Bullies are people who perform acts of physical or verbal abuse repeatedly against other people who are perceived as less powerful.
As people have become more aware of bullying, research into this phenomenon has increased. Bullies and their victims are both at risk for short-and longterm problems with mental health. Prevention measures have increased, and anti-bullying curriculums are in place in many schools. Prevalence of the Internet (approximately 95% of teens are online) makes opportunities for bullying abundant, however. According to some data provided by the National Center for Education, one in three students reports being bullied. Most bullying occurs at school, with a lesser percent reported as cyberbullying. Reports of bullying often include the following behaviors: rumors, threats, being spat upon, having personal property destroyed, and being socially excluded.
Significantly, more than half of bullies stop their behavior when asked by a peer to stop immediately. Yet 90% of children have reported seeing a bullying incident happen and saying nothing. Bullying peaks in middle school and usually decreases by 10th grade. The majority of children choose to tell their parents about being bullied. Next, they tell their friends. Peer groups hold a great deal of power to help resolve the culture of childhood aggression. Girls are bullied more often than boys. Overweight children are bullied more often than those within a normal weight range.
Psychologists have identified anxiety and depression as frequent short-term effects of bullying. Research published in JAMA 2013 showed that long-term mental health effects of bullying are just as serious. A longitudinal study followed 1,400 children from ages 9 to 13 into adulthood. Of these adults, the ones who had been both bullies and bullied were most troubled. Twenty-five percent of these subjects were suicidal at an early age. Thirty-eight percent of these adults had some form of panic disorder. Men tended to develop depression, whereas women tended to develop agoraphobia. Adults who had only been bullies were often revealed to be antisocial. Adults who had only been the victims of bullies mostly developed anxiety disorders.
Bullying has lasting effects on self-image and mental health. Rather than seeing it as a rite of passage or an unavoidable experience in the school environment, psychologists now understand that bullying is more than childhood aggression or adolescent melodrama. Bullying lowers victims' self-esteem, makes them feel powerless, and often results in depression. The worst outcome of bullying is suicide.
Bullying can involve an older, larger child (or several children) victimizing a single child who is incapable of defending himself. Although much bullying goes unreported, it is estimated that in the average school incidents of bullying occur approximately once every seven minutes. Bullying occurs at about the same rate regardless of class size or school size. Rural schools appear to have a higher rate of bullying than urban or suburban schools. Even when bullying is reported, it is not always taken seriously by teachers and parents; many adults believe that children should learn to stand up for themselves.
Bullying begins at a very early age; bullies are evident in preschool classrooms. Until about age seven, bullies appear to choose their victims at random. After that, they single out specific children to torment on a regular basis. Nearly twice as much bullying occurs in grades two to four as in grades six to eight, and, as bullies grow older, the tools become more sophisticated. They rely less on physical abuse and more upon verbal abuse.
Until about sixth grade, bullies are not necessarily unpopular. They average two or three friends, and some children seem to admire them because they appear tough. By high school, however, their social acceptance has diminished to the point that their only friends are other bullies. Despite their unpopularity, bullies seem to have relatively high self-esteem. Some experts theorize that bullies may process social information inaccurately.
For example, bullies attribute hostile intentions to people around them; therefore, they perceive provocation where it does not exist. For the bully, perceived slights serve as justification for aggressive behavior.
Kowalski, Robin M., et al. Cyberbullying: Bullying in the Digital Age. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
Monks, Claire P., and Iain Coyne, eds. Bullying in Different Contexts. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.
Vernberg, Eric M., and Bridget K. Biggs, eds. Preventing and Treating Bullying and Victimization. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.