What Is Bullying?
Bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. This behavior is repeated – or can be repeated – over time.”
Bullying is a relentless form of abuse. Contrary to what we learned growing up, bullying is not a rite of passage, bullying is not something that kids “grow out of.” Bullying can cause very serious harm that may last a lifetime.
Bullying includes repeated, intentional acts over time designed to enforce power over another and can occur at any age and in any situation.
Bullying intends to intimidate, hurt or scare another individual or group (the target) either by means of verbal abuse, coercion, physical abuse, or emotional abuse. Bullying can occur anywhere: school, family, church, work, and the neighborhood. Bullying on an international level can exist between countries, social groups, or social classes.
What Does Bullying Involve?
There are a number of factors that go into bullying and the reason that bullying can be so damaging to so many people. Here is what bullying involves:
1) An Imbalance of Power: bullies use their power to control or harm their target. The targets may have a hard time defending themselves.
2) Repetition of Bullying Acts: The act of bullying – or the threat of the act- is repeated to the bullying target.
3) Intent to Cause Harm: We’ve all screwed up and behaved in a way that may not be the kindest to another person. Bullying, however, is no accident. A bully intends to cause harm to his or her victim.
The Kids Involved in the Bullying:
The roles kids play in bullying are not limited to those who bully others and those who are bullied. Some researchers talk about the “circle of bullying” to define both those directly involved in bullying and those who actively or passively assist the behavior or defend against it. Direct roles include:
- Kids who Bully: These children engage in bullying behavior towards their peers. There are many risk factors that may contribute to the child’s involvement in the behavior. Often, these students require support to change their behavior and address any other challenges that may be influencing their behavior.
- Kids who are Bullied: These children are the targets of bullying behavior. Some factors put children at more risk of being bullied, but not all children with these characteristics will be bullied. Sometimes, these children may need help learning how to respond to bullying.
Even if a child is not directly involved in bullying, they may be contributing to the behavior. Witnessing the behavior may also affect the child, so it is important for them to learn what they should do when they see bullying happen. Roles kids play when they witness bullying include:
- Kids who Assist: These children may not start the bullying or lead in the bullying behavior, but serve as an “assistant” to children who are bullying. These children may encourage the bullying behavior and occasionally join in.
- Kids who Reinforce: These children are not directly involved in the bullying behavior but they give the bullying an audience. They will often laugh or provide support for the children who are engaging in bullying. This may encourage the bullying to continue.
- Outsiders: These children remain separate from the bullying situation. They neither reinforce the bullying behavior nor defend the child being bullied. Some may watch what is going on but do not provide feedback about the situation to show they are on anyone’s side. Even so, providing an audience may encourage the bullying behavior.
- These kids often want to help, but don’t know how.
- Kids who Defend: These children actively comfort the child being bullied and may come to the child’s defense when bullying occurs.
Most kids play more than one role in bullying over time. In some cases, they may be directly involved in bullying as the one bullying others or being bullied and in others they may witness bullying and play an assisting or defending role. Every situation is different. Some kids are both bullied and bully others. It is important to note the multiple roles kids play, because:
Characteristics of A Bully:
It’s hard to know exactly what makes one person bully and another person not bully; however, there are some characteristics of people that bully.
Those who bully thrive upon controlling and domineering other people. Not all bullies will exhibit every behavior listed, but these are general characteristics of those who bully:
- Lack of empathy and are unable to understand why others may be hurt.
- Are impulsive and hot-headed
- Have a dominant personality
- Quick to anger
- Dislike rules and infrequently follow them
- View violence positively
- Lack of warmth from parents
- Overly-permissive or overly-harsh parenting
- Lack of supervision by parents
- Parents provide model for bullying at home
- Home environment involves harsh, physical discipline
- Bullying can be a sign of serious antisocial behavior
- Takes pleasure in the discomfort of others
- Poor emotion regulation
- Lacks a strong friend or support network
- Was bullied
Characteristics Of A Bullying Bystander:
Bullying often takes place in front of a group of mostly-uninvolved bystanders. Often, the bully is able to create the illusion that he or she has the support of the majority of the people surrounding them. This instills a fear of speaking out against the bullies and the bullying activity. Unless the bully mentality is challenged in the earliest stages, it often becomes the “norm.”
When the bully mentality dominates this group environment, a consistent stream of abuses and injustices may become a regular feature of the group. This toxic environment may remain the norm until the bullying cycle ends.
Bullying Bystanders are often unable to see the cost that their silence in regards to the bullying behaviors has both to the individual who is the target of a bully and to the group as a whole.
A particular inability to fully empathize with the victim of a bully is present in a typical bullying bystander.
The unwillingness to intervene on behalf of the bullied victim and take the risk of becoming the next victim of the bully is what perpetuates the bullying mentality.
Bullying bystanders who do not have their own group of friends are far more likely to speak out against the bullying behaviors than are those who have a solid circle of friends.
How Do Bullies Bully?
There are a number of ways in which a bully can hurt his or her victim or victims. The ways that bullies can hurt their victims can be overt – easily recognizable – or covert – veiled under a shroud. The following are some of the methods bullies employ to gain power over his or her victim or victims:
Physical Bullying: Physical bullying includes physical contact that is intended to hurt or injure the victim or target of a bully. Physical bullying may take the form of hitting, punching, biting, or kicking. Physical bullying also includes stealing and destroying belongings of the victim of the bully. While this may physically hurt the victim of the bully(ies), physical bullying is more easily identifiable and quantifiable. Other manners in which bullies hurt their targets are less overt.
