Bullying is peer abuse and there are both short-term and long-term consequences for students who are involved, whether as the student who bullies, the student who was bullied, or the bystanders who see or know it is happening. Research consistently shows that bullying can have immediate and long-term consequences for all those involved including health issues, impacts on mental health, and decreased academic success.
If students are afraid to attend school or spend time at school worrying about safety rather than academics, they cannot learn.
To reduce bullying, it is important to change the climate of the school and the social norms with regard to bullying. However, changes in school climate do not automatically create a change in prevalence of bullying incidents. According to an Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention 2011 Bulletin, bullying must be intentionally addressed as part of a school’s universal prevention program.
While bullying prevention programs can contribute to a positive school climate, strategies to improve climate cannot be the sole component of bullying prevention initiatives. A comprehensive approach that teaches staff and students that bullying is unacceptable and empowers them to address bullying behaviors is needed.
Dan Olweus defines bullying as when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.
According to Dr. Olweus, this definition includes three important components:
- Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
- Bullying often involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
- Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
Direct bullying involves a direct confrontation with a person and can include pushing, hitting, name calling, and taunting.
- Verbal bullying is any type of communication that causes harm to another (taunting, teasing, name-calling, extortion, threats).
- Physical bullying is harming a person or property (shoving, hitting, tripping, damaging a person’s property).
Indirect bullying is a more subtle and covert act such as social isolation, spreading rumors, or exclusion.
- Relational aggression is harm to someone’s self-esteem or group acceptance (rumor spreading, intentionally excluding someone).
- Cyberbullying involves the use of technology to harass, make fun of, or intimidate another person (posting derogatory comments, using technology to spread rumors or make threatening comments).
The three main groups that are affected by bullying are:
- Students who are bullied - those who are repeatedly exposed to negative actions from peers
- Students who bully - those who repeatedly hurt another person on purpose
- Bystanders - those who see the bullying or know it is occurring
It is important to avoid using the terms bully or victim. Labeling students can stereotype and be harmful. When students are involved in bullying, there are many roles they can play. Rarely will a person play only one role in all social contexts or with all different groups.
According to the 2016 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy and Practice report, school-based bullying likely affects between 18 and 31 percent of children and youth and the prevalence of cyberbullying ranges from 7 to 15 percent of youth. Prevalence rates can be even higher for vulnerable subgroups of youth such as LGBT youth, overweight/obese youth, or youth with disabilities.
The Bullying in U.S. Schools 2019 Status Report reflects the status of bullying among 3rd-12th graders around the United States during the 2015–2019 school years. Fifteen percent of 3rd-12th grade students said that they had been bullied 2-3 times a month or more often, and 6% reported bullying others. The most common ways in which students reported being bullied were: verbal bullying, bullying by spreading rumors, and social exclusion. The least common forms of bullying that were reported by students were having property damaged and cyberbullying.