Bullying has become a universal problem over the years, with dozens of countries facing an epidemic of bullies in their respective societies. Bullies and their victims can be found among all nationalities, cultures, ethnic backgrounds, race, ages and gender. School bullying, workplace bullying and cyberbullying are among some of the most common types of bullying that people recognize in modern society today. However, bullying can occur at home, in social environments, in local parks and playgrounds, in the armed forces and almost any other setting where people gather.
What is Bullying?
According to Duhaime’s Law Dictionary, bullying is defined as: “Repeated, persistent and aggressive behavior intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another person’s body, emotions, self-esteem or reputation.” A bully, therefore, would be an individual who carries out such bullying behavior.
In Ontario, Canada, the bullying definition was extended to include the following: “The behavior occurs in a context where there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the pupil and the (bully) based on factors such as size, strength, age, intelligence… etc.”
According to law professor Daniel Weddle, this imbalance in power could be due:
- Victims being outnumbered by bullies
- Victims being physically handicapped, making it impossible to confront bullies
- Bullies being too popular for victims to “dethrone”
A bully may resort to verbal abuse, physical violence or both to harm his or her victims as well as intimidate bystanders who are present at the time. While threatening victims, bullies often frighten the audience into silence as well, making it easier for them to get away with their aggression.
Although the typical stereotype of a bully is someone coming from a troubled background with no moral training, low self-esteem, etc., Professor Weddle characterized bullies in a totally different light by saying: “Bullies are not the insecure, unloved children that populate stereotypical notions of bullying. They are far more likely to be confident, popular and intelligent. They know how to turn the tables on victims who complain to school officials, and they know how to deflect blame even when they are caught victimizing another child. Their most important and widely shared characteristic is actually a lack of empathy.”
Bullies can be found in countries all over the world. In the UK alone, bullies affect the lives of thousands of primary, middle school, high school and university students. According to information gathered by the Diana Award’s Anti-Bullying Campaign:
- 45% of UK youth experience some form of bullying before turning 18
- 36% of UK’s young people between the ages of 8 and 22 fear becoming a victim of harassment or violence at school or university
- 38% of UK students feel their school needs to take bullies more seriously
- Over 16,000 UK students refrain from going to school due to problems with bullies
- 83% of UK young people feel bullying has had an adverse effect on their self-esteem and
- 10% have tried to commit suicide due to being victims of aggressive acts.
Distinguishing Bullying Behavior
Bullying behavior may be direct (face to face verbal confrontations, physical violence) or indirect (rumors or gossip spread behind a person’s back). Verbal abuse may include personal insults, verbal threats or ridicule that causes mental or emotional harm. Physical abuse may consist of pushing, kicking, punching, biting or other form of physical assault with or without a weapon. Although indirect bullying may not seem as offensive as verbal or physical abuse, it can cause just as much damage. Indirect bullying can ruin a student’s reputation, damage personal friendships and cause victims a great deal of humiliation and shame.
In their book, An Educator’s Guide to Safe Schools, authors Eric Roher and Robert Weir write: “The primary purpose of indirect bullying is social exclusion or the damaging of a child’s reputation or status within a peer group. Examples … include spreading malicious rumors or gossip about a child, writing hurtful comments about a child, and/or encouraging others not to play with a child. Girls have a greater tendency to take part in indirect bullying than boys.”
Understanding the Reasons for Bullying
Bullying may occur between students, professionals on the job or “friends” or strangers online. Sometimes kids and teens bully their peers in school; other times they may be bullied by siblings or parents at home. Adults may bully colleagues at work or act as a bully among family members at home.
Why do people bully? UK anti-bullying charity “Ditch the Label” recently conducted a study involving 8,850 participants to seek answers to that question. Those participating were asked to define what bullying meant to them and if, according to their definition, they had ever been guilty of bullying others. Of those surveyed, approximately 14% confessed to having bullied someone at some point in their lives.
