Basic Bullying Information (page 2)
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).
When young people describe either personally experiencing bullying (Hoover et al., 1992) or observing the harassment of others (Hazler, Hoover, & Oliver, 1991), they describe it as largely verbal. Indirect and subtle bullying, such as social ostracism or friendship interference is the second most common form of bullying experienced by females, while mild physical attacks are the second most common form of bullying reported by boys (Hoover & Oliver, 1996).
No statistical relationship is typically observed between the bullying behaviors that students are subjected to and the degree of trauma they experience. In other words, long-term verbal harassment is just as devastating to victims as periodic, mild physical attacks. Some writers have even concluded that dealing with verbal harassment and teasing are central to antibullying campaigns (Hoover & Olsen, 2001). Childhood verbal bullying also appears to be the "testing ground" for later sexual harassment, with the result that school officials not dealing with mild sexualized teasing and verbal gay bashing set themselves up for greater levels of overtly illegal and life-threatening forms of sexual harassment (Stein, 1995). Of course, the verbal climate at school often reflects the linguistic patterns emerging from the home (Duncan, 2004).
Relational Aggression Among Girls
In the past decade a sea change has occurred in the understanding of bullying and other aggressive behaviors among females. The seminal work of Crick and colleagues (e.g., Crick et al., 2001; Cullerton-Sen & Crick, 2005; Ostrov & Crick, 2005) has been picked up by the popular media (e.g., Odd Girl Out; Simmons, 2003). Nearly eight times as many girls as boys participate in what has been termed relational aggression. Relational aggression is defined as manipulating relationships (e.g., friendships, flirting with another's love interest) in a manner purposely designed to hurt others. These behaviors are perceived as very damaging over the short and long haul (Crick, 1996).
If relational and other purely verbal forms of aggression are included in the mix, the long assumed proportional difference between males and females in aggression estimates actually disappears (Crick et al., 2001). Educators have found such behaviors as rumor-mongering and aggressive flirting to be very difficult to manage, perhaps because of the subtlety of these aggressive forms. Indeed, as late as 2004, Crick herself questioned whether effective intervention methods are even on the horizon.
Another type of bullying is cyberbullying. This is a relatively new phenomenon that is occurring with middle school and high school students. This can be very devastating to a child, but intervention can help because there is a trail of messages and written conversations. Cyberbullying, if confronted promptly, can be stopped because the evidence is there.
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