School Bullying

School Bullying

As the safety of U.S. schools has become an important public policy issue, interest in the problem of school bullying has intensified. Research indicates that this type of adolescent victimization occurs frequently, particularly in middle school grades, and can result in serious consequences for both bully and victim. In 2002, a report released by the U.S. Secret Service concluded that bullying played a significant role in many school shootings and that efforts should be made to eliminate bullying behavior. As awareness of harassment, intimidation and bullying in the school setting have grown, state legislatures have been addressing this problem. Consequently, since 2001, all but a few states have enacted legislation of some form to combat bullying.

According to a nationally representative survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), approximately 30 percent of American schoolchildren in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children “sometimes” or more often within a semester. Bullying generally is defined as aggressive behavior or intentional harm by an individual or group repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. The act of bullying can take various forms, including physical, verbal and psychological acts. A study conducted in Finland found that boys who frequently are bullied are more than five times more likely to be moderately to severely depressed and four times more likely to be suicidal, while frequently bullied girls are more than three times more likely to be moderately to severely depressed and eight times more likely to be suicidal. In addition, nearly 60 percent of boys who were classified by researchers as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age 24, at which time, 40 percent of them had three or more convictions. Research also indicates that approximately 160,000 students avoid school every day for fear of being bullied.


The Roles Kids Play

There are many roles that kids can play. Kids can bully others, they can be bullied, or they may witness bullying. When kids are involved in bullying, they often play more than one role. Sometimes kids may both be bullied and bully others or they may witness other kids being bullied. It is important to understand the multiple roles kids play in order to effectively prevent and respond to bullying.

Importance of Not Labeling Kids

When referring to a bullying situation, it is easy to call the kids who bully others “bullies” and those who are targeted “victims,” but this may have unintended consequences. When children are labeled as “bullies” or “victims” it may:

Send the message that the child’s behavior cannot change.

Fail to recognize the multiple roles children might play in different bullying situations.

Disregard other factors contributing to the behavior such as peer influence or school climate.

Instead of labeling the children involved, focus on the behavior. For instance

Instead of calling a child a “bully,” refer to them as “the child who bullied”

Instead of calling a child a “victim,” refer to them as “the child who was bullied”Help Kids Understand Bullying

Instead of calling a child a “bully/victim,” refer to them as “the child who was both bullied and bullied others.”


Kids Involved in 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. Learn how to be more than a bystander.”

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:

Those who are both bullied and bully others may be at more risk for negative outcomes, such as depression or suicidal ideation.

It highlights the need to engage all kids in prevention efforts, not just those who are known to be directly involved.