Researchers then began to inquire more into the participants’ personal situations, asking them questions about their home life, relationships, behaviors, stress levels, etc. They compared all the participants’ answers, taking into account that some had no history of bullying, some had occasionally bullied and some bullied on a regular basis. The results of their findings provided factual evidence supporting the following reasons for why people bully:
The data collected by the Ditch the Label study indicated that stress and pressure could result in bullying. Stress could be due to a number of reasons such as death in the family, divorce, financial burdens, medical problems, etc. People respond to stress in different ways. Adults, for example, may handle a death in the family or divorce in a more mature manner than a teen or child. Undue stress or trauma could cause children or teens to respond with anger, negativity or depression, leading to bullying behavior. Some teens resort to alcohol or drugs as an outlet for their negativity, further complicating their behavior problem.
In some cultures, aggressiveness is encouraged by society at large, especially among males. Many cultures expect guys to be strong and aggressive while girls are expected to be more emotional and caring. In the Ditch the Label study, approximately 66% of those who confessed to bullying were male. Cultures that promote power and aggression as positive traits shouldn’t be surprised when young people bully or use violence as a means of obtaining their goals. Young teens could very well be resorting to aggressive bullying behavior due to the influence of their culture.
A young person’s home life can play a role in bullying. Of those that bullied daily, one third felt they were not receiving sufficient attention from their parents and/or guardians at home. Although some bullies come from hostile home environments where violence is the norm, others may be smart kids who are simply left to their own devices due to both parents working and ignoring their needs. A lack of love, attention and security can cause kids to resent and bully others. In like manner, kids who are not taught moral values or respect for others are more likely to bully due to growing up with intolerance and poor attitudes and mindsets.
Insecure friendships and family relationships can lead to bullying. Bullies often feel insecure around others, making it easy for them to be pressured into doing things they may not want to do. They lack loving guidance and support from people they respect and trust. It’s not unusual for kids who feel doubtful and insecure to overcompensate by being forceful and aggressive with others.
Victimized by Bullies
According to survey results, bully victims showed greater inclination to become bullies themselves at some point in time. Victims resort to abusive behavior to defend themselves from future abuse. It’s not uncommon for kids who are rejected socially to turn around and display the same behavior towards their peers.
Bullying causes kids to lose confidence, self-respect and vision for their future. As such, they may develop anti-social behavior that further separates them from family and friends. Parents and teachers can help kids break out of this vicious cycle by giving them the time, support and attention they need to raise their confidence and self-esteem.
Who Do Bullies Pick On?
Some people are more likely to be targets of bullies than others. However, this doesn’t mean it’s the victim’s fault. Bullies frequently have unresolved issues that they take out on others. They often choose people they feel are easy targets to take out their anger, frustration or fears.
Many times bullies target people who are different and stand out from the crowd. In some cultures, such as Japan, individuality and uniqueness are frowned upon, already making these individuals ‘persona non grata’ in a school or work environment. Such people make easy targets for bullies as they already stand out in a negative way due to not conforming with those around them.
Other times, bullies choose people who are weak or have specific faults that others look down on. People who fall into the following categories may be victimized more than others:
- “Unacceptable” Appearance: Kids or teens who are overweight, underweight, very tall, very short or have unattractive features that make them stand out (frizzy hair, big nose, big ears, bucked teeth, etc.)
- Race: People of a minority race or different ethnic background than the majority of kids in their class or school, such as a black student in a predominantly white school or vice versa; in some cultures, foreign students or part foreign students are targeted more by bullies.
- Special Needs: Children who are physically or mentally challenged, slow learners and autistic children. Sometimes smart children are targeted such as “nerds” or those who are exceptionally gifted in some area due to bullies being jealous or envious of their abilities and skills.
- Loners: Students who keep to themselves or look like they don’t have any or many friends
- Ill Tempered People: Bullies love kids with fiery tempers as they’re easy to “set off,” making a huge display for their audience. Bullies then get greater credit for their actions as well as more attention from their peers.
