How Common is Bullying?
Bullying appears in all racial and ethnic groups and all socioeconomic classes (Orpinas and Horne, 2006), whether schools are large or small, urban or rural (Olweus, 1993). Although most children experience a minor and fleeting form of it at some point during their school careers Juvonen and Graham, 2001; Pepler and Craig, n.d.), for a surprising number bullying is a frequent and serious occurrence.
The first large-scale study of bullying in the United States—a representative sample of more than 15,000 students in grades 6 to 10 in public and private schools throughout the country—revealed that almost 30 percent of children are involved in bullying either moderately ("sometimes") or frequently (once a week or more). Thirteen percent bully others, 10.6 percent are targeted, and 6.3 percent both bully others and are targeted themselves (Nansel et al., 2001). Canadian and U.S. statistics are similar, and when Wendy Craig and Debra Pepler (1997) videotaped and recorded bullying on Toronto playgrounds, they saw a bullying act every seven minutes. More than half of students experience verbal sexual harassment at school occasionally or often, and a third encounter physical sexual harassment just as frequently (American Association of University Women, 2001). According to a study of students in grades 4 to 8, about 40 percent have been bullied online (iSAFE, n.d.).
Bullying peaks in early adolescence—during grades 6 to 8 (Nansel et al., 2001)—when students move from small, personal elementary schools to larger, less supportive middle schools, junior highs, or secondary schools. Boys in particular find that bullying is an effective way to establish their status within their new peer group (Pellegrini and Long, 2002). Bullying tapers off in the older grades, but some children never give it up. We call their handiwork by different names in adult life—spousal abuse, child abuse, racism, and sexual harassment (Pepler and Craig, n.d.; Smith, Cowie, and Sharp, 1994).
Because of the secret nature of bullying, teachers often underestimate its prevalence. Craig and Pepler's (1997) videos captured teachers intervening in only 4 percent of bullying incidents, although 75 percent said they always responded. This low rate probably means that the teachers didn't actually see or recognize the harassment.
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