully. People who bully may be part of a group that thinks bullying is okay. Some people who bully may also have poor social skills and experience anxiety or depression. For them, bullying can be a way to gain social status.

MYTH: Bullying usually occurs when there are no other students around.
Students see about four out of every five bullying incidents at school. In fact, when they witness bullying, they give the student who is bullying positive attention or even join in about three-quarters of the time. Although 9 out of 10 students say there is bullying in their schools, adults rarely see bullying, even if they are looking for it.

MYTH: Bullying often resolves itself when you ignore it.
Bullying reflects an imbalance of power that happens again and again. Ignoring the bullying teaches students who bully that they can bully others without consequences. Adults and other students need to stand up for children who are bullied, and to ensure they are protected and safe.

MYTH: All children will outgrow bullying.
For some, bullying continues as they become older. Unless someone intervenes, the bullying will likely continue and, in some cases, grow into violence and other serious problems. Children who consistently bully others often continue their aggressive behavior through adolescence and into adulthood.

MYTH: Reporting bullying will make the situation worse.
Research shows that children who report bullying to an adult are less likely to experience bullying in the future. Adults should encourage children to help keep their school safe and to tell an adult when they see bullying.

MYTH: Teachers often intervene to stop bullying.
Adults often do not witness bullying despite their good intentions. Teachers intervene in only 14 percent of classroom bullying episodes and in 4 percent of bullying incidents that happen outside the classroom.

MYTH: Nothing can be done at schools to reduce bullying.
School initiatives to prevent and stop bullying have reduced bullying by 15 to 50 percent. The most successful initiatives involve the entire school community of teachers, staff, parents, students, and community members.

MYTH: Parents are usually aware that their children are bullying others.
Parents play a critical role in bullying prevention, but they often do not know if their children bully or are bullied by others. To help prevent bullying, parents need to talk with their children about what is happening at school and in the community.

Recognizing the Warning Signs

There are many warning signs that could indicate that someone is involved in bullying, either by bullying others or by being bullied.  However, these warning signs may indicate other issues or problems, as well.  If you are a parent or educator, learn more about talking to someone about bullying.

Being Bullied

Comes home with damaged or missing clothing or other belongings
Reports losing items such as books, electronics, clothing, or jewelry
Has unexplained injuries
Complains frequently of headaches, stomachaches, or feeling sick
Has trouble sleeping or has frequent bad dreams
Has changes in eating habits
Hurts themselves
Are very hungry after school from not eating their lunch
Runs away from home
Loses interest in visiting or talking with friends
Is afraid of going to school or other activities with peers
Loses interest in school work or begins to do poorly in school
Appears sad, moody, angry, anxious or depressed when they come home
Talks about suicide
Feels helpless
Often feels like they are not good enough
Blames themselves for their problems
Suddenly has fewer friends
Avoids certain places
Acts differently than usual

Bullying Others

Becomes violent with others
Gets into physical or verbal  fights with others
Gets sent to the principal’s office or detention a lot
Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained
Is quick to blame others
Will not accept responsibility for their actions
Has friends who bully others
Needs to win or be best at everything

Know the Risk Factors Before Bullying Begins

There is no one single cause of bullying. Rather, individual, family, peer, school, and community factors can place someone at risk for being bullied or for bullying others. Even if a child has one or more of the risk factors, it does not mean that they will bully or will become bullied.

Who is At Risk for Being Bullied?

Generally, children, teens and young adults who are bullied:
Do not get along well with others
Are less popular than others
Have few to no friends
Do not conform to gender norms
Have low self esteem
Are depressed or anxious

Who is At Risk for Bullying Others?

Some people who at risk for bullying others are well-connected to their peers, have social power, and at least one of the following:
Are overly concerned about their popularity
Like to dominate or be in charge of others
Others at risk for bullying others are more isolated from their peers and may have any of the following:
Are depressed or anxious
Have low self esteem
Are less involved in school
Are easily pressured by peers
Do not identify with the emotions or feelings of others
Other risk factors for bullying others include the following:
Being aggressive
Have less parent involvement
Think badly of others
Are impulsive
Are hot-headed and easily frustrated
Have difficulty following rules
View violence in a positive way

What Does Not Increase Risk?

Location. There are no differences in rates of bullying for urban, suburban, or rural communities. Bullying happens everywhere.
School Size. The overall percentage of students being bullied does not vary based on school size, although bullying does happen more often in larger schools.
Gender. Boys and girls are just as likely to be involved in bullying. Forms of bullying may vary by gender; for instance, some research has found that girls are more likely to bully others socially.

How Do I Get Help?

There are things you can do to stop the bullying.  Visit pages that apply directly to you:
Young Adults
If you are a parent or guardian, talk to the school administration or the adult that supervises your child’s community activities.

What to Do When Bullying Continues or Gets Worse

If the bullying gets worse and you need additional help, consider the following if:

Because of Bullying:

Someone is at risk of being harmed Call the Police dial 911

Your child is feeling suicidal Call the suicide prevention Hotline
Your child is not safe in school Speak to school principal or Superintendent

School principal or Superintendent Call the State Education Department
is not protecting your child

Your child is stressed, sick, not Call a counselor or therapist
not sleeping, moody, depressed

Your child is bullied because of Contact the US Department of Education
is race, sex, disability or ethnicity Office of Civil Rights
and local help is not working to solve
the problem

Effects of Bullying

Bullying has serious and lasting effects.  While these effects may also be caused by other factors, research has found bullying has significant effects for those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying.

People Who are Bullied:

Have higher risk of depression and anxiety, including the following symptoms, that may persist into adulthood:
Increased feelings of sadness and loneliness
Changes in sleep and eating patterns
Loss of interest in activities
Have increased thoughts about suicide that may persist into adulthood.  In one study, adults who recalled being bullied in youth were 3 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts or inclinations.
Are more likely to have health complaints.  In one study, being bullied was associated with physical health status 3 years later.
Have decreased academic achievement (GPA and standardized test scores) and school participation.
Are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
Are more likely to retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

People Who Bully Others:

Have a higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults.
Are more likely to get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school.
Are more likely to engage in early sexual activity.
Are more likely to have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults.  In one study, 60% of boys who bullied others in middle school had a criminal conviction by age 24.
Are more likely to be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses or children as adults.

People Who Witness Bullying:

Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol or other drugs.
Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety.
Are more likely to miss or skip school.

The help that your child needs along with the support that will help you find a solution to your problem
is available. Do not be afraid or embarrassed reach out, ask questions, and demand that your child be protected. Your child deserves no less.

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