Bullies are aggressive children who repeatedly physically or emotionally
abuse, torment, or victimize smaller, weaker, or younger children.
Bullying usually involves an older or larger child or children victimizing
a single child who is unable to defend himself or herself. Bullying is
generally viewed as a form of harassment committed by a child or children
who are older, stronger, or otherwise more powerful socially, upon weaker
adolescents. Often, the power of the bully is dependent on the perception
of the victim, with the bullied child often too intimidated to effectively
resist the bully.
Although the stereotypical bully is male, girls engage in bullying
behavior almost as often as boys. Their tactics differ, however, in that
they are less visible. Boys who are bullies tend to resort to one-on-one
physical aggression, while girls tend to bully as a group through social
exclusion and the spreading of rumors. Girls who would never bully
individually will often take part in group bullying activities.
Bullying begins at a very early age; it is not uncommon to find bullies in
. Until about age seven, bullies appear to choose their victims at random.
After that, they single out specific children to torment on a regular
basis. Nearly twice as much bullying goes on in grades two to four as in
grades six to eight, and, as bullies grow older, they tend to use less
physical abuse and more verbal abuse.
Bullies are often popular among their peers until about sixth grade. They
average two or three friends, and other children seem to admire them for
their physical toughness. By high school, however, their social acceptance
diminishes to the point that their only "friends" are other
bullies. Despite their unpopularity, bullies have relatively high
, perhaps because they process social information inaccurately.
For example, bullies attribute hostile intentions to people around them
and therefore perceive provocation where it does not exist. "What
are you staring at?" is a common opening line of bullies. For the
bully, these perceived slights serve as justification for
Children who become the targets of bullies generally have a negative view
of violence and go out of their way to avoid conflict. They tend to be
"loners" who exhibit signs of vulnerability before being
singled out by a bully. Being victimized leads these children, who already
may lack self-esteem, to feel more anxious, thereby increasing their
vulnerability to further bullying. Being the target of a bully leads to
social isolation and rejection by peers, and victims tend to internalize
others' negative views, further eroding their self-esteem. Although
bullying actually lessens during
, this is the period when peer rejection is most painful for victims.
Sometimes the victims of bullies are larger, stronger, or older than the
bully but allow the bullying to continue because they are intimidated, do
not believe in violence, or are taught non-violence by their parents.
Studies show that students who are gay or bisexual or are perceived as gay
or bisexual experience an extremely high rate of bullying, not only by
other students, but often by teachers and other school personnel. Also,
bullying against gay and bisexual students is often ignored or sometimes
encouraged by homophobic school staff members.
According to the American School Health Association, students who discover
they are gay or bisexual often experience rejection, discrimination,
isolation, and violence, and this fact makes it all the more important for
teachers and administrators to be supportive and sensitive to them.
Schools are obligated under federal law to protect students from
discrimination and harassment, from other students as well as teachers and
all other school employees. In 1996, a federal appeals court ruled that
school officials can be held liable under the Equal Protection Clause of
the U.S. Constitution for not protecting gay and bisexual students from
harassment and discrimination. The ruling still stood as of 2004.
Extensive long-term research indicates that bullying is not a phase a
child outgrows. In a study of more than 500 children, University of
Michigan researchers discovered that children who were viewed as the most
aggressive by their peers at age eight grew up to commit increasingly more
serious crimes as adults. Other studies indicate that, as adults, bullies
are far more likely to abuse their spouses and children.
Modern schools tend to discourage bullying with programs designed to teach
students cooperation and train peers in bullying intervention techniques.
However, some schools have a zero tolerance for violence so if two
students are discovered in a fight, both are disciplined, often by
suspension, even though one may be the bully and the other the victim.
Experts say that school violence often is rooted in bullying. While
bullying is often verbal threats and
harassment, it can get out of control and turn into violence, including
the use of weapons.
Researchers who have studied bullying have concluded that up to 15 percent
of children say they are regularly bullied, and it occurs most frequently
at school in areas where there is inadequate or no adult supervision, such
as the playground, hallways, cafeteria, and in classrooms before lessons
start. Bullying usually starts in elementary school, peaks in middle
school, and drops in high school. It does not disappear, however. Although
boys are more often the perpetrators and victims of bullying, girls tend
to bully in indirect ways, such as manipulating friendships, ostracizing
classmates, and spreading malicious rumors. Boys who are regularly bullied
tend to be more passive and physically weaker than the bullies. In middle
school, girls who mature early are commonly victims of bullying, according
to some findings.
Bullying behavior can be seen as early as preschool. However, little data
exists regarding the prevalence of bullying in preschool. Preschool-age
children may bully others to get attention, show off, or to get another
child's possessions, such as
, clothing, or use of playground equipment. They may also be jealous of
the children they are bullying or may be getting bullied themselves.
Preschool bullying usually begins with name-calling and can escalate into
physical violence if left unchecked. Preschool teachers are urged to
intervene immediately to stop bullying and to teach acceptable behavior.
If teachers or staff at a preschool do not do enough to stop bullying,
parents should find another preschool.
