Bullying is defined as one or more students seeking to have power over another student through the use of ongoing verbal, physical, or emotional harassment, intimidation, or isolation. A bully intends to hurt, threaten, or frighten his or her victim. Bullying may involve direct (physical or verbal) or indirect (psychological) attacks on a student. Direct bullying may involve hitting, name-calling, tripping, or taking or destroying a student's belongings. Indirect forms of bullying may involve spreading rumors or gossip about a student in order to isolate the victim from his or her peer group.

Bullying has become a widespread topic of conversation in and out of schools. Although some people still have the impression that bullying is just "kids being kids" or a rite of passage, many educators are not taking the subject lightly. Technology has increased the forms of bullying. Today bullying behavior can be observed in person or over the Internet. For example, a bully can spread rumors about another student by way of e-mails, instant messaging, or even blogs. Cell phones provide another common resource for bullies.

Common Causes and Antecedents of Bullying Behavior

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes and genders. Some bullies in schools are popular and some are disliked. However, bullies typically

  • have average or above-average self-esteem,
  • find satisfaction from causing harm to others,
  • seek attention or acceptance from peers,
  • seek to make themselves look tough and in charge,
  • have little empathy toward their victims or others,
  • seek to dominate other people or situations, and
  • are described as hot-tempered and impulsive.

Reports of bullying behavior are highest among middle school students. Bullies are usually very self-centered in that they are concerned with only their own needs and pleasures. They frequently do not accept responsibility for their behavior or the consequences of their bullying (Coloroso, 2003).

Bullying may be common among students who come from abusive homes or where physical punishment is frequently employed. Students frequently model behavior observed within their home environment, including abusive behavior exhibited by parents to each other or toward others.

Bullies frequently plan out their attacks. They often choose isolated locations or playgrounds, hallways, restrooms, or school buses where there may be limited adults supervision of their behavior.

Victims of bullying are frequently considered passive or submissive around peers. They may be highly cautious and sensitive at a young age, and have difficulty asserting themselves with peers.

Interventions for Bullying Behavior

There is a distinction between a conflict between two students and bullying. Conflict between two students involves a disagreement between two equals. Bullying is one-sided and unfair. Whereas most conflicts between students may be resolved without outside intervention, outside intervention is usually necessary to decrease bullying incidents.

The first step to decreasing bullying behavior in schools is to have a firm policy of zero tolerance for bullying behavior. Students need to know that bullying behavior is not acceptable and will have consequences. Parents must also receive this message from school administrators.

Supervision is also critical to any antibullying program. Since bullies seek and plan opportunities to bully within schools where there is limited adult supervision, increased adult supervision in hallways, bathrooms, and playgrounds is critical.

Schoolwide programs that increase and build supportive relationships among students have also been developed. For example, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (Olweus, 2005)—which involves school administrators, teachers, parents, and students—recommends the following measures:

  • The formation of a bullying prevention or intervention committee within each school
  • The study of the extent of bullying in their school through an anonymous student questionnaire
  • Staff training on bullying identification and remediation
  • The adoption of schoolwide rules against bullying, and increased adult supervision of students throughout the school day and in all locations
  • The development of consequences for students' bullying behavior
  • Teaching students about empathy toward others
  • Intervention for students who bully and who are bullied
  • The involvement of parents
  • The intervention and reporting of bullying behavior by bystanders who observe the behavior

Another program, referred to as community conferencing (Wachtel, 1997), calls for a formal process that brings everyone involved and affected by the bullying behavior together to address and change the behavior.