Sometimes students are bullied for something they did in school or failed to do, such as performing poorly in sports and causing their team to lose. A bully may target students for getting involved in situations or causes that he or she disapproves of such as an anti-bully rally or campaign. A student who stands up for his or her convictions may be bullied for not going with the crowd. Bullies may even ridicule or tease students for embarrassing mistakes they make, further adding to their humiliation and shame.
People are often tempted to blame themselves for being targeted by bullies. Students rationalize that there must be something wrong with them for bullies to single them out. As such, they try to change various aspects of their appearance, behavior or beliefs in order to be accepted by their peers. Changing negative personality traits such as a bad temper or arrogant attitude can make it easier for students to make friends and be accepted by others, which could result in less bullying. People who have done nothing wrong, however, should not take blame for the situation at hand. Bullying is not a victim’s fault and those targeted by bullies shouldn’t feel guilty or manipulated by perpetrators of bullying acts.
Bullying Affects Everyone Involved
Bullying behavior can have adverse effects on both victims’ and bullies’ lives. Victims may seem like they’re getting the shorter end of the stick, but bullies also suffer from their actions. Some of the most common bullying effects on victims include:
Loss of confidence and self-esteem
Even bright and promising students can lose confidence and self-esteem after being bullied for some time. Perpetual bullying can make it difficult for students to concentrate in school, causing them to lose out on a quality education. In some cases, students refuse to return to school, dropping out altogether. Young bully victims may become isolated and withdrawn, missing out on the fun and excitement of their teen years. In severe cases, victims may fall into deep depression and ponder suicidal thoughts.
Students who are consistently bullied may begin to show signs of physical health problems due to lack of sleep, fear and anxiety. Some students suffer from headaches, nausea, chills and vomiting at the thought of going back to school, knowing they may face an encounter with bullies. Students who suffer from asthma, stuttering or certain phobias may find their symptoms increasing due to the stress and pressure of being bullied.
Bullying victims may develop an inferiority complex which can affect their social habits. Children and teens that are normally friendly and outgoing may become angry and withdrawn. Those who formerly enjoyed an active lifestyle may become more secluded due to fear of being rejected or betrayed by friends. Bullying can completely change a student’s way of life, causing him or her to feel like a social outcast.
Bullies also suffer from ill effects from their abusive behavior:
History of Violence
Young people who engage in bullying early on in school may find it difficult to stop as they grow older. Their history of violence may follow them into adulthood, making it difficult to get a job, make friends or establish a lasting relationship. Their bullying habits may lead them to criminal activity that can destroy their future.
Substance Abuse Problems
Bullies have increased risk of having substance abuse or alcohol problems which can have serious repercussions on their future.
Both victims and bullies have greater risk of developing behavior and mental problems later on in life.
Bullying Prevention: Is Punishment the Answer?
Taking into consideration some of the reasons why people bully – stress, insecurity, culture, poor relationships – psychologists are considering whether punishment is really the solution to putting a stop to bullying behavior. Experts recognize the fact that bullying is a “learnt behavior” – not a trait that people are born with or inherit from their kin. Bullies are not born – they are made. As such, they can be “unmade,” i.e. their behavior can be changed. Although punishment has its place, it shouldn’t be the only tool educators and government agencies use to remedy this problem.
Punishment alone is often ineffective in curtailing bullying because:
- It gives bullies the attention they seek. It puts them in the limelight for everyone to see and reinforces their position.
- It adds to a bully’s negative situation, fueling his or her stress, anger and resentment.
Concerning bullying prevention, Debra Chasnoff, a San Francisco filmmaker who filmed videos of school bullies and victims telling their stories, had this to say: “Just focusing on tough discipline isn’t enough. Schools should place a priority on building community. Teachers who can get kids to know and trust each other, to empathize with each other, will have fewer problems in the classroom and on the playground. You are less likely to turn on someone you know as a fellow human being.”
Schools’ Role in Preventing Bullying
As bullying occurs so frequently on school grounds, it only makes sense for schools to look for productive ways to combat this problem and safeguard their students. Schools have the advantage of working with professional educators and counselors who can make a difference in affecting change in bullies’ lives. The following are but a few steps schools can take to remedy their bullying problem.
