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Causes and symptoms


Treatments and prevention


Bullying is a persistent pattern of threatening, harassing, or aggressive behavior directed toward another person or persons who are perceived as smaller, weaker, or less powerful. Although often thought of as a childhood phenomenon, bullying can occur wherever people interact, most notably observable in the workplace and in the home. Bullying is also called harassment.


“Kids will be kids,” the saying goes, so warning signs of bullying are often overlooked as a natural part of childhood. However, although playground bullies have been around since time immemorial, such behavior should neither be considered acceptable nor excusable. Bullying is a form of abuse and violence, and the tragic Columbine High School massacre in 1999 underscores the potential dangers of unchecked bullying.

There are many forms of bullying. Bullies may intimidate or harass their victims physically through hitting, pushing, or other physical violence; verbally through such actions as threats or name calling; or psychologically through spreading rumors, making sexual comments or gestures, or excluding the victim from desired activities. Such behavior does not need to occur in person: Cyberbullying is a persistent pattern of threatening, harassing, or aggressive behavior carried out online.

There are many reasons to stop bullying. Bullying interferes with school performance, and children who are afraid of being bullied are more likely to miss school or drop out. Bullied children frequently experience developmental harm and fail to reach their full physiological, social, and academic potentials. Children who are bullied grow increasingly insecure and anxious, and have persistently decreased self-esteem and greater depression than their peers, often even as adults. Children have even been known to commit suicide as a result of being bullied.

People who are bullies as children often become bullies as adults. Bullying behavior in the home is called child abuse or spousal abuse. Bullying also occurs in prisons and in churches.

Recently, attention has been turned to the topic of bullying in the workplace (sometimes called harassment), where bosses and organizational peers bully those whom they perceive as their inferiors or weaker

than they. Those bullied at work often become perceived as ineffective, thus abrogating their career success and influencing their earning potential. Victims of workplace bullying often change jobs in search of a less hostile environment because organizations are frequently not sensitive to the issue of workplace bullying or equipped to adequately or justly deal with it.


Bullying in children

Bullying among children is a persistent and substantial problem. According to a study published in 2001 by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Nickelodeon Television, 55% of 8-11-year-olds and 68% of 12-15-year-olds said that bullying is a “big problem” for people their age. Seventy-four percent of the 8-11-year-olds and 86% of the 12-15-year-olds also reported that children were bullied or teased at their school. Children at greatest risk of being bullied are those who are perceived as social isolates or outcasts by their peers, have a history of changing schools, have poor social skills and a desire to fit in “at any cost,” are defenseless, or are viewed by their peers as being different.

A study of more than 16,000 children in the sixth through tenth grades conducted for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that bullying is a common problem in the United States and requires serious attention. Nearly 60% of the children responding to the survey reported that they had been victims of rumors. More than 50% of the children reported that they had been the victims of sexual harassment.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) of the U.S. Department of Education found that white, non-Hispanic children were more likely to report being the victims of bullying than black or other non-Hispanic children. Younger children were more likely to report being bullied than older children, and children attending schools with gangs were more likely to report being bullied than children in schools without a major gang presence. No differences were found in these patterns between public and private schools. Fewer children reported bullying in schools that were supervised by police officers, security officers, or staff hallway monitors. Victims of bullying were more likely to be criminally victimized at school than were other children. Victims of bullying were more afraid of being attacked both at school and elsewhere and more likely to avoid certain areas of school (for example, the cafeteria, hallways or stairs, or restrooms) or activities where bullying was more likely to take place. Significantly, victims of bullies were more likely to report that they carried weapons to school for protection.

Children who are identified as bullies by the time they are eight years of age are six times more likely than other children to have a criminal conviction by the time they are 24 years old. Bullying behavior may also be accompanied by other inappropriate behavior, including criminal, delinquent, or gang behavior.

