Bullying in schools is a worldwide problem that can have negative consequences for the general school climate and for the right of students to learn in a safe environment without fear. Bullying can also have negative lifelong consequences–both for students who bully and for their victims.
Definition of Bullying
Bullying has two key components: repeated harmful acts and an imbalance of power. It involves repeated physical, verbal or psychological attacks or intimidation directed against a victim who cannot properly defend him- or herself because of size or strength, or because the victim is outnumbered or less psychologically resilient. Bullying includes assault, tripping, intimidation, rumour spreading and isolation, demands for money, destruction of property, theft of valued possessions, destruction of another’s work and name-calling. Not all taunting, teasing and fighting among schoolchildren constitutes bullying.6 “Two persons of approximately the same strength (physical or psychological)…fighting or quarrelling” is not bullying. Rather, bullying entails repeated acts by someone perceived as physically or psychologically more powerful (Sampson, 2001).
Bullying is comprised of direct behaviours such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting, and stealing that are initiated by one or more students against a victim. In addition to direct attacks, bullying may also be more indirect by causing a student to be socially isolated through intentional exclusion. While boys typically engage in direct bullying methods, girls who bully are more apt to utilize these more subtle indirect strategies, such as spreading rumours and enforcing social isolation (Ahmad & Smith, 1994; Smith & Sharp, 1994). Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, the key component of bullying is that the physical or psychological intimidation occurs repeatedly over time to create an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Characteristics of Bullies and Victims
Students who engage in bullying behaviours seem to have a need to feel powerful and in control. They appear to derive satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering on others, seem to have little empathy for their victims, and often defend their actions by saying that their victims provoked them in some way. Studies indicate that bullies often come from homes where physical punishment is used, where the children are taught to strike back physically as a way to handle problems, and where parental involvement and warmth are frequently lacking. Students who regularly display bullying behaviours are generally defiant or oppositional toward adults, antisocial, and apt to break school rules. In contrast to prevailing myths, bullies appear to have little anxiety and to possess strong self-esteem. There is little evidence to support the contention that they victimize others because they feel bad about themselves (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Students who are victims of bullying are typically anxious, insecure, cautious, and suffer from low self-esteem, rarely defending themselves or retaliating when confronted by students who bully them. They may lack social skills and friends, and they are often socially isolated. Victims tend to be close to their parents and may have parents who can be described as overprotective. The major defining physical characteristic of victims is that they tend to be physically weaker than their peers–other physical characteristics such as weight, dress, or wearing eyeglasses do not appear to be significant factors that can be correlated with victimization (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
Action towards Bullying in Schools (Anti-Bullying Program)
Bullying is a huge problem in schools. Schools need to have programs in place to successfully stop it. Bullying is not a phase that kids go through, it is not just a minor problem and it absolutely does interfere with learning and with emotional well-being. In fact, it can make for long-term emotional concerns. Students report missing school to avoid bullying and they report not being able to concentrate in class because of being bullied. In fact, the victim often becomes the bully. Bullying is also something that our students are not expected to learn to handle. Teachers must be their advocates. Schools must have programs in place to address bullying. However, a program to stop bullying must be comprehensive and part of the everyday learning environment. Schools principals that take bullying as a minor problem should realize that it can bring a silent disaster in a victim student’s life and thus, it is something very important to combat.
School principals can follow these steps to successfully combat bullying in their schools:
1. Take pre and post measures of teachers and students to gauge their attitudes and perceptions.
Ask the teachers about incidences of bullying and how they intervene. Gauge their attitudes about bullying on their campus. Ask students about incidences and ask if they identify with having been the victim, the bully, or both. Ask about their perceptions of being able to report.
2. Provide active teaching about bullying through curriculum
A successful program to stop bullying must be embedded in the everyday curriculum. This absolutely does not mean that teachers need to or should take time away from required instructional objectives. However, bullying can easily be addressed as themes embedded into current instruction. Those themes have to include replacement behaviours. Students must learn how to problem solve for everyday social difficulties, they must use basic social skills, they have to know how to make friends and how to be a good friend, and they have to know how to advocate for themselves and how to report concerns. In addition, let teachers or departments within the school be part of the decision making process as to how they will embed these themes into the curriculum.