Verbal Bullying: Verbal bullying is a type of bullying that causes emotional pain, rather than (or in addition to) physical pain. There are many ways in which a bully can verbally bully his or her victim. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, making offensive remarks, intimidating their victim, making offensive jokes, threats, or otherwise berating the victim. Verbal type of bullying is harder to quantify because personal perception is key to verbal bullying. Verbal bullying – unlike physical bullying – does not leave a traceable “mark” upon the victim.
Exclusion/Social Alienation: Being excluded or left out purposefully of games and other activities is another type of bullying. Exclusion bullying includes ways to socially isolate another person. This can be accomplished by spreading rumors, talking badly about the bullying target, or convincing others to not interact with the bullying target. Bullying through exclusion or social alienation is the hardest to understand and react to because it is much more covert than other forms of bullying.
Reactive Bullying: reactive bullying is bullying in which a single bully coaxes others into joining him or her to target a specific victim. It may be unclear who the bully actually is.
Cyberbullying: Cyberbullies use electronic media such as email, instant messaging, social networking sites, blogs, and other types of internet activity to bully and harass a specific target.
What Are The Types of Bullying?
There are many ways in which bullying may occur. It’s extremely important to know the different types of bullying that may occur so that you can be on the lookout for bullying behavior.
Childhood Bullying: Once deemed a “rite of passage,” it has been determined that childhood bullying can have detrimental effects on those who experience it. Close to half of all children report being the victim – or target – of bullies during their school years.
Relational Aggression: is the use of exclusionary and/or hurtful behaviors to undermine another person’s self-esteem or status, causing harm to relationships. Relational aggression is a more subtle form of bullying. Relational Aggression uses relationships to damage or manipulate the victim’s status or friendships. Aggressors can use rumors, gossip, social exclusion/isolation, betrayal, humiliation, or lies in order to hurt their victims.
Cyberbullying: Verbal or exclusionary bullying, done by a child, preteen, or teen, that takes place on the Internet, with cell phones or other forms of social media.
Teen Rumors, Gossip, Hazing and Cliques: teenagers often employ methods such as spreading rumors or gossiping about other individuals in order to make themselves feel more powerful, while undermining the feelings of another. This can be extremely damaging to teens who are just beginning to learn about the world and their place in it.
Teen Bullying: the teenage years are some of the most difficult to live through – teens are beginning to look at the world around them, find their own way in it. One of the biggest problems for many teens is teen bullies. Teens can be vicious, cruel, malicious, and deliberately cut down those who they do not like. Teen bullying can even lead to the victim choosing to end his or her own life.
Workplace Bullying: bullying in the workplace is also often called “harassment.” Harassment is the legal term associated with workplace bullying. Harassment is not tolerated and most companies or governmental agencies have specific policies to address harassment. Many companies require their employees to complete an anti-harassment training for the workplace to reduce the type of workplace bullying.
Adult Bullying: Bullying is not just something that happens to kids: adults are just as likely to be bullied, and it is very valid to feel bullied if someone is treating you in these ways. Adults can be bullied in the workplace, in the community, and at home, and the effects of adult bullying can be just as devastating to the adult victims of bullies.
Long Term Effects of Bullying:
Bullying is not simply a short-term problem that goes away over time.
Children and adults who have been bullied may suffer MANY lingering effects, long after the bully has disappeared. These long-term effects of bullying may include:
- A greater risk for depression
- Anger – at the bully and at those who did not protect you from the bully.
- Avoidance and anxiety about settings in which bullying takes place.
- More unexplained illnesses.
- Lower grades
- Experience more feelings of loneliness
- Socially isolated from others.
- Increased incidence of being the victim of a bully
- More likely to avoid work or school.
- Difficulty trusting others.
- Lingering feelings of anger, bitterness
- Revenge-seeking fantasies
- Have lower self-esteem
- Suffering more headaches (migraine and non-migraine)
- Having a higher risk of running away
- Prone to substance abuse
- Suicidal thoughts
- Suicide attempts
Bullying and Suicide:
There is no doubt that bullying can have harmful effects on a person – higher rates of mental illness, lower self-esteem, poor self image – those are all lasting effects of bullying.
What’s even more devastating is the link between being bullied and suicide. This link proves that bullying is more than just a “rite of passage” that “kids have to go through,” but is a real problem in our world today.
Among young people, suicide is the third leading cause of death – causing over 4,000 deaths a year. For every one of these successful suicides, a hundred others attempt suicide.
Over 14 percent of high school students have thought about suicide, and half of those have actually attempted suicide.
That’s scary shit!
If you, or anyone you know, is suicidal, don’t hesitate to call the
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Boys Town Crisis Line: 1-800-448-3000
National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4-A-CHILD
Kids Help Phone Line 1 800 668-6868 (Canada)
National Hopeline: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
Additional Bullying Resources:
Stop Bullying Now – U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Stop Bullying Now” Campaign
National Crime Prevention Council on Cyberbullying – Information for parents and teens on cyberbullying.
Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – Resources for people being bullied because of their sexual orientation or gender identity/expression.
Girls Health – Bullying information for girls or parents of girls.