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What Is Bullying and Who Does It?

By K’Lee Banks, M.Ed.

In this second post about bullying to coincide with this month’s recognition and awareness for National Bullying Prevention Month, we examine both the actions of bullies and the individuals who are likely to .

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is any aggressive, unwanted behavior that humiliates, intimidates, or otherwise mistreats another individual who is weaker or more vulnerable than the one who bullies.  A secondary definition is using force or some sort of coercion to intimidate or abuse another person, often habitually and methodically.

Bullying can be as simple as words spoken to or written about another person in a mean-spirited way, usually on an ongoing basis, or as complex as a series of actions taken to undermine an individual’s name, business, or reputation. Bullying also can and does sometimes result in serious injury and even death, although that may not have been the bully’s original intent., a site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, describes the bullying that occurs among school-age children, where this problem often begins. Bullying may include the following three types of behavior and actions:

  • Physical bullying: hurting another person’s body by hitting, kicking, or punching; tripping or pushing; spitting; making mean or rude hand or finger gestures; or taking or breaking someone’s belongings.
  • Verbal bullying: saying or writing mean things by name-calling, teasing or taunting; making inappropriate sexual comments; or threatening to cause harm.
  • Social/relational bullying: hurting someone’s relationships or reputation through actions such as spreading rumors about the person; embarrassing the person in public; intentionally excluding the person from groups or activities; or telling other people not to befriend the person.

Boys are more likely to engage in physical bullying behaviors; girls tend to participate in social/relational bullying.

A more modern type of bullying, which we will explore more fully in another post, is cyberbullying, which typically combines aspects of verbal and social bullying through various forms of electronic technology.

Effects of Bullying

The damaging reality of bullying is that it often has a long-lasting effect on the victim’s emotional and psychological development. The National Child Traumatic Stress Network (NCTSN) reported that victims of bullying often suffer negative effects on their self-image, withdraw from social interactions, and do poorly in school.  If bullying persists, these victims may continue to feel insecure, develop low self-esteem, and even experience depression that lingers into adulthood. Absenteeism and dropout rates are higher among bullied students than among any other group of students.

Who Does It?

It may be surprising to learn that not all bullies look like the stereotypical hulking, antisocial kid portrayed in comic books, cartoons and movies. Cyberbullies, in particular, may actually be smaller and weaker than their victims, yet feel invincible and especially vicious behind a wall of relative anonymity.

A parent’s site devoted to child safety, My Child, reported that both environmental factors and personality traits can make a child more likely to become a bully. Many bullies may have been physically abused by family members and do not have enough parental involvement in their daily lives. Personality-wise, children who bully tend to be socially dominant and confrontational, question authority, lack empathy for others, and have poor impulse control.

According to My Child, most bullies are not socially isolated; they actually make friends easily and are skilled communicators, able to talk their way out of trouble. They may even be among the most popular kids in school. Unfortunately, this can be a front for their sometimes covert bullying behavior.

The NCTSN provided some additional alarming statistics about bullies:

  • Children who are bullies often grow into adult bullies
  • Adult bullies often become abusers of their children and spouses
  • Those identified as bullies by age 8 are six times more likely to have established criminal records by age 24

Stomp Out, a national anti-bullying and cyberbullying program for kids and teens, further warns about the consequences of bullying. Bullies are more likely to:

  • Get involved in fights frequently
  • Drink alcohol and smoke
  • Steal and vandalize property
  • Have negative perceptions of school, get poor grades, and may have difficulty getting into college
  • Face arrest if caught for incidents of bullying, including cyberbullying
  • Carry weapons




Watch for the next post in this series: What are the methods and tactics bullies use, and who are their targets?

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