- Help students identify early warning signs of bullying behavior so they can take action against it from the start.
- Incorporate positive communications training into their curriculum to teach students good communications skills from an early age in order to create a friendlier school environment. Teachers can also reinforce moral values in their classroom settings, helping kids understand the importance of being kind, tolerant and respectful of others.
- Work together with students to create a classroom code of conduct outlining what acceptable and unacceptable behavior looks like. Students can help establish classroom rules to help eliminate violence, verbal abuse, exclusions and other negative aspects of bullying in their environment.
- Make a forum in student classrooms where bullying can be discussed openly and honestly. The classroom is a great setting for promoting bullying awareness and helping students understand why people bully, how bullying affects others and how students should react to bullying from their peers. This knowledge can help kids safeguard each other and make better choices in their behavior. Through role-play and classroom discussions, students can gain a better understanding of bullying behavior and how they can help resolve bullying problems.
- Establish a system where kids can easily report bullying acts and get the help and support they need. Schools should also have a means of providing counseling, when needed, for both bullies and victims, giving students an outlet for the emotional distress bullying can cause.
- Organize activities and events that focus on bullying awareness to encourage students to become part of the solution rather than ignoring the problem.
- Create a safe and supportive atmosphere where students feel comfortable talking to teachers, counselors or staff about bullying problems. Students need to know their school is committed to providing them with a quality education, which includes safeguarding them from abusive behavior that can cause them harm.
What Can Parents do to Stop Bullying?
Parents also play a key role in putting a stop to school bullying. Those who stay abreast of what’s happening with their kids’ education and social life can catch issues with bullying early on before they escalate into a major problem. Children and teens may not feel comfortable bringing up these issues on their own. By communicating with their young people regularly, parents can help their kids open up. The following tips can be helpful in handling bullying situations that may arise.
Bullying issues can be very sensitive for a parent. Many are tempted to meet the problem head on by confronting the bully and his or her parents personally. Most bullying experts, however, advise parents not to resort to this course of action. Parents may find themselves at odds with the bully’s parents, which could only add more fuel to the fire. It’s better for parents to work through their child’s school to see how they can remedy the problem.
Some parents take a “hands off” stance when bullying occurs, believing kids should be capable of handling these situations on their own. Most kids and teens, however, need help in handling bullies, especially when the situation involves a group of students or occurs on a regular basis. Parents should encourage their kids to report bullying either to them, a trustworthy teacher or school principal as soon as it occurs so action can be taken swiftly. Parents should also make sure they are notified of bullying incidents by their child’s school.
Parental support can make a tremendous difference in how kids handle bullying accounts. If children and teens know their parents and school will support them, they are more likely to cooperate in reporting bully activities or even standing up against bullies when witnessing an act.
Bullying behavior should never be accepted in society at large, much less within a country’s school system where it can cause irreparable damage to future generations. Parents, teachers and communities have a responsibility to educate and protect their children and teens from the dangers of bullying.
Cyberbullying: Crossing all Boundaries
In addition to traditional bullying, society now faces the growing phenomenon of cyberbullying. With new technology comes novel means of putting bullying into effect. Like traditional bullying, cyberbullying involves inflicting harm on others. Rather than face to face encounters, however, bullies use modern technology to perpetrate their acts.
What is cyberbullying? In brief, cyberbullying has been defined as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
Unlike traditional bullying that occurs at a specific time and place, cyberbullying expands the playing field with the possibility of occurring anytime, almost anywhere and using any number of online mediums. In recent years, online bullying has expanded its reach from chat rooms to texting, video and social media sites. Young people who regularly use such sites as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others face greater risk of being victims of cyberattacks.
Cyberbullying has the potential to cause serious consequences to those who are victims of cyber offenses. As many attacks are made anonymously with little chance of repercussions, victims may feel helpless in knowing how to respond. In most countries, teens make up the majority of Internet and social media users, putting them at the forefront of cyberbullying activity when it happens. In many countries, young people are both victims and perpetrators of cyberattacks.
