Bullying has become more of a problem in children and teens with the popularity of social media and anonymous communication through online apps and websites. Bullying is when a person is the victim of aggressive, mean-spirited behavior from another person or group of people. This kind of behavior usually occurs in school or is school-related, and the behavior is constantly repeated and goes on for a long period of time.
Children and teenagers who bully use their unequal power against kids or teens who are younger or unable to fight back in any meaningful way. This imbalance of power is key, because bullies look for victims who cannot defend themselves. While sometimes the bullying is physical, increasingly bullying behavior is done electronically online, through apps, Facebook, other social media, or websites. This form of bullying is referred to as “electronically bullied.” The point of bullying is to exert control and cultivate fear in the victim. In short, a bully seeks to hurt their victim through physical, emotional or psychological means — or through a combination of all three.
Bullying is a serious issue of concern. According to Gentry & Pickel (2014), “victims are more likely than other students to experience physical health issues, anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation.” In addition, victims’ grades decline “and they might avoid going to school to escape victimization or drop out of school altogether.” It is so serious a problem, nearly all U.S. states have enacted laws to address it. It most often occurs within middle and high school, but has also been documented to occur among university and college students (Chapell et al., 2006) and in the workplace (Hemmings, 2014).
Types of Bullying
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are three primary types of bullying: verbal, social (also called “relational”), and physical.
Physical bullying refers to any bodily assault on the victim, such as hitting, kicking, or pushing.
Verbal bullying involves statements made directly to the victim by the perpetrator, for example, name calling, threats, abusive language, humiliation, and mockery.
In contrast to these direct types, social or relational bullying is indirect, consisting of attempts to damage the victim’s relationships with others by manipulating others’ feelings or actions toward the victim. For instance, the perpetrator might spread rumors or gossip about the victim, deliberately ignore him or her, or enlist others to isolate the victim socially.
Although relational bullying is common (Wang, Iannotti, & Nansel, 2009) and associated with long-lasting emotional distress and depression in victims (Bauman & Del Rio, 2006), studies have consistently demonstrated that teachers and school personnel tend to rate this type as less serious than the others. Additionally, participants report being less likely to intervene when they see incidents of relational bullying, they express less empathy for the victims, and they might not even define this type as “bullying” (Bauman & Del Rio, 2006; Jacobsen & Bauman, 2007; Maunder et al., 2010).
Statistics of Bullying
According to Gentry & Pickel (2014), estimates of prevalence rates differ depending on the methodology and sample used. However, overall data suggest that “24 percent to 45 percent of U.S. school children are bullied during the course of a year, and up to 20 percent are victimized several times per week (Swearer & Cary, 2003). Nansel et al. (2001) found that almost 30 percent of students in Grades 6 through 10 reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying as victims, perpetrators, or both.”
Boys have been found to engage in physical bullying more often than girls, but the evidence is mixed regarding gender differences in relational/indirect bullying (see Underwood, 2003 for a review of the evidence). Boys tend to be bullied by other boys, whereas girls report being bullied by both girls and boys (Whitney & Smith, 1993).
According to the CDC (2014), 14.8 percent of students had been electronically bullied, including being bullied through e-mail, chat rooms, instant messaging, websites, or texting, during the 12 months before the survey. The prevalence of having been electronically bullied was higher among female (21.0 percent) than male (8.5 percent) students. The prevalence of having been electronically bullied decreased from 2011 (16.2 percent) to 2013 (14.8 percent).
Nationwide, 19.6 percent of students had been bullied on school property during the 12 months before the survey (CDC, 2014). The prevalence of having been bullied on school property was higher among female (23.7 percent) than male (15.6 percent) students. The prevalence of having been bullied on school property did not change from significantly from 2011 (20.1 percent) to 2013 (19.6 percent).
Bauman, S., & Del Rio, A. (2006). Preservice teachers’ responses to bullying scenarios: Comparing physical, verbal, and relational bullying. Journal of Educational Psychology, 98, 219–231. doi:10.1037/0022-0622.214.171.124
CDC. (2014). 1991–2013 high school youth risk behavior survey data. Retrieved from http://apps.nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline
Chapell, M. S., Hasselman, S. L., Kitchin, T., Lomon, S. N., MacIver, K. W., & Sarullo, P. L. (2006). Bullying in elementary school, high school, and college. Adolescence, 41, 633–648.
Gentry, RH & Pickel, KL. (2014). Male and female observers’ evaluations of a bullying case as a function of degree of harm, type of bullying, and academic level. Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 23, 1038–1056.
Jacobsen, K. E., & Bauman, S. (2007). Bullying in schools: School counselors’ responses to three types of bullying incidents. Professional School Counseling, 11, 1–8. doi:10.5330/PSC.n.2010-11.1
Maunder, R. E., Harrop, A., & Tattersall, A. J. (2010). Pupil and staff perceptions of bullying in secondary schools: Comparing behavioral definitions and their perceived seriousness. Educational Research, 52, 263–282. doi: 10.1080/00131881.2010.504062
Underwood, M. K. (2003). Social aggression among girls. New York: Guilford.
Wang, J., Iannotti, R. J., & Nansel, T. R. (2009). School bullying among adolescents in the United States: Physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45, 368–375. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.03.021
Whitney, I., & Smith, P. K. (1993). A survey of the nature and extent of bullying in junior, middle and secondary schools. Educational Research, 35(1), 3–25. doi: 10.1080/0013188930350101