Bullying in the workplace

Although research has been conducted on bullying in Europe for some time, the topic has only recently become of interest in the United States. There are no “official” figures currently available for incidents of bullying in the workplace. However, the nonprofit Workplace Bullying Institute conducted an informal survey of 1,000 self-selected volunteer respondents. Although it cannot be assumed that the volunteers answering the survey are representative of individuals in the workplace in general, the results do give food for thought concerning the prevalence of workplace bullying.

In the survey, 80% of the women and 20% of the men reported having been bullied at work. Sixty-one percent of the victims of workplace bullying said that the behavior was ongoing. The survey also found that 70% of victims of workplace bullying lose their jobs: 37% of the victims were fired or involuntarily terminated and 16% of the victims transferred to another position within the same organization. On the other hand, the survey found that only 4% of bullies stopped their aggressive or harassing actions after punishment and that only 9% of workplace bullies were transferred, fired, or involuntarily terminated. Contrary to the cartoon portrait of male bullies, the survey showed that 50% of workplace bullying was done by women victimizing other women. Men bullying women accounted for only 30% of bullying, while men bullying men accounted for 12% of workplace bullying and women bullying men accounted for 8%. The figure with women bullying other women is particularly interesting because such same-sex harassment (with the exception of sexual harassment) is usually outside the scope of antidiscrimination laws and is typically not tracked.

Causes and symptoms

As of this writing, there is no evidence to support the theory that there is a genetic component to bullying behavior. Particularly in children, it is most often theorized that bullying is a result of the bully copying the actions of role models who bully others. This frequently happens when bullies come from a home in which one parent bullies another or one or both parents bully the children. When such behavior is modeled for children with personality traits such as lack of impulse control or aggression, they are particularly prone to bullying behavior, which is often continued into adulthood.

Bullying in children

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, children with dominant personalities and who are more impulsive and active are more prone to becoming bullies than children without these traits. Bullies also often have a history of emotional or behavioral problems. Victims of bullying, on the other hand, tend to be more anxious, insecure, and socially isolated than their peers, and often lack age-appropriate social skills. The probability of victimization can be compounded when the victim has low self-esteem due to physical characteristics (for example, the victim believes her/himself to be unattractive or is outside the normal range for height or weight) or problems (for example, health problems or physical or mental disability).

Warning signs and factors that may indicate risk for being or becoming a bully include:

  • lack of impulse control (frequent loss of temper, extreme impulsiveness, easily frustrated, extreme mood swings)
  • family factors (abuse or violence within the family, substance or alcohol abuse within the family, overly permissive parenting, lack of clear limits, inadequate parental supervision, harsh/corporal punishment, child abuse, inconsistent parenting)
  • behavioral symptoms (gang affiliation, name calling or abusive language, carrying a weapon, hurting animals, alcohol or drug abuse, making serious threats, vandalizing or damaging property, frequent physical fighting)

Symptoms that a child may be being bullied include:

  • social withdrawal or isolation (few or no friends; feeling isolated, sad, and alone; feeling picked on or persecuted; feeling rejected or not liked; having poor social skills)
  • somatic complaints (frequent complaints about illness; displaying victim body language, including hanging head, hunching shoulders, and avoiding eye contact)
  • avoidant behavior (not wanting to go to school; skips classes or skips school)
  • affective reactions (crying easily; having mood swings; talking about hopelessness, running away, or suicide)
  • physical clues (bringing home damaged possessions or reports that belongings were “lost”)
  • behavior changes (changes in eating or sleeping patterns)
  • aggressive behavior (threatening violence to self or others, taking or attempting to take weapon to school)

Each child will react to bullying in a different manner, and some children will react with only a few of these symptoms. This, however, does not mean that bullying is not severe or that intervention is not needed.

Bullying in the workplace

Bullying in the workplace is usually motivated by political rather than personal reasons. Workers compete over scarce resources such as promotions, raises, and the corner office or other honors. In an attempt to climb the ladder of success, some individuals do what they can to not only present themselves in a good light to their superiors, but to make one or more coworkers seem unworthy or inept. Bullying bosses demonstrate poor leadership styles and poor motivational skills, frequently attempting to further either their own or the company’s agenda through harassment, belittling, or other negative behaviors.

