School bullying

This article is about student-related bullying at school. For teacher-related bullying at school, see Bullying in teaching.
Bullying, one form of which is depicted in this staged photograph, is detrimental to students' well-being and development.[1]

School bullying is a type of bullying that occurs in an educational setting.

Bullying without comprehensive definition, can be physical, sexual, verbal or emotional in nature. This can involve physical, emotional, verbal, and cyberbullying. For an act to be considered bullying it must meet certain criteria. This includes hostile intent, imbalance of power, repetition, distress, and provocation. Bullying can have a wide spectrum of effects on a student including anger, depression, stress and suicide. The person who is bullied is affected, and the bully can also grow up to develop different social disorders or have higher chances of engaging in criminal activity.

If there is suspicion that a child is being bullied or is a bully, there are warning signs in their behavior. There are many programs and organizations worldwide which provide bullying prevention services or information on how to cope if a child has been bullied.


There is no universal definition of school bullying; however, it is widely agreed that bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior characterized by the following three minimum criteria:[2]

The following two additional criteria have been proposed to complement the above-mentioned criteria:

Some of these characteristics have been disputed (e.g., for power imbalance: bullies and victims often report that conflicts occur between two equals); nevertheless, they remain widely established in the scientific literature.[2]


A victim, in the short term, may feel depressed, anxious, angry, have excessive stress, learned helplessness, feel as though their life has fallen apart, have a significant drop in school performance, or may commit suicide (bullycide). In the long term, they may feel insecure, lack trust, exhibit extreme sensitivity (hypervigilant), or develop a mental illness such as psychopathy, avoidant personality disorder or PTSD. They may also desire vengeance, sometimes leading them to torment others in return.[4]

Anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms are common among both bullies and their victims. Among these participants alcohol and substance abuse is commonly seen later on in life.[5]

In the short term, being a bystander "can produce feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and sadness.... Bystanders who witness repeated victimization of peers can experience negative effects similar to the victimized children themselves."[6]

While most bullies, in the long term, grow to be emotionally functional adults, many have an increased risk of developing antisocial personality disorder, which is linked with increased risk of committing criminal acts (including domestic violence).[7]


According to the American Psychological Association, "40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers."[8] Various studies show that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience bullying more often than other students.[9] The following statistics help illustrate the severity of bullying within classrooms:[8]


Statistics referencing the prevalence of bullying in schools may be inaccurate and tend to fluctuate. In a U.S. study of 5,621 students ages 12–18, 64% of the students had experienced bullying and did not report it.[19]


Proactive aggression is a behavior that expects a reward. With bullying each individual has a role to defend. Some children act proactively but will show aggression to defend themselves if provoked. These children will react aggressively but tend to never be the ones to attack first.

There have been two subtypes created in bully classification; popular aggressive and unpopular aggressive. Popular aggressive bullies are social and do not encounter a great deal of social stigma from their aggression. Unpopular aggressive bullies, however, are most often rejected by other students and use aggression to seek attention.[10]

In a survey by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), students were asked to complete a questionnaire.

A total of 10.6% of the children replied that they had sometimes bullied other children, a response category defined as moderate bullying. An additional 8.8% said they had bullied others once a week or more, defined as frequent bullying. Similarly, 8.5% said they had been targets of moderate bullying, and 8.4% said they were bullied frequently. Out of all the students, 13% said they had engaged in moderate or frequent bullying of others, while 10.6% said they had been bullied either moderately or frequently. Some students — 6.3% — had both bullied others and been bullied themselves. In all, 29% of the students who responded to the survey had been involved in some aspect of bullying, either as a bully, as the target of bullying or both.[27]

According to Tara Kuther, an associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University, "...bullying gets so much more sophisticated and subtle in high school. It's more relational. It becomes more difficult for teens to know when to intervene; whereas with younger kids, bullying is more physical and, therefore, more clear-cut."[25]

Types of bullying

There are four basic types of bullying: verbal, physical, psychological, and cyber. Cyberbullying is becoming one of the most common types. While victims can experience bullying at any age, it is witnessed most often in school-aged children.

