About Bullying

Hermann A. Peine, Ph.D.

The dictionary states a bully is an individual or group who torments others through verbal harassment, physical assault, or other more subtle methods of coercion. There are some differences in the definition of bullying, dependent on the perpetrator, and within what context they perform their various acts. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or social and can be found in the context of schools, neighborhoods, families, the workplace, clubs, fraternal orders, in the military, in cyberspace, and between groups of people having political, economic, or social belief issues, such as between countries or religious groups.

Bullying must always be viewed in the context of their effects on the recipient. Victims tend to be hurt physically or emotionally and lack the skills and supports to defend themselves and deal with the affronts. This pattern of the strong harassing the weak has sadly been present in most societies. Antagonism between two equal parties is more difficult to define as one bullying the other, because in part such conflicts depend so much on perceptions, motives, an a variety of secondary circumstances. Such aggression may be labeled is conflicts, fights, or wars and might not fit under the definition we have ascribed to bullying, as destructive as such aggression is in it’s own right.

Some common examples of bullying would include:

  • Punching, shoving and other acts that hurt people physically
  • Teasing, taunting, and making fun of others in an emotionally hurtful way
  • Spreading bad rumors about people
  • Calling people names
  • T aking, destroying, or damaging other people’s things
  • Making other’s do things they don’t want to do
  • Not allowing people to enter a group they should be able to enter
  • Groups "ganging up" on others
  • Electronic sent downgrading or threatening messages of any type
  • Placing on the Web negative messages or images of others
  • Pretending to be someone else and spreading rumors about others
  • Threatening to tell on others in a false way

Bullying or being bullied is a very common occurrence in the United States today, with millions of individuals having the negative experience of victimization. In secondary school almost over 20% of students are either bullying or being bullied and as high as 1/3 rd of students in middle schools. Many experience both bullying and being bullied and such acts are most often reported and experienced by boys.

Being seen as popular, making themselves feel stronger and more in control, gaining attention, and even jealousy, are some of the reasons why people resort to bullying. Racial, cultural, social, gender, intellectual, physical, and economic prejudices may be causal reasons and individuals having disabilities and lacking the skills to stand up to bullies may be at greatest risk.

The outcome of being bullied can be very negative. In school age children it can shape or reshape perceptions about the ‘self’ and lead to loneliness, withdrawal, poor self-esteem, and in some cases, violent anger with revenge as a motive. Self-confidence may decrease affecting academic and performance in school, and bullied individual may begin to show avoidance behavior, especially of going to school and may be a factor in school dropout rates.

Young people will find the chances of their being bullied decrease when they have friends and spend time with them. Sharing their concerns, worries, and anxieties with a responsible adult they trust is also very important. Experiencing bullying in any form should not ever be dismissed as being of minor importance. If one experiences bullying it is helpful to stay calm and not over react, for such a reaction may reward the bully to inflict future abuses because they know they have “gotten to you”.

Today, many school have rules against bullying. For individuals, learning to be more self-confident and learning to distance themselves physically and emotionally from bullies lessens the likelihood of bullying occurring. People should intervene when seeing bullying going on. Let the bully know you do not respect their actions and think they are rather immature. Witnesses to bullying who do nothing, including even telling an adult, often show feelings of guilt, and may also find themselves ending friendships with the bullied person because they may feel associating with such a victim looses them status or they may become the victim of bullying themselves.

Bullies may act out trauma in their own lives, such as domestic violence, and tend to be and may be of high risk themselves for further antisocial or delinquent behaviors. Their friendships are often with others who support their bullying tactics. They have four times the likelihood of being convicted of crimes by their middle twenties than people who do not engage in bullying. The tolerance of bullying has thus been shown to generate negative societal outcomes in whatever environment and in what ever form it occurs.

Social support systems addressing the bullying issue at school should deal with each of the following questions:

  • Is a system of support in place for children being bullied?
  • Does the school have and support an anti bullying policy?
  • Is a system in place for the school to seek district support?
  • Is the PTA involved?
  • Does the school have a safety committee providing guidance and support for school policy development and facilitates individual intervention supports?
  • Are there counseling, peer mentor supports, and a buddy system in place for those having been victimized?
  • Is the bully given a behavior support plan designed to replace his maladaptive actions?