Common tactics used by bullies in the workplace include:

  • discounting/belittling victim in public (making statements such as “that’s silly” in response to victim’s ideas, disregarding evidence of satisfactory or superlative work done by victim, taking credit for victim’s work)
  • false accusations (rumors about victim, lies about victim’s performance)
  • harassment (verbal putdowns based on gender, race, disability)
  • isolating behaviors (encouraging others to turn against victim, socially or physically isolating the victim from others)
  • nonverbal aggression (staring, glaring, silent treatment)
  • sabotages victim’s work
  • unequal treatment (retaliating against victim who files a complaint, making up arbitrary rules for victim to follow, assigning undesirable work as a punishment, making unreasonable/unreachable goals or deadlines for victim, performing a constructive discharge of duties)


Bullying in itself is not a mental disorder, although aggressive or harassing behavior may be symptomatic of a number of disorders, particularly antisocial personality disorder and schizoid behavior. There are, however, a number of criteria to help determine if someone is a bully. First, to qualify as bullying, the bully’s behavior must be intended to cause physical or psychological harm to the other person. Second, bullying behavior is not an isolated incident but results in a consistent pattern of such behavior over time. Third, bullying occurs where there is an imbalance of power whereby the bully has more physical or psychological power than the victim. Harassing behavior is not considered to be bullying if it occurs between individuals of equal strength and status or if it is a one-time event.

Bullying behavior in children can include any of the following behaviors:

  • dominance (enjoying feeling powerful and in control, seeking to dominate or manipulate others, being a poor winner or loser)
  • lack of empathy (deriving satisfaction from the fears, pain, or discomfort of others; enjoying conflict between others; displaying intolerance and prejudice toward others)
  • negative emotions or violence (displaying uncontrolled anger or a pattern of impulsive and chronic hitting, intimidating, or aggressive behavior)
  • lack of responsibility (blaming others for his/her problems)
  • other behaviors (using drugs or alcohol, or being a gang member; hiding bullying behavior from adults; having a history of discipline problems)

Victims of bullying—whether children or adults—may need to be assessed and treated for an anxiety disorder if they need help responding to or recovering from bullying.

Treatments and prevention

If bullying behavior is symptomatic of an underlying mental disorder such as antisocial personality disorder, treatment and prevention should be guided by and address the underlying disorder. For situations in which bullying behavior is not part of a pattern associated with an underlying mental disorder, treatment and establishing organizational or familial processes for dealing with it are required.

Bullying in children

To help keep a child from becoming a bully, it is important to be a role model for nonviolent behavior. Parents should also clearly communicate to the child that bullying behavior is not acceptable, and clear limits should be established for acceptable behavior and consequences for ignoring the limits should be defined. Teaching good social skills—including efficacious conflict resolution skills and anger management skills—can also help potential bullies learn alternative, socially acceptable behaviors. If the child persists in bullying behavior or if the parent(s) suspect that their child is a bully, help can be sought from mental health professionals and school counselors. Taking the child to a child psychologist and participating in family therapy as appropriate can help teach a bully better interpersonal skills. Contacting the school counselor or a child psychologist is also an appropriate step in helping the victims of bullies.

If parents suspect that their child may be being bullied, they should make sure that he or she understands that the problem is not his or her fault and that he or she does not have to face the situation alone. Parents can discuss ways to deal with bullies, including walking away, being assertive, and getting help. Parents should also encourage the child to report bullying behavior to a teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. However, parents should not try to resolve the situation themselves but should contact the school to report the behavior and for recommendations for further assistance.

Bullying in the workplace

Bullying in the workplace can be minimized if the organization develops and enforces anti-harassment policies and procedures. These should include a stated definition on what constitutes harassment, creating and implementing a disciplinary system to punish the bully rather than the victim, and instituting a formal grievance system to report workplace bullying. Other measures that can be taken include inclusiveness and harassment training, awareness training to educate employees on how to spot bullying behavior, and offering courses in conflict resolution, anger management, or assertiveness training.

