What is bullying?
Bullying is:

  • a repeated, unjustifiable behaviour;
  • that may be physical, verbal or relational;
  • that is intended to cause fear, distress, or harm to another;
  • that is conducted by a more powerful individual or group;
  • against a less powerful individual who is unable to effectively resist.

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What forms does bullying behaviour usually take?
This type of bullying includes hitting, kicking and taking or damaging a person’s property. It is easy to identify and in most cases will quickly come to the attention of the school.

This bullying behaviour involves the use of words to hurt or humiliate another person. Verbal bullying includes name-calling, insults, making racist comments and constant teasing. This type of bullying is the easiest and quickest to inflict. Its effects can be more devastating than physical bullying in some ways because there are no visible ‘scars’.

Relational or relationship bullying usually involves leaving out or convincing peers to exclude or reject a certain person or people from their social connections. This type of bullying is linked to verbal bullying and usually occurs when children (more often girls) spread nasty rumours about others or exclude someone deliberately from the peer group. The most serious effect of this type of bullying is the rejection by the peer group at a time when children most need their social connections.

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How is bullying different to other forms of aggression?

Like other forms of aggressive behaviour, bullying involves an individual or group causing harm to one or more other people. However, bullying has the following unique characteristics:

  • A power imbalance is present.
  • The aggressive act is unprovoked by the victim or perceived as unjustified by others.
  • The action is repeated, with the same participants.

Is fighting bullying?

While fighting between two students of equal power is of concern, it is not bullying. It is the presence of a power imbalance that distinguishes bullying from fighting, conflict, violence and disagreement. It is this imbalance that makes mistreatment of the victim possible.

However, if one of the students establishes power over the other and continues to threaten or fight that student and that student can’t make it stop, this would then become a bullying situation.

Is teasing bullying?
Teasing, done in mutual fun and jest, where all individuals are involved and feel capable of responding, is not bullying. However, teasing that is done in a mean and hurtful way, and that involves a power imbalance whereby one individual feels powerless to respond or to stop what is happening, is bullying.

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Why do children bully?
Reasons that children exhibit bullying behaviour include the following:

  • to get what they want
  • to be popular and admired
  • fear of being the one left out
  • jealousy of others
  • it seems like fun, or they are bored
  • it has worked for them before
  • they enjoy the power
  • they see it as their role at school
  • their significant role models bully

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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 by family members. Children may bully smaller, weaker children to copy what happens to them at home. Further, poorly monitoring 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 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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How do students 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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Do students who bully tend to act alone?
Students who bully may act alone, but they might also act as a group, and some students will even influence another person to bully on their behalf.

Bullying individual
Although students will rarely bully others completely on their own, in this situation there is a dominant perpetrator.

Bullying group
In this situation there is more than one perpetrator within a group. The group may bully individual students or another group of students.

Using another student to bully
The dominant perpetrator uses their power to influence another person to carry out the bullying behaviour.

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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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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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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 are bullied tend to be physically weaker than the child who bullies them, whereas those who bully others tend to be physically stronger than those they bully.

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