One of the greatest dangers of cyberbullying is the long lasting mental and emotional stress it can cause in a teen’s life. Malicious material posted on social sites can be seen almost instantly far and wide. People from different parts of the world can be privy to cruel comments, ugly photos or damaging videos posted against a student online. Once material is posted online, it can be very difficult, if not impossible to remove, contributing further to the problem. Young teens are victimized daily as people view the negative material again and again. Through the Internet, bullies can cause untold damage to a teen’s character, destroying his or her dreams for the future.
Cyberattacks can cause teens to suffer from mental anguish, embarrassment and humiliation. These issues can easily overwhelm a young person with little experience in handling such duress. It’s no wonder young people resort to suicide to end their torment. Even mild cyber bullying activities can escalate into a vicious chain reaction that can lead to a victim’s early demise.
Traditional Bullying vs Cyberbullying: What’s the Difference?
In some respects, cyberbullying is more “cold and calculating” than traditional bullying due to the intensity of its effects. As cyber offenses can be viewed by hundreds or thousands of people, they make victims feel even worse than traditional bullying attacks. Here are a few more differences between cyber and “old school” bullying acts.
1. A cyberbully can easily hide his identity when committing a cyberattack. This makes it difficult for victims to determine who is behind the offense. Anonymity can make a bully feel more powerful and in control, prompting him or her to be more relentless in his or her actions.
Sometimes a cyberbully turns out to be a victim’s classmate, former friend or ex-boy/girlfriend seeking retaliation for something the victim said or did. This can be even more devastating for young people, as the bully is betraying their trust.
2. Once online posts go viral, they are instantly visible to an online audience that can reach far and wide. People viewing this material have the option of spreading it even further, causing more devastating results. Negative online posts are also very difficult to remove, ensuring victims feel the full brunt of their hurt and humiliation for a long time to come. Because Facebook is so popular with teens, bullies often use this medium to launch their cyberattacks. Facebook bullying has been the cause of many teen suicides around the world, as teens see no other recourse to end their plight.
3. As Internet bullying can be done anonymously, bullies have more confidence to launch vicious attacks. Even a mild attack, however, can escalate into a malicious cyber campaign, especially if others jump on the bandwagon “for fun.” As cyber bullies can’t see the reactions of their targets first-hand, they may not fully realize the damage they are causing. What may seem like a harmless prank could easily cause serious harm.
As more young people embrace Internet and smartphone technology, the risk of cyberbullying will rise. It’s estimated that 2/3 of youth already go online daily for personal, social and academic reasons. Teens today have the capability of being connected 24/7, making them that much more susceptible to cyberbullying offenses. Online bullying knows no geographical boundaries due to the expansive reach of the Internet. Although the Internet is a force for good in many respects, parents, students and educators should be aware of the dangers it poses to others if used in a negative manner.
Cyberbullying: Statistics and Facts
The influence of cyberbullying can be felt in countries across the globe, although some countries may experience fewer encounters with online bullying than others. The following cyberbullying statistics give greater insight into this world-wide problem.
According to 2014 studies conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center,
- Approximately 35% of 11-14 year old students have experienced the effects of online bullying, with hurtful comments and rumors being the most common offense
- Teen girls have greater risk of being cyberbullied (approximately 40%) than teen boys (29.3%)
- India and Indonesia top the list of countries where teens have experienced the most cyberattacks.
- According to a 2011 Consumer Reports survey, an estimated one million children in the U.S. were subjected to online bullying via Facebook alone
Bullying on an International Scale
Although bullying can have different connotations depending on the country and its bully definition, most countries recognize that bullying is an issue in their society. By reviewing and comparing bullying statistics and records from different countries around the world, researchers can get a general idea of how countries fare in the bullying arena.