Bullies are not the only ones needing help. The intention of a bully is to harm the other person; victims, therefore, may experience a number of negative consequences from being the victim of a bully. If the behavior associated with being a victim persists after the bullying situation has been resolved or if the situation continues without just resolution, victims should be assessed for depression and/or an anxiety disorder if their symptoms warrant, and receive the appropriate treatment.


Antisocial personality disorder —A personality disorder characterized by aggressive, impulsive, or even violent actions that violate the established rules or conventions of a society.

Anxiety disorder —A group of mood disorders characterized by apprehension and associated bodily symptoms of tension (such as tense muscles, fast breathing, rapid heart beat). When anxious, the individual anticipates threat, danger, or misfortune. Anxiety disorders include panic disorder (with or without agoraphobia), agoraphobia without panic disorder, specific phobias, social phobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), acute stress disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, anxiety disorder due to a general medical condition, and substance-induced anxiety disorder.

Representative sample —A subset of the overall population of interest that is chosen so that it accurately displays the same essential characteristics of the larger population in the same proportion.



Einarsen, Ståle, Helge Hoel, Dieter Zapf, and Cary L. Cooper, eds. Bullying and Emotional Abuse in the Workplace: International Perspectives in Research and Practice. New York: Taylor and Francis, 2003.

Espelage, Dorothy L., and Susan M. Swearer, eds. Bullying in American Schools: A Social-Ecological Perspective on Prevention and Intervention. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Geffner, Robert A, Marti Tamm Loring, and Corinna Young, eds. Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research, and Interventions. Binghamton, New York: Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press, 2002.

Needham, Andrea. Workplace Bullying: The Costly Business Secret. New York: Penguin Global, 2004.

O’Moore, Mona, and Stephen Minton. Dealing with Bullying in Schools: A Training Manual for Teachers, Parents and Other Professionals. London: Paul Chapman Publishing, 2004.

Rigby, Ken. New Perspectives on Bullying. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2002.

VandenBos, Gary R.,ed. APA Dictionary of Psychology. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, 2007.


Ahmed, Eliza, and Valerie Braithwaite. “Forgiveness, Reconciliation, and Shame: Three Key Variables in Reducing School Bullying.” Journal of Social Issues 62.2 (2006): 347–70.

Bowling, Nathan A., and Terry A. Beehr. “Workplace Harassment from the Victim’s Perspective: A Theoretical Model and Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Applied Psychology 91.5 (2006): 998-1012.

Chan, John H. F. “Systemic Patterns in Bullying and Victimization.” School Psychology International 27.3 (2006): 352–369.

Cossa, Mario. “How Rude!: Using Sociodrama in the Investigation of Bullying and Harassing Behavior and in Teaching Civility in Educational Communities.” Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychodrama and Sociometry 58.4 (2006): 182–94.

Heydenberk, Roberta A., Warren R. Heydenberk, and Vera Tzenova. “Conflict Resolution and Bully Prevention: Skills for School Success.” Conflict Resolution Quarterly 24.1 (2006): 55–69.

Kim, Young Shin, Bennett L. Leventhal, Yun-Joo Koh, Alan Hubbard, and W. Thomas Boyce. “School Bullying and Youth Violence: Causes or Consequences of Psychopathologic Behavior?” Archives of General Psychiatry 63.9 (2006): 1035–41.

Ledley, Deborah Roth, and others. “The Relationship Between Childhood Teasing and Later Interpersonal Functioning.” Journal of Psychopathology and Behavioral Assessment 28.1 (2006): 33–40.

Lee, Raymond T., and Céleste M. Brotheridge. “When Prey Turns Predatory: Workplace Bullying as a Predictor of Counteraggression/Bullying, Coping, and Well-Being.” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 15.3 (2006): 352–77.

