THE NATURE, PREVALENCE & DYNAMICS OF BULLYING
There are all sorts of ways to bully: physically, verbally and emotionally; overtly or subtly; one-on-one or as a group; by singling someone out — or by leaving them out.
Bullies range from confident, sometimes popular kids who enjoy throwing their weight around, and feeling a sense of superiority over others; to friendless loners who look for opportunities to bully when no one will see or stop them; to victims of bullies who wind up channeling their anger and frustration into bullying someone younger or weaker than themselves.
|One of the most striking findings of researchers is the extent to which students and teachers differ in their views of how frequently bullying occurs, and how consistently and effectively it is dealt with by school staff.|
Social bullies use rumor, gossip, verbal taunts and shunning to isolate and diminish their targets, to make someone look foolish or to purposely ruin friendships. In some cases, groups of friends collectively do something they would never do individually to someone they want to scapegoat or exclude.
Bullying relationships are characterized by:
An imbalance of power. The bully can be older, bigger, stronger, more verbally adept and/or intelligent, higher up on the social ladder, of a different race or of the opposite sex. Sheer numbers of kids banded together to bully can create this imbalance.
Intent to harm. The bully means to inflict emotional and/or physical pain, expects the action to hurt, and takes pleasure in the distress it causes.
Repeated acts of aggression and cruelty over time. Bullying is not a one-time event. Both the perpetrator and the victim know that the bullying can and probably will occur again.
As the following graphic shows, bullying is a group phenomenon — involving not just the small minority of kids who bully and/or are bullied, but the “silent majority” exposed to it, often on a regular basis, in schools, neighborhoods and other settings.
graphic from Olweus Bullying Prevention Program Schoolwide Guide, Dr. Dan Olweus, 2007 Hazeldon Foundation.
Students who witness bullying can be deeply affected. They may feel angry and helpless because they don't know what to do. They may worry about becoming a target themselves. They may feel guilty for not taking action.
Even students who initially sympathize with or defend victims may eventually come to view bullying as acceptable if it is tolerated or shrugged off by responsible adults. Over time, ignoring — or being ignorant of — bullying behavior will result in a social climate that fosters disrespect, fighting, truancy and other social and learning problems in all students.
|See a list of Key Facts & Statistics about the prevalence of bullying and its pernicious effects on individuals, families, schools and communities.|
The attitudes, perceptions and behaviors of parents, teachers, coaches and other adults both contribute to and reinforce bullying among children and youth. Far too often, adults are inclined to “blame the victim,” or explain away bullying as a normal part of growing up — and even model disrespectful or bullying behavior themselves, at home, in the classroom or on the playing field.
One of the most striking findings of researchers is the extent to which students and teachers differ in their views of how frequently bullying occurs, and how consistently and effectively it is dealt with by school staff.
In several studies, for example, only 25-35% of students who had experienced bullying said teachers intervened “often” or “always” — contrasted with up to 85% of teachers who described themselves as doing so. And among the small percentage of high school freshmen in a nationwide survey who said they had reported witnessing or being the target of bullying, nearly two-thirds said the result was “nothing changed” or “things got worse.”
The majority of students in a school fall into the category of bystander or witness rather than bully or victim, and yet it is the bystander who is most ignored in research and least addressed in anti-bullying programs. Consideration of these students is crucial to the development of a strong anti-bullying plan because they are the majority, and they are the students who are most likely to be won over to creating change.
Prevention/intervention strategies should focus on increasing empathy and support for those who are victimized by bullying, raising awareness of individual responsibilities, and encouraging action by the majority of children who do not approve of bullying.
The goal is to transform schools into environments in which students experience being cared for, and caring for others; practice responsibility, fairness, tolerance, teamwork, understanding and respect for different points of view; and see themselves not as the “us” and “them” of in-groups and out-groups — but as part of an inclusive “we.”
[Note: This background paper draws on the work of Barbara Coloroso, author of “The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander.”]