Direct bullying is a relatively open attack on a victim that is physical and/or verbal in nature.[6] Indirect bullying is more subtle and harder to detect, but involves one or more forms of relational aggression, including social isolation via intentional exclusion, spreading rumors to defame one's character or reputation, making faces or obscene gestures behind someone's back, and manipulating friendships or other relationships.[6]

Pack bullying is bullying undertaken by a group. The 2009 Wesley Report on bullying found that pack bullying was more prominent in high schools and lasted longer than bullying undertaken by individuals.[28]


See also: Physical abuse
A female bully, portrayed in the 1917 silent film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Physical bullying is any unwanted physical contact between the bully and the victim. This is one of the most easily identifiable forms of bullying. Examples include:[29][30]


Emotional bullying is any form of bullying that causes damage to a victim’s psyche and/or emotional well-being. Examples include:[29][30]


See also: Verbal abuse

Verbal bullying is any slanderous statements or accusations that cause the victim undue emotional distress. Examples include:[30]


Main article: Cyberbullying

According to the website Stop Cyberbullying, "Cyberbullying is when anyone is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones."[33] This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of the lack of parental or authoritative supervision. Because bullies can pose as someone else, it is the most anonymous form of bullying. Cyberbullying includes abuse using email, blogs, instant messaging, text messaging, or websites. Many who are bullied in school are likely to be bullied over the Internet and vice versa.[30]

Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day and srven days a week and reach a child even when they are alone. Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages,texts or pictures is extremly difficult after being posted or sent[35]


According to the website Stop Cyberbullying, "When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyberbullying actions that took place off campus and outside of school hours, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's free speech right." [33]

Cyberbullying has become extremely prevalent; 95% of teens who use social media reported having witnessed malicious behavior on social media from 2009 to 2013.[36] As sites like Facebook or Twitter offer no routine monitoring, children from a young age must learn proper internet behavior, say Abraham Foxman and Cyndi Silverman. "This is a call for parents and educators to teach these modern skills... through awareness and advocacy."[37] Per Scott Eidler, "Parents and educators need to make children aware at a young age of the life-changing effects cyberbullying can have on the victim. The next step for prevention is advocacy. For example, three high school students from Melville, New York organized a Bullying Awareness Walk, where several hundred people turned out to show their support."[38]

Clara Wajngurt writes, "Other than organizing events, calling for social media sites to take charge could make the difference between life and death. Cyberbullying is making it increasingly difficult to enforce any form of prevention."[39] Joanna Wojcik concludes, "The rapid growth of social media is aiding the spread of cyberbullying, and prevention policies are struggling to keep up. In order for prevention policies to be put in place, the definition of cyberbullying must be stated, others must be educated on how to recognize and prevent bullying, and policies that have already attempted to be enacted need to be reviewed and learned from."[40]

Researcher Charisse Nixon found that students do not reach out for help with cyberbullying for four main reasons: they do not feel connected to the adults around them; the students do not see the cyberbullying as an issue that is worth bringing forward; they do not feel the surrounding adults have the ability to properly deal with the cyberbullying; and the teenagers have increased feelings of shame and humiliation regarding the cyberbullying.[41] Nixon also found that when bystanders took action in helping end the cyberbullying in adolescents, the results were more positive than when the adolescents attempted to resolve the situation without outside help.[41]

Sexual bullying

Main article: Sexual bullying

Sexual bullying is "any bullying behavior, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person’s sexuality or gender. It is when sexuality or gender is used as a weapon by boys or girls towards other boys or girls—although it is more commonly directed at girls. It can be carried out to a person’s face, behind their back or through the use of technology."[42]

As part of its research into sexual bullying in schools, the BBC TV series Panorama commissioned a questionnaire aimed at people aged 11 to 19 in schools and youth clubs across five regions of England.[43] The survey revealed that of the 273 respondents, 28 had been forced to do something sexual, and 31 had seen it happen to someone else. Of the 273 respondents, 40 had experienced unwanted touching.[44] U.K. government figures show that in the 2007–2008 school year, there were 3,450 fixed-period exclusions and 120 expulsions from schools in England due to sexual misconduct.[45] This included incidents such as groping and using sexually insulting language. From April 2008 to March 2009, ChildLine counselled a total of 156,729 children, 26,134 of whom spoke about bullying as a main concern and 300 of whom spoke specifically about sexual bullying.[46]

The U.K. charity Beatbullying has claimed that as gang culture enters, children are being bullied into providing sexual favours in exchange for protection.[47] However, other anti-bullying groups and teachers' unions, including the National Union of Teachers, challenged the charity to provide evidence of this.[47]

Sexting cases are also on the rise and have become a major source of bullying. The circulation of explicit photos of those involved either around school or the internet put the originators in a position to be scorned and bullied.[48] There have been reports of some cases in which the bullying has been so extensive that the victim has taken their life.[49]

Power imbalance

Bullying is usually associated with an imbalance of power. A bully has a perceived authority over another due to factors such as size, gender, or age.[50] Boys tend to bully peers based on the peer's physical weakness, short temper, friend group, and clothing. Bullying among girls, on the other hand, results from factors such as facial appearance, emotional factors, being overweight, and academic status.[51] Both sexes tend to target people with speech impediments of some sort (such as stutter).

