What is Bullying? And What are The Many Types of Bullying in Schools?
Bullying is defined as the repetitive intent to hurt or damage an individual or a group of people that have little power to help themselves. It is an epidemic with far-reaching consequences for the perpetrators and the victims alike. Bullies use name-calling, rumors, and sometimes physical attacks to damage their victim’s self-esteem. Understanding who bullies are and how and why they choose their victims may be the first step in halting these hurtful behaviors.
Bullies can be girls or boys and of any nationality, race or creed, but there are two main types of children that are most likely to become bullies.
- While it was once believed that all bullies suffered from low self-esteem, research indicates that the majority of bullies have average to high self-esteem, and engage in bullying behaviors as a means of increasing their social status among their peers.
- Some bullies do suffer from low self-esteem, however, and these children tend to view violence as a positive force. They may not have parental involvement at home, and have a negative view of their peers and the school environment. They may be easily frustrated or anxious and have a short attention span. These children may bully because they enjoy the power they wield when making a peer upset.
Neither type of bully feels empathy for their victim, and may feel justified in their actions.
A bully is most likely to pick on a classmate who is seen as “different” than his peers, or is new to the school. Introverted students may be less likely to self-advocate against a bully. A potential victim of bullying may antagonize peers, earning a reputation of being “annoying.” They may be depressed or anxious and have few friends. A combination of these factors may create the perfect victim for a waiting bully.
Bullying can manifest in many different ways, but there are five main types:
- Physical bullying, which includes hitting, kicking, tripping or the destruction of a person’s property. This may involve a group of students attacking another, but usually is seen as a larger, stronger student picking on a smaller peer. Physical bullying not only affects the bully and the victim, but also may have an impact on innocent bystanders.
- Verbal bullying, which includes insults, teasing, name calling, sexual harassment or racist language. It also includes threats. Victims of this type of bullying may not immediately react, but in time, their grades and relationships may suffer.
- Covert bullying, which is usually attempted behind the victim’s back. This technique is meant to damage the victim’s reputation and can include rumor-starting, mimicking the victim, playing unkind jokes with the intent to humiliate the victim, or making faces while the victim isn’t watching. Covert bullying is the most frequently utilized form of bullying, and because adults may not be aware of it, it can be hard to control and stop.
- Cyberbullying, which can happen anywhere and at any time thanks to the influx of technology both at school and at home. Cyberbullying can occur through text messages or over the internet and may be known only to the victim and the perpetrator, making it difficult to control. Cyber bullies are often the victims of real world bullying, and take their frustrations out on their victims behind the privacy of a computer screen or cellular phone. Their behavior may include impersonating a victim online to make others view them negatively, spreading nasty gossip, or excluding the victim online and encouraging others to join in.
- Alienation, which occurs when bullies encourage the victim’s peers to alienate the victim during any social break time or organized game. Treated like an outcast by her peers, the victim will have difficulty forming relationships and may be prone to isolation later in life. Bullies may threaten their co-conspirators with a similar fate should they attempt to support the victim. This so-called “pack” bullying occurs most frequently in high-school, and usually lasts longer than one-on-one bullying.
Bullies are most likely to strike when adults are paying attention to something else, or when they aren’t present.
What Causes Bullying in Schools?
Bullying happens frequently in public schools due in part to the significant imbalance in the student-to-staff ratio. Because a teacher has only one set of eyes, it is covert bullying that is favored in the classroom environment, although other forms of bullying may occur in unstructured environments such as bathrooms, lunch rooms, locker rooms, sports yards or school busses. Covert bullying may go unnoticed by authority figures, giving both victims and bullies the impression that adults condone the behavior. Areas where children congregate in large numbers are prime opportunities for bullying, and it is likely to occur during unstructured times such as before and after school or during passing or hallway times. In school, most bullies choose to operate covertly so that adults won’t notice their actions. Aggressive bullying may be misinterpreted as horseplay by observing adults, and victims frequently deny that any bullying is taking place, fearing that nothing will be done. Another issue may be a supervising adult’s lack of training when they are observing a bully in action.
Types of bullying in schools vary greatly due to factors in student homes and at the school itself. Factors that may contribute to bullying include:
- Cultural Causes like television programs that glorify winning and violence as a means to achieving a goal.
- The School and its standards for treating bullying issues. A permissive atmosphere will enable hurtful behaviors to continue and increase.
- The Family with whom the student spends his or her time away from school. A punitive or inconsistent discipline style encourages children to become bullies, as do emotionally distant parents.
- Social issues that glamorize bad behavior as a means to getting positive attention. Children who lack social graces and experience jealousy or envy towards their peers are more likely to become bullies than children with good manners and good connections.
- Victims that provoke bullies by annoying their peers or using verbal aggression. This provocation may lead to a bullying situation.
Is There a Solution?
School-age children can be bullied for a variety of reasons, including their appearance, academic abilities or disabilities, likes or dislikes and interests outside of school, or even family situations over which they have no power. A victim of bullying may suddenly become disinterested in school, have phantom pains or very real illnesses when it’s time to leave the home, and become withdrawn and depressed. When parents notice these signs in their child, they will want to take action. The bullied child will need to feel safe in his academic environment to be successful in school. Concerned parents can take action to diffuse types of bullying in schools by taking one or more of the following steps:
- Talking to school administrator, counselor and teacher. Alerting these authority figures helps them understand how to better help the child, particularly in unsupervised areas in and around the school.
- Encouraging the bullied child to be assertive. Standing tall, using eye contact and ordering the bully to leave her alone may discourage the bully from harassing her again.
- Taking time to practice with the child. Parents can role-play with their child so that when the bully approaches, the child is prepared with what to say and how to behave.
- Teaching the child to move in groups, and avoid the bully. A child’s friends are his support network, and he’ll find safety in numbers. If that’s not possible, the child can be taught to avoid the perpetrator.
- Talking to the victim. Being a non-judgemental ear for the child’s concerns encourages her trust and confidence.
While these techniques may help in stopping most types of bullying in schools, parents will have to use a different approach to avoid and stop cyberbullying and social bullying. Victims of cyber bullying should not have their own cell phone or internet use revoked, but should be taught not to retaliate. If a cyber bully is sending threatening or unwanted messages, parents and children should learn to take screenshots and document the time and date of the unwanted contact. If the bully is a schoolmate, the school administrator should be alerted. The child’s email address and telephone number can also be changed to avoid future contact. Parents can take further action against bullies by reporting the bully’s phone number or email account to the proper authorities, who may see fit to suspend the bully’s privileges.