In 2005-2006, the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) organization conducted a worldwide survey examining bullying in 40 countries around the globe. Approximately 200,000 school children participated in the poll. The results of the survey revealed some interesting facts concerning bullying on an international scale:
- In all 40 countries, boys reported a higher bullying rate than girls.
- Girls had greater tendency toward committing indirect bullying acts such as gossiping as opposed to aggressive behavior.
- Physical bullying tended to drop as children grew older. In contrast, verbal abuse increased with age.
- Bullying statistics between countries varied drastically, with some countries showing little to no involvement with bullying while others ranked incredibly high. In Sweden, only 5% of the girls taking part in the survey reported involvement with bullying as opposed to 36% of girls from Lithuania.
- The U.S. ranked midway between the best and worst cases.
- Norway, Finland, Ireland and Hungary reported the fewest bullying incidents while Greece, Latvia and Lithuania reported the highest.
From the HBSC survey, researchers also gleaned the following tidbits about bullying in specific countries and regions of the world:
Bullying in South Korea and Japan centered mostly on social exclusion as opposed to physical violence. In a culture such as Japan where conformity is encouraged, it wasn’t unusual for classmates to discriminate against students who were different or showed individuality. In Japan, such displays of bullying are called ijime.
Indonesia, a country with a predominantly Muslim population, ranked as one of the most socially connected countries in the world. Its Facebook community was rated 3rd largest in the world and the country accounted for 15% of global tweets. At the same time, Indonesian students were among those that were most bullied online.
The U.S. and Canada are known for their tough anti-bullying laws and zero-tolerance bully policies. Both countries believe in taking a hard stance against bullying. In Ontario, for example, new legislation is calling for harsher punishments against bullying offenders, despite their young age. Some experts, however, question whether zero tolerance is an effective deterrent to bullying. Dr. Shaheen Shariff, associate professor at McGill University and author of the book Confronting Cyberbullying, has her doubts that stricter punishments offer a solution to bullying. She warns, “If you’re going to expel these kids, or put them through the criminal justice system, where is the educational value?”
In contrast, policy makers in Europe and Australia feel bullying should be viewed as an educational issue and that schools should offer training to both parties (victims and perpetrators) to resolve the problem.
Meanwhile, anti-bullying measures in Nordic countries such as Finland and Norway seem to be reaching their goals. Finland recently developed a program called KIVA that involves the participation of educators and all students, to include bystanders, in combating bullying acts. The program’s high success rate has prompted its initiation in over 90% of Finland’s schools.
The effects of cyberbullying range from mild irritation to suicide, depending on the severity of cyberbullying attacks. Young tween and teen victims have reported feelings of anger, depression, frustration, embarrassment and fear, at being targeted online. Research conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center reveals that individuals who have experienced cyberbullying have much lower confidence and self-esteem than those who have not. Low self-esteem can lead to problems with negative thinking, lethargy, isolation and anxiety.
Young people who have been subjected to bullying on a regular basis may develop fears and phobias that extend into their adult years. Repeat bully victims double their risk of needing mental health treatments to get over their trauma as compared to those who have never been bullied at all. Bullying victims are also at greater risk of quitting school than their non-bullying counterparts, showing just how much bullying affects a child’s academic future.
Middle school children and young tweens 10-12 years of age are among the most vulnerable groups of children when it comes to bullying. Bullying and cyberbullying offenses tend to hit this group harder than older teens. An AP-MTV survey showed that middle school children who suffer from Internet bullying are at greater risk of committing suicide than those who have never encountered bullying at all. Eight percent of children being cyberbullied and 12% of those targeted for sexting considered the possibility of ending their lives due to the trauma of their bullying experience.
Interesting enough, when it came to bullying itself, only half of the young people surveyed considered the possibility that what they post online could have detrimental effects on their lives later on. This goes to show that 50% of young online users don’t really think about what they’re posting online or the consequences of their acts.
There are no shortcuts to putting an end to bullying in modern society. By continuing to pioneer new initiatives that counter bullying behavior and promote a more accepting society, schools and governments can make progress in this area.