A 2001 report by the National Institute of Child Health and Human
Development (NICHD) found that 17 percent of the respondents had been
bullied sometimes or weekly; 19 percent had bullied others sometimes or
weekly, and 6 percent had both bullied others and been bullied. The
researchers estimated that 1.6 million children in grades six through 10
in the United States are bullied at least once a week and 1.7 million
children bully others as frequently.
The survey, the first nationwide research on the problem in this country,
questioned 15,686 public and private school students, grades six through
10, on their experiences with bullying. In a study of 6,500 middle school
students in rural South Carolina, 23 percent said they had been bullied
regularly during the previous three months, and 20 percent admitted
bullying another child regularly during the same time.
Bullying appears to be rapidly increasing, according to statistics from
the U.S. Department of Justice. Among sixth-grade students, rates of
bullying rose from 10.5 percent in 1999 to 14.3 percent in 2001; among
eighth-grade students victimization by bullies went from 5.5 percent in
1999 to 9.2 percent in 2001. In the tenth grade, bullying rose from 3.2
percent in 1999 to 4.6 percent in 2001, and among twelfth graders, it
doubled from 1.2 percent in 1999 to 2.4 percent just two years later.
A bully's behavior does not exist in isolation. Rather, it may
indicate the beginning of a generally antisocial and rule-breaking
behavior pattern that can extend into adulthood. Programs to address the
problem, therefore, must reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying
behavior. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed, refined, and
systematically evaluated in Norway in the mid-1980s, is the best-known
initiative designed to reduce bullying among elementary, middle, and
junior high school children. The strategy behind the program is to involve
school staff, students, and parents in efforts to designed to develop
awareness about bullying, improve peer relations, intervene to stop
intimidation, develop clear rules against bullying behavior, and support
and protect victims.
The program intervenes on three levels:
The Bergen research showed that the program was highly effective among
students in elementary, middle, and junior high schools: Bullying dropped
by 50 percent or more during the program's two years. Behavior
changes were more pronounced the longer the program was in effect. The
school climate improved, and the rate of
, such as theft, vandalism, and
, declined during the two-year period.
The NICHD study found that bullying has long-term and short-term
psychological effects on both those who
bully and those who are bullied. Victims experience loneliness and report
having trouble making social and emotional adjustments, difficulty making
friends, and poor relationships with classmates. Victims of bullying often
suffer humiliation, insecurity, and a loss of self-esteem, and often
of going to school. The impact of frequent bullying often accompanies
these victims into adulthood; they are at greater risk of suffering from
depression and other mental health problems, including
. In rare cases, they commit
Bullying behavior has been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior,
such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school,
fighting, and using alcohol and other drugs. Research suggests that
bullying can lead to criminal behavior later in life: 60 percent of males
who were bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one
crime as adults, compared with 23 percent of males who did not bully; 35
to 40 percent of these former bullies had three or more convictions by age
24, compared with 10 percent of those who did not bully.
The NICHD study found that those who bully and are bullied appear to be at
greatest risk of experiencing the following: loneliness, trouble making
friends, lack of success in school, and involvement in problem behaviors
, illegal drug use, and drinking.
Parents should be aware of common signs that a child is being bullied.
These include trouble sleeping, bedwetting, stomachaches, headaches, lack
of appetite, fear of going to school, crying before or after school, lack
of interest in social events, low self-esteem, unexplained loss of
personal items and money, unexplained
and injuries, and
aggressively at home.
Parents should teach their children proper
that they may need to seek assistance if they are being bullied,
according to the Web site http://www.bullying.org. Other advice
for parents from the Web site include:
—Behavior characterized by high levels of anger, aggression,
manipulation, or violence.
—The persistent annoying, attacking, or bothering of another
—A severe mental illness in which a person has difficulty
distinguishing what is real from what is not real. It is often
characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and withdrawal from people
and social activities.
The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High
School—How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of
New York: HarperResource, 2004.
Weakfish: Bullying Through the Eyes of a Child.
Macon, GA: Safe Havens International Inc., 2003.
They Don't Like Me: Lessons on Bullying and Teasing from a
Boston: Beacon Press, 2004.
Preventing Bullying in Schools: A Guide for Teachers and Other
London, UK: Paul Chapman Educational Publishing, 2004.
"Anti-Gay Bullying Widespread Among Teens."
Mental Health Weekly
(January 27, 2003): 6.
Dake, Joseph A., et al. "The Nature and Extent of Bullying at
Journal of School Health
(May 2003): 173–180.
Fink, Paul J. "Treating Bullies."
Clinical Psychiatry News
(December 2003): 5.
Jellinek, Michael S. "Treating Both Bullies and the
(June 2003): 10.
"Report Cites Harm to Bullies and Victims."
Health & Medicine Week
(September 29, 2003): 706.
Bullying Prevention Program.
Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University, 158 Poole
Agricultural Center, Clemson, SC 29634. Web site:
The Healthy Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students Project.
American Psychological Association Education Directorate, 750 First St.
NE, Washington, DC 20002. Web site:
"Bullying." Available online at
http://www.bullying.org (accessed October 12, 2004).
"Bullying, Harassment, School-based Violence."
The Safe Schools Coalition.
Available online at
ence.html> (accessed October 12, 2004).