Updated: Jan 6
Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon that can happen in any setting, including at work and home, but it’s most associated with schools. Studies have shown that up to 25% of school-aged children will experience bullying, and up to 9% of children engage in bullying behaviour at school.
Bullying behaviours in schools are noted to peak during middle school years, with a tendency to decrease by the end of high school. But despite how prevalent bullying is within schools, research has shown that the risk of victimisation is not equal across all students. To find out why, it’s essential to understand what bullying is and why it happens.
What is bullying?
Many researchers believe that bullying is a result of one central concept: an imbalance of power. It’s this imbalance that allows for a divide between individuals, which, in turn, creates opportunities to bully.
An imbalance of power may arise from any factors that allow a bully to perceive power over their victim. Power can be in more apparent observable inequalities (such as height and physical strength) or group sizes (three bullies versus one victim). However, other forms of imbalance can derive from an individual’s differentiating factors from the group ‘norm’. Aspects such as physical appearance, style, learning difficulties and social status are examples.
It’s these differences that can manifest in the sense of greater power in a bully over their victim. And subsequently, studies found that when compared to the school population, children who receive special educational assistance or belong to minorities are more likely to experience bullying. Even a perceived imbalance of power can fuel bullying behaviour, which can be as simple as someone’s sense of style is seen as inferior or different from the bully’s norm.
How is bullying defined?
For a behaviour to be defined as bullying, researchers have identified three main characteristics: intent, aggression and repetition.
Intentional: when the bullying behaviour must intend to cause harm to a specific individual
Aggressive: not just physical aggression but any form of actions that causes damage in a verbal, mental or emotional manner
Repeated: the behaviour must be of a persistent nature (occurring more than once)
So, now that we understand bullying behaviour better, we can examine the different types of bullying behaviours.
What are the 3 different types of bullying?
Historically, bullying has been physical and verbal. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, teasing and threatening, whereas physical bullying often refers to behaviours that cause physical harm to another, such as punching and scratching. These forms of bullying are now referred to as ’Traditional Bullying’. As times have progressed, a better understanding of bullying behaviour and the various presented manners have become apparent. Hence, the name traditional bullying has come about.
Other forms of bullying include ‘Relational Bullying’, which involves indirect and nonphysical types of harm such as spreading rumours, excluding or ignoring individuals and even manipulation.
With the growth of technology and communication, the use of social media has also opened the way for a new form of bullying, cyberbullying. Also known as cyberharassment, this form of bullying uses electronic means to harass victims. Interestingly, as students get older and enter later primary and early middle school years, a shift in the type of bullying experienced from traditional to relational and cyberbullying takes place.
Effects of bullying
The severity of bullying experienced from student to student can vary greatly. Many factors such as school interventions, classroom dynamics and support can impact the bullying experience.
Regardless, the experience can harm a student’s emotional and mental health as well as their academic performance. Victims of bullying often report feelings of low self-esteem, anxiety, social stress and even depressive symptoms. Also, many victims often report psychosomatic symptoms presenting in the form of stomach aches, headaches and sleeping difficulties.
With psychosomatic symptoms and the social stress experienced at school, it’s no surprise that students who are bullied tend to miss school or skip classes. Being absent not only significantly impacts their learning and academic success but increases social isolation from their peers. Bullying, especially long-term, can have a detrimental impact on a person’s overall wellbeing and so it’s crucial to reduce bullying behaviours.
What can be done to stop or prevent bullying?
A lot of research is being dedicated to anti-bullying interventions within schools. Research has shown that school programs that include parents have a more substantial impact in reducing bullying behaviour. Also, programmes that encourage peer support and participation in defending behaviours tend to decrease bullying behaviour within classrooms and social groups.
Importantly, research has also demonstrated that teaching children about empathy can make a big difference. Through learning to empathise with peers and understanding individual differences, students are less likely to fall into an imbalance of power and more likely to support and defend their peers, as well as model pro-social behaviours. Defending behaviours among peer groups are crucial in reducing bullying behaviour and increasing social support between peers. This makes it essential to take the time to speak to children about empathy, individual differences and support.
If you believe your child has suffered from bullying in school or cyberbullying, you can reach out to me at MindWorX to help. I work with schools, families and children to educate on matters regarding bullying and harassment.