Bully “Basics”:  Who, What, Where, When

In 2014, The Centers for Disease Control and the Department of Education reported on the first uniform definition of bullying.  The core definition for bully “basics” included three elements: 1) unwanted aggressive behavior, 2) an imbalance of power and, 3) repetitive behaviors.

To be considered an act of bullying, the action in question must contain all three elements.

There are different types of bullying and each one involves a different type of behavior.  Bullying is either direct (targeting one specific person face to face) or indirect (spreading rumors or lies and all forms of cyberbullying).

  • Physical bullying involves actions like pushing, shoving, punching, spiting and in its’ most heinous forms stabbing and shooting.
  • Verbal bullying involves name calling, teasing and offensive gestures.  Relational/Social bullying deals with spreading rumors or lies, ignoring or leaving someone out.
  • Property Damage bullying happens when items are stolen, damaged or broken.
  • Electronic bullying involves use of electronic devices such as telephones, cell phones or computers to target someone.  This type of bullying is also known as cyberbullying.

The prevalence of bullying has been measured by the National Center for Education and the Bureau of Justice.

They have cited the 1 in 4 students have been the victim of bullying.  In a survey of students in grades 6 to 12, 28% indicated that they had been bullied at least once at school.  The survey also indicated that 25% of students in grades 9 to 12 had also experienced some form of bullying at school.

When asked if they had ever bullied another student, 30% indicated that yes, they had bullied others.  In general, over 70% of students and teachers have indicated that they have seen instances of bullying while at school.

When asked about cyberbullying, 9% of students in grades 6 to 12 and 15% of students in grades 9 to 12 said that they had been the victim of cyberbullying.  An interesting note here is that over 55% of LGBTQ students who responded said that they had been cyberbullied.  It is also important to note that these figures are not truly complete because only 20-30% of students report being bullied or seeing someone else being bullied.

These results lead to the question of who is at risk of being bullied?

While every student may be at risk for bullying, research indicates that students who are perceived as being different from their peers are at greatest risk.  LGBTQ students, students who dress differently, eat differently, practice different religions, have different interests…you get the idea.

Students who are antagonistic with their peers or who isolate themselves are also more vulnerable.  Students who are perceived as not being able to defend themselves due to physical or mental constraints are prone to being targeted as well.

To most people, bullying looks straight forward…there is a target and a bully and that’s it.  But if you stop to look a little closer, bullying is like a play with different people who play different roles.  Each person has a “role” or responsibility in the way bullying hurts people.

Whether they realize it or not, almost everyone reading this has been involved in bullying in some way or another.

A person’s role in bullying is not always the same.  The same person can play a different role each time they witness someone being bullied.  Here are examples of the roles someone might play in a bullying situation:

The person being bullied is the target.

They are the person receiving the unwanted attention.  The person giving the target the unwanted attention, in the form of verbal abuse, physical abuse or any other unwanted attention, is the bully.

The people (or person) that witness the bullying and do nothing are the bystanders.

The bystanders who egg on the bully by cheering or laughing are called reinforcers because they are helping to reinforce the bully’s bad behavior as being OK.

Assistants are people that help the bully by doing things like holding the target down or acting as a “lookout” for the bully so that they can avoid getting in trouble for bullying.

While it may seem like only the target is hurt by bullying, the fact is that everyone involved in bullying is hurt by it.  You may not be able to see any bumps or bruises, there are other things that can negatively affect those who are involved in bullying.

Studies show that a person who sees bullying happen but does nothing about it is more likely to experience stress, worry and even anger.  Students who repeatedly see or hear bullying interactions are more likely feel more stress at school and will try to avoid school altogether.  Believe it or not, these feelings also happen to the person who does the bullying!

There is one more role that a bystander can play.  By being an upstander, you can help prevent bullying.  Anyone can be an upstander and make changes for the better.  Upstanders have qualities in common like respect for others, empathy, bravery, risk-taking and compassion.  The more upstanders there are, the more power they have against bullying.

Bullying doesn’t happen just anywhere.

It is situational and usually happens in the same places at the same time of day.  Most often, the “hot spots” where bullying takes place are those areas where adult supervision is limited or nonexistent.  When students know that there will be no adult supervision in these areas, thy are more likely to initiate bullying behaviors.

School entrances and exits that are not monitored can become a common place where bullying can occur.  Along with unsupervised gates, any barriers or other gates that are not visible from the main arrival/dismissal gate can become a bully’s best hangout.

Playgrounds are another “hot spot” for bullying behaviors.  If playground supervisors are not easily visible or posted near potential “hot spots”, kids can easily find themselves being bullied on the playground at recess, lunch or before and after school hours.

Lockers and Hallways are often monitored by adults, however, congestion in the hallways can often disguise or hide bullying behaviors.  An overcrowded hallway can increase the chance of fighting or pushing and shoving.

Stairwells, especially those that are not regularly used, can provide a potential bully zone.  This is especially the case if the stairwell is not one that is normally used on a regular basis.

Restrooms are the number one place where most people believe that bullying takes place.  Often, students do not se the restroom during the school day for fear of being a target of bullying when there is no adult supervision.

Cafeterias are also a familiar place for bullying behaviors to take place as this is the place where students mist often interact socially during the school day.

Buses and Bus Stops, before and after school, are a common place where bullying occurs.  Bus drivers have two “blind spots” where the kids know they can misbehave without getting caught.  Directly behind the driver and in the back corners are the two places in the bus where the driver does not have a clear view of all kids while driving the bus.  Kids who walk to and from school are also susceptible to bullying.

Bullying is less likely to happen if parents and school staff can partner to increase adult visibility in these “hot spots” so that students can feel safe and know that there are adults available to help when needed.