What is bullying?

Bullying can range from teasing to name-calling, from spreading nasty rumours about someone to threats of intimidation or actual physical aggression. It could also occur as cyberbullying through digital technology. What’s considered gentle teasing by one child might appear as intimidation to another. There’s often a fine line between some of these behaviours and the effects of bullying can vary.

The following description will help you explain to your children the different sorts of bullying behaviours and talk about how it might feel to be on the receiving end.

Bullying is when these things happen again and again to someone:

  • being ignored, left out on purpose, or not allowed to join in
  • being made afraid of getting hurt
  • being made fun of and teased in a mean and hurtful way
  • lies or nasty stories are told about them to make other kids not like them
  • being hit, kicked or pushed around

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How much bullying is going on in schools?

Being bullied

  • 45% of Year 4 students and 49% of Year 6 students in Western Australian schools reported they were bullied by other students at least once in the course of a term. When asked about the types of bullying experienced, the majority reported teasing (42%), hurtful name calling (43%) and being excluded from groups (40%).
  • In both Year 4 and Year 6, the perpetrators were most likely to be students from the same year group, as well as older students to a lesser extent. Both boys and girls who were bullied were more likely to report that the bullying was perpetrated by mainly one boy followed by a group of boys and to a much lesser extent by girls in a group or alone.
  • Approximately 50% of children reported they were bullied at recess and lunchtime. This compares to 15% of Year 4s and 22% of Year 6s who report being bullied in the classroom and between 10% and 15% on the way to or from school.
  • 34% of Year 4 and 29% of Year 6 students reported they told someone the last time they were bullied. Fifty-five per cent of Year 4 and Year 6 students reported that if they were bullied they would tell their parents; 50% of Year 4s and 39% of Year 6s reported they would tell a teacher; and 37% of Year 4s and 44% of Year 6s reported they would tell a friend.
  • In general, primary school students report being bullied more often than secondary school students.

Bullying others

  • In Western Australian schools, 16% of Year 4 students and 35% of Year 6 students reported they bullied other students at least once in the course of a term.
  • The most common forms of bullying reported by Year 6s were calling other students hurtful names (23%), hurtful teasing (20%), excluding another student (18%) and physically hurting another student (12%). Year 4s were more likely to report excluding another student (12%), using hurtful names and teasing (10%) and physically hurting another student (8%).

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Why do most students not bully others?

Most students do not bully other students in schools. There is really only a small number of students who bully others over and over. As the aim of the Friendly Schools initiative is to prevent bullying from happening, it is important to look at why most students don’t get involved in bullying.

Some students don’t bully because they don’t have the power over others to do so. However, many students who do have this power choose not to use it in a negative way. There are several reasons why they do this:

  • They have good social skills. They can make friends and be happy without bullying.
  • They think bullying is wrong. Most students, in our research, said that they would feel ashamed of themselves and their parents would be really upset with them if they bullied.
  • They don’t feel they need to bully. Students who feel good about themselves and enjoy school say they don’t feel the need to bully.
  • They are too busy to think about it. Students who are involved in activities and are enjoying what they are doing are usually not interested in bullying.
  • They have strong, supportive friendships groups. Students who have happy and supportive friends are found to be far less likely to bully or to be bullied.
  • They believe that bullying isn’t worth it. Some students may sometimes feel like bullying but don’t because they know the consequences will be bad. For example, they will get into trouble at school and at home, or their bullying behaviour will make them look bad to friends, family or their teachers.

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Why do children bully?

There are lots of different reasons why children bully others. Some young people have given the following reasons:

  • They get power and strength from bullying others.
  • Bullying is a way to try to be popular and to get known at school.
  • They are scared, so they try to scare others to hide their feelings.
  • They are unhappy and take it out on others.
  • They are being bullied themselves.
  • They hope to use it as a way to make people be their friend.

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Are there gender differences in bullying behaviour?

Types of bullying

  • Boys are most likely to experience direct physical bullying.
  • Girls are more often the victim of indirect non-physical forms of bullying, such as exclusion and having rumours spread about them.
  • Direct verbal bullying such as cruel teasing and name calling is most common, with boys and girls experiencing this about equally.

Prevalence of bullying

  • In general, girls are bullied about as often as boys.
  • Boys report bullying others more often than girls.

Who bullies whom?

  • Bullying is most often done by one boy or a group of boys.
  • Girls are bullied by boys about as much as they are bullied by girls.
  • Very few boys report being bullied by girls.

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Is there a link between bullying and low self-esteem?

Self-esteem is the way we feel about ourselves. We compare how we see ourselves and how we believe others see us with how we would like to be.

Students with high self-esteem are as likely to have experienced bullying as those with low self-esteem. However, those with low self-esteem report more extensive bullying, higher levels of stress as a result of being bullied and more negative effects of this stress.

High self-esteem helps children deal with bullying if it does happen. It is therefore important to help children develop high self-esteem. It is incorrect to think students who bully others suffer from low self-esteem; rather, students who bully demonstrate about average self-esteem and a relatively positive perception of themselves. Nonetheless, it may be that such children bully others to increase their self-esteem.

Another reason why it is important to help your children develop high self-esteem is that students with a genuinely high self-esteem are the most likely to support other students who are bullied.

To help develop your child’s self-esteem, try these tactics:

  • Help your children to think about their abilities and what they are capable of in a realistic way, for example through comments like ‘You throw really well for someone your age’.
  • Encourage your children to ‘have a go’ at new activities.
  • Help them to find solutions to problems rather than giving them the answers. Ask questions like ‘What could you do?’ and ‘What do you think?’
  • Listen to your children and show them that you value what they have to say.
  • Foster their growing need for independence. Begin with basics like caring for their own belongings, making their own bed, and feeding the pets.
  • Remember that you and the school want the best for your child, so you need to work together to find the best strategies and actions.

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How can parents and families support a Friendly School?

It is important for children to see their parents and the school working together with a common desire to help them feel safer and happier at school.

  • Get to know your school’s bullying policy and discuss it with your child.
  • Encourage children to talk about bullying both at school and at home. Talking with your children about bullying is an important step in developing a friendly and safer environment for the children in your school.
  • Maintain regular contact with your child’s teachers, cooperating to share valuable information about how your children are feeling.
  • Try to attend school functions such as assemblies, or help out on the class parent roster, to demonstrate your support for your child and the school.
  • Read the school newsletter and discuss items of interest with your child.
  • Model a positive attitude towards school and encourage your child to see the positive aspects of school life.
  • If there is a problem with your child at school, try to work together with the school to overcome the problem. This shows a committed partnership between parents and the school to work towards positive solutions.

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