Bullies often come from families that use physical forms of discipline.[52]


Bullying locations vary by context. Most bullying in elementary school happens in the playground. In middle school, it occurs most in the hallways, which have little supervision. According to the U.S Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, more than 47% of kids reported getting bullied in hallways and stairway.[53] Bus stops and bus rides to and from school tend to be hostile environments as well; children tend to view the driver as someone with no disciplinary authority.[54]

Bullying may also follows people into adult life and university. Bullying can take over the lives of both lecturers and students, and can lead to supervisors putting pressure on students. [55]Bullying can happen in any place at any time.

Warning signs

Victims of bullying typically are physically smaller, more sensitive, unhappy, cautious, anxious, quiet, and withdrawn. They are often described as passive or submissive. Possessing these qualities make these individuals vulnerable, as they are seen as being less likely to retaliate.[52]

Signs that a child is being bullied include:[56][57]

Signs that a child is bullying others include:[56][57]

Signs that a child has witnessed bullying include:[56][57]


Cartoon representation of a bully and a victim used to depict Western European powers and the United States "bullying" Serbia in the aftermath of the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence during the 2008 Serbian protests

McNamee and Mercurio state that there is a "bullying triangle", consisting of the person doing the bullying, the person getting bullied, and the bystander.[58]

The US Department of Health and Human Services divides the people involved in bullying into several roles:[56]

In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso divides bullies into several types:[59]

Complex cultural dynamics

Parsons identifies school bullying cultures as typically having a web of dynamics which are much more complex than just considering bullying amongst students. These dynamics include:[60]

Common misconceptions

Researchers have identified many misconceptions regarding bullying:[62][63]


Studies have shown that bullying programs set up in schools with the help and engagements of staff and faculty have been shown to reduce peer victimization and bullying.[64] Incidences of bullying are noticeably reduced when the students themselves disapprove of bullying.[65]

Measures such as increasing awareness, instituting zero tolerance for fighting, or placing troubled students in the same group or classroom are actually ineffective in reducing bullying; methods that are effective include increasing empathy for victims; adopting a program that includes teachers, students, and parents; and having students lead anti-bullying efforts.[66] Success is most associated with beginning interventions at an early age, constantly evaluating programs for effectiveness, and having some students simply take online classes to avoid bullies at school.[67]

One possible prevention and intervention for bullying is PBIS/Positive behavioral interventions and supports it is defined as a "framework for enhancing adoption of a continuum of evidence based interventions to achieve academically and behaviorally important outcomes for all students. PBIS seeks to improve school climate, reduce discipline issues, and support academic achievement."[68]

Legislation and court rulings

Some states of the United States have implemented laws to address school bullying.
  Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation only
  Law that prohibits bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation only
  Law that forbids school-based instruction of LGBT issues in a positive manner
  Law that forbids local school districts from having anti-bullying policies that enumerate protected classes of students
  Law that prohibits bullying in school but lists no categories of protection
  No statewide law that specifically prohibits bullying in schools

United Kingdom

Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides for an anti-bullying policy for all state schools to be made available to parents.

United States

The victims of some school shootings have sued both the shooters' families and the schools.[69]


In 2016, a legal precedent was set by a mother and her son, after the son was bullied at his public school. The mother and son won a court case against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, making this the first case in North America where a school board has been found negligent in a bullying case for failing to meet the standard of care (the "duty of care" that the school board owes to its students). A similar bullying case was won in Australia in 2013 (Oyston v. St. Patricks College).[70]


School shootings

Main article: School shootings

School bullying is associated with school shootings; the vast majority of students (87%) believe that shootings occur in direct retaliation to bullying.[72] School shooters who left behind evidence that they were bullied include Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (perpetrators of the Columbine school shooting), Nathan Ferris, Edmar Aparecido Freitas, Brian Head, Seung-Hui Cho, Wellington Menezes Oliveira, Kimveer Gill, Karl Pierson, and Jeff Weise.[73]

Events and organizations

Events and organizations which address bullying in schools include:

Fictional bullies

See also


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Further reading

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