3. Make the theme of no bullying a part of the entire school culture.
This means that it is not just a workshop the teachers go to and it is not just words of wisdom in the announcements. The theme to stop bullying and to replace it with more positive behaviours has to be year round, it has to be heard and seen in all environments and the entire school staff and student body both have to participate. The chances of creating a positive change increase dramatically when it becomes part of the entire culture. This can be done through art that is seen in the hallways, reinforcing observations of altruistic behaviours, and even contests or projects that reinforce cohesion among the students.
4. Increase school monitoring
Students, both the bullies and the victims, have to know that they are being monitored. This will not ensure that bullying will never happen. However, it will limit it. Ask the students where it happens most often. This can be part of the survey.
5. Have a plan for students to safely report incidences of bullying without fear of retaliation.
The victims often do not report incidences of being bullied because they fear retaliation. Observers often do not want to get involved for the same reason or because they have been taught to mind their own business. Students have to know when it is appropriate to get involved and when it is being a good citizen as opposed to meddling. The victims have to know who to report to and how and they have to feel safe about it. If monitoring has been increased sufficiently, then the bully does not have to know who saw what happened.
6. Teach and support good positive replacement behaviours.
Students must have positive skills such as basic social skills, making and keeping friends, positive ways to get attention, how to problem solve, etc. Schools should never try to stop a negative behaviour without making sure that there is a positive replacement behaviour that can be used. It would be great if students arrived at school with those skills. However, that is just not always the case. Often, they have to be taught and encouraged.
Encouraging Students to be a part of Anti-Bullying Program
Students have to be included into a program to stop bullying and teachers can encourage them to effectively take actions against bullying. They are an essential part of it. A successful program to stop bullying has to be more than just something the staff does to the students. It has to be something that the students are actively engaged in. A principal can get his/her students to be part of a program to stop bullying by following these steps:
1. Create a whole climate change at your school if you really want students to be part of a program to stop bullying.
Students will pay more attention to bullying and preventing it if it is part of the culture. This means that it is heard and seen in multiple settings throughout the whole year. Otherwise they will be far more apt to forget about it.
2. Teach kids the difference between being supportive and involved as opposed to meddling.
Students have to know that it is not okay to observe bullying and do nothing. They have to be taught how to responsibly respond. They have to be advocates for one another. Teach and reinforce these themes. If you bully one of us, you bully all of us. We will stick up for each other. We will not just walk by. Students have to know that responding to someone who is being hurt is the right thing to do. Too often students (as well as adults) take on the attitude that things are someone else’ problem or that they should mind their own business. They have to be taught the difference between meddling and being a good community member who shows empathy for others.
3. Make sure students feel like they can report bullying without negative consequences.
Students often feel as though they cannot report things without retaliation. Have a system in place where they know how, where, and to whom they can successfully report things like bullying.
4. Create a system of positive behaviours that are motivating to students and that are in direct opposition to more negative behaviours such as bullying.
Create projects and groups where students can be helpful and giving to other people or to the school or community. Reinforce being helpful and doing good deeds. Make altruistic behaviours a part of their everyday life. This will help build a lifelong pattern of caring and involvement.
For example, in a school, the students were told that they would receive tickets if they were observed doing a good deed. The entire staff was alerted to watch. The tickets were put in a pot and each week there was a drawing. At first the students did deeds just to get more tickets. However, the deeds soon became more and more of a habit or pattern of good behaviour. They also soon learned and accepted that not all good deeds are externally rewarded because they are not all observed. Even if they are observed, it does not necessarily mean a reward. They also soon realized the social rewards and their own good feelings and those became motivating.
Ahmad, Y., & Smith, P. K. (1994). Bullying in schools and the issue of sex differences. In John Archer (Ed.), MALE VIOLENCE. London: Routledge.
Batsche, G. M., & Knoff, H. M. (1994). Bullies and their victims: Understanding a pervasive problem in the schools. SCHOOL PSYCHOLOGY REVIEW, 23 (2), 165-174.
Olweus, D. (1993). BULLYING AT SCHOOL: WHAT WE KNOW AND WHAT WE CAN DO. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell.
Sampson, P. (2001). THE PROBLEM OF BULLYING IN SCHOOLS. Problem oriented Guide for Police Services. USA.
Smith, P. K., & Sharp, S. (1994). SCHOOL BULLYING: INSIGHTS AND PERSPECTIVES. London : Routledge.