Basic Bullying Information
Bullying is the purposeful infliction of psychological or physical pain on one individual by another or by a group. In bullying, the perpetrators are physically or psychologically more potent than victims. The analysis of bullying episodes can be made more complex in that the defenselessness portrayed by injured parties may be more a matter of individual perception than reality.
Frequency and Severity of Bullying
The most carefully constructed large-scale study of bullying was conducted and reported by Nancel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruuan, Simons-Morton, and Scheidt (2001). They surveyed nearly 16,000 intermediate (grade six) through high-school (grade ten) students regarding bullying. Just over one in ten (13 percent) of U.S. students self-identified as aggressive bullies (bullied others, seldom bullied), with 11 percent listing themselves as passive victims (victimized only, rarely bullied others) and another 6 percent as bully-victims (participated in bullying and experienced victimization). These data are very similar to those reported among just over 1,000 students in the rural Midwest (Simanton, Burthwick, & Hoover, 2000; DeVoe & Chandler, 2005; Hoover, Oliver, & Hazler, 1992; Hoover, Oliver, & Thomson, 1993; Perry, Kusel, & Perry, 1988).
Estimates of the prevalence of bullying depend a great deal upon both the definitions and research methods employed by investigators (questionnaires vs. observations, for example). For example, Hoover and colleagues (1992) reported that over 80 percent of students in rural midwestern schools underwent bullying at some point during their school careers. However, when the figures were adjusted based on scoring above the midpoint on a "degree of trauma" scale, a more reasonable figure of 14 percent emerged.
Age is another factor that affects bullying prevalence estimates, with the proportion of students experiencing bullying (and those experiencing significant levels of trauma from it) peaking during the middle-school years, with slightly lower numbers during the intermediate and secondary grades (Hoover et al., 1992).
Estimates of the prevalence of bullying tend to be time-based, momentary snapshots. Most researchers have adopted the convention of classifying bullying participants into roughly three groups; aggressive bullies (bully only), passive victims (victims only), and bully-victims or provocative victims, students who (over a relatively short time period) report both experiencing peer harassment and picking on others (Schwartz, Proctor, & Chien, 2001). In this perspective, the status of students is treated as nearly static—that is, as if bullying status is parallel to a psychiatric disorder or a personality type that is, metaphorically, "carried around" by the individual along with their other pertinent labels. Although some data exist to support the notion of aggression being a relatively stable trait (Olweus, 1978), many experts question the permanence of bullying and victimization status. Ma (2001, 2002) demonstrated that bully and victim status may change over longer periods of times based on year in school and other administrative characteristics of the institution (e.g., middle school vs. junior high). The characteristics of bullying-related subgroups in the school population and, indeed, questions about the longitudinal stability of bullying patterns remain to be settled.
Bullying affects students' perceptions of safety at school, with up to 10 percent of all students and most of those chronically bullied either typically afraid or expressing the wish to stay home at least once per semester (Burthwick et al., 2000). Berthold and Hoover (2000) concluded that three times as many bully victims felt unsafe at school (25 percent) as students not suffering peer harassment (8 percent).
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