How prevalent is bullying?

Friendly Schools research indicates that in Australia, around one in four Year 4–9 students are bullied at school every few weeks or more often (27%). Students in Year 5 across Australia are the most likely to be bullied (32%), closely followed by students in Year 8 (29%). These national data are consistent with many previous smaller scale studies, which have reported prevalence rates of around 25% and appear to have remained consistent since the early 1990s.

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Why do children bully?

Students who bully often get enjoyment or satisfaction from getting their own way. They may sometimes appear to be popular but are often disliked by other students. Students who bully are thought to be lacking attention, power, love and competence, and by bullying they try to obtain these missing parts in their lives. They are usually students who need to feel powerful and seem to enjoy inflicting harm on others. They have very little empathy for the people they bully.

Students may bully because:

  • They have seen bullying work for others.
  • They want to be popular or get attention.
  • They are unhappy and take it out on others
  • They are afraid of being the one that is left out.
  • They are copying another person they admire.
  • They want look strong and tough.
  • They think it will help them get things they want.
  • They are trying to make themselves feel better when they are feeling bad about themselves or jealous of someone else.
  • They need feel more powerful among their classmates.
  • It seems like fun, or they are bored.

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What factors contribute to the development of bullying behaviour?

Aggressive behaviour among significant others contributes to bullying. Children who have role models who bully are more likely to imitate this behaviour, and bullying may be spurred by harsh physical punishment inflicted by family members. Children may bully smaller, weaker children to copy what happens to them at home. Further, poorly monitored and supervised children may believe it is okay to use bullying behaviour to get what they want.

If children have peers that bully, they may feel they have to bully to fit in. Some children also feel that they need to strike first for fear of being bullied. They believe that if they use their power and assume a hostile stance it will discourage other children from bullying them.

Children who bully typically lack empathy for the child they are bullying. Teachers involved in Friendly Schools research reported that when they discussed bullying situations with the child doing the bullying, that child usually had not considered how the child being bullied felt or how it had affected their everyday life.

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How do students themselves view bullying?

Children’s attitudes toward bullying can be grouped into three areas:

  • a desire to support victims
  • a tendency to reject children who are bullied for being weak
  • a readiness to justify bullying and support the bully

Most students are in favour of supporting students who are bullied and seeing action taken to stop bullying. However, boys are less supportive of victims than girls, and support for students who are bullied decreases with age, with students under 12 being most supportive.

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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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Why are certain students targeted by those who bully?

It is often incorrectly believed that bullying is caused by physical differences such as being fat, having a big nose or wearing glasses. Research has found that, as a group, people who are bullied are no different to students who are not bullied. However, students who bully others tend to be physically stronger than those they bully.

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Does bullying happen more often in the playground or in the classroom?

Observation in schools has found that verbal and physical bullying occur in the classroom as frequently as in the playground. However, the type of bullying differs across these contexts.

  • Direct bullying occurs more frequently in the playground.
  • Indirect bullying occurs more frequently in the classroom.

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What are the negative outcomes for students who are bullied?

To meet the academic goals of education, students must perceive their learning environment to be a safe and secure place. Bullying in schools is counterproductive to this goal. Research shows that students who are bullied

  • feel unhappy at school
  • dislike school
  • view school as an unpleasant place to be
  • view school as an unsafe place
  • feel lonely
  • want to avoid the school environment
  • demonstrate lower academic competence
  • have higher rates of absenteeism

In addition, students who are bullied are more likely to suffer from a number of physical and mental health problems, and research that suggests that these effects can be long lasting. As a group, students who are bullied have

  • more physical complaints
  • lower self-esteem
  • greater feelings of ineffectiveness and more interpersonal difficulties
  • higher levels of depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts
  • higher levels of anxiety and worry

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What are the negative outcomes for students who bully others?

Like students who are bullied, students who bully others

  • feel unhappy at school
  • dislike school
  • view school as not a nice place to be
  • demonstrate lower academic competence
  • experience higher levels of depression, self-harm and suicidal thoughts
  • have a greater incidence of mental health problems
  • experience greater negative health symptoms in general

Moreover, students who bully

  • are more likely to engage in delinquent behaviours such as wagging school, vandalism and shoplifting
  • are more likely to engage in violent behaviour after leaving school
  • are more likely to earn a criminal conviction as an adult

Of further concern is the research finding that

  • students who bullied at age 14 are more likely to demonstrate bullying behaviour at ages 18 and 32
  • students who engaged in bullying at age 14 tend, at age 32, to have children who engage in bullying

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What are some common myths about bullying?

Myth: Bullying is just a stage that kids go through at school. We all went through it and we’re fine.

Fact: Bullying is not normal or acceptable behaviour. It can have lasting negative effects on everyone involved.

Myth: People are born bullies.

Fact: Bullying is a learned behaviour and these behaviours can be changed.

Myth: You should stand up for yourself and hit back when you are bullied.

Fact: Hitting back usually make the bullying worse and increases the risk of serious harm. You should ask an adult for help if you are bullied.

Myth: Bullying is a kid’s problem. Parents and teachers should just let kids sort it out themselves.

Fact: Bullying is a serious problem and can be very damaging. It should not just be left for children to work out themselves, adults should get involved and it should be stopped immediately.

Myth: The best way to deal with a student who bullies others is using punishment.

Fact: Research has found students who bully others usually have problems themselves are generally unhappy in their own lives. These students always need to face the consequences for their actions, but also need support to change their behaviours and to find better ways of getting what they want to feel good about themselves.

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