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Helping School Staff Identify and Understand the Effects of Bullying

By and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Bullying continues to be one of the most common forms of aggression and victimization experienced by school-aged children. It is broadly defined as a class of intentional and repeated acts that typically occurs in situations where there is a power or status difference (1). Bullying can be:

  • physical (hitting, theft),
  • verbal (harassment, threats, name calling),
  • and/or relational (spreading rumors, influencing social relationships).

Despite the recent attention given to bullying, teachers and school staff tend to underestimate the prevalence of bullying (2). In order to better serve the needs of students, teachers and school staff need to be able to identify and understand the consequential effects of bullying in order to intervene effectively. Likewise, students and teachers should aim to collaborate on bullying prevention efforts to better meet the needs of both groups and the school as a whole.

Prevalence of Bullying

A recent study using self-reports of nearly 25,000 elementary, middle, and high school students found that approximately 36% of students were “frequently” involved in bullying (2 or more times per month). Of these,

  • 19% were involved as a victim,
  • 9% as a bully,
  • and 8% as both a bully and a victim (i.e., bully/victim) (3).

The prevalence of frequent involvement in bulling appears to increase over the elementary school years, peak during the middle school years, and decline in high school. Boys are more likely than girls to be bullies and bully/victims (4).

What’s the Big Deal?

Research has shown that students who are involved in bullying, as either a bully, victim, or bully/victim, are at an increased risk of developing some of the following problems:

  • Symptoms such as depression or anxiety. A study by O’Brennan et al. (3) revealed that children who are victims of bullying are at risk of experiencing symptoms of depression, anxiety, loneliness, and insecurity.
  • Poor peer relationships. Victims tend to struggle with creating and maintaining peer relationships, which can limit their opportunity to develop effective social skills. An even more worrisome group is the bully/victims, for these children are at greatest risk for displaying mental health problems and becoming involved in delinquent behavior later in life (5, 6). Bully/victims also tend to provoke negative interactions with their peers and are often perceived as social outcasts (4).
  • These students tend to develop less favorable perceptions of the school environment as compared to students not involved in bullying (4, 7).

Students in schools with high rates of bullying tend to feel less safe and disconnected to the school, teachers, and their peers (2). Students who are frequently victimized often feel unsafe at school and may be at risk of bringing weapons to school in order to protect themselves (8).

Of particular concern is that among middle and high school students, majority of bullies tend to be perceived as popular (2). It is likely that the bullies’ power and dominance over their peers increases their social status within a peer group. However, research has also shown that despite bullies’ high social status, they also tend to be disliked by many of their peers and some are often viewed as unpopular (9). Thus, it is important for teachers to be aware of the varying social standings of bullies when intervening.

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