Lewis, Sian E. “Recognition of Workplace Bullying: A Qualitative Study of Women Targets in the Public Sector.” Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology 16.2 (2006): 119–35.

Lutgen-Sandvik, Pamela. “Take This Job and …: Quitting and Other Forms of Resistance to Workplace Bullying.” Communication Monographs 73.4 (2006): 406–33.

Moayed, Farman A., Nancy Daraiseh, Richard Shell, and Sam Salem. “Workplace Bullying: A Systematic Review of Risk Factors and Outcomes.” Theoretical Issues in Ergonomics Science 7.3 (2006): 311–27.

Nickel, Marius K., and others. “Influence of Family Therapy on Bullying Behaviour, Cortisol Secretion, Anger, and Quality of Life in Bullying Male Adolescents: A Randomized, Prospective, Controlled Study.” Canadian Journal of Psychiatry 51.6 (2006): 355–62.

Parkins, Irina Sumajin, and Harold D. Fishbein. “The Influence of Personality on Workplace Bullying and Discrimination.” Journal of Applied Social Psychology 36.10 (2006): 2554–77.

Patchin, Justin W., and Sameer Hinduja. “Bullies Move Beyond the Schoolyard: A Preliminary Look at Cyber-bullying.” Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice 4.2 (2006): 148–69.

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American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. 3615 Wisconsin Avenue N.W., Washington, DC 20016–3007. Telephone: (202) 966–7300. <http://www.aacap.org>.

Mental Health America. 2000 N. Beauregard Street, 6th Floor, Alexandria, VA 22311. Telephone: (800) 969–6642. TTY: (800) 433–5959. <http://www.nmha.org>.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. P.O. Box 3006, Rockville, MD 20847. Telephone: (800) 370–2943. TTY: Telephone: (888) 320–6942. <http://www.nichd.nih.gov>.

National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), Public Information and Communications Branch. 6001 Executive Boulevard, Room 8184, MSC 9663, Bethesda, MD 20892–9663. Telephone: (866) 615-6464. TTY: (866) 415-8051. <http://www.nimh.nih.gov>.

National Mental Health Information Center. P.O. Box 42557, Washington, DC 20015. Telephone: (800) 789–2647. TDD: (866) 889–2647. <http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov>.

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Workplace Bullying Institute. Telephone: (360) 656-6630. <http://www.bullyinginstitute.org>.

Ruth A. Wienclaw, PhD


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Bullies are aggressive children who repeatedly physically or emotionally abuse, torment, or victimize smaller, weaker, or younger children.


Bullying usually involves an older or larger child or children victimizing a single child who is unable to defend himself or herself. Bullying is generally viewed as a form of harassment committed by a child or children who are older, stronger, or otherwise more powerful socially, upon weaker adolescents. Often, the power of the bully is dependent on the perception of the victim, with the bullied child often too intimidated to effectively resist the bully.

Although the stereotypical bully is male, girls engage in bullying behavior almost as often as boys. Their tactics differ, however, in that they are less visible. Boys who are bullies tend to resort to one-on-one physical aggression, while girls tend to bully as a group through social exclusion and the spreading of rumors. Girls who would never bully individually will often take part in group bullying activities.

Bullying begins at a very early age; it is not uncommon to find bullies in preschool . 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 goes on in grades two to four as in grades six to eight, and, as bullies grow older, they tend to use less physical abuse and more verbal abuse.

Bullies are often popular among their peers until about sixth grade. They average two or three friends, and other children seem to admire them for their physical toughness. By high school, however, their social acceptance diminishes to the point that their only "friends" are other bullies. Despite their unpopularity, bullies have relatively high self-esteem , perhaps because they process social information inaccurately.

For example, bullies attribute hostile intentions to people around them and therefore perceive provocation where it does not exist. "What are you staring at?" is a common opening line of bullies. For the bully, these perceived slights serve as justification for aggressive behavior .

Children who become the targets of bullies generally have a negative view of violence and go out of their way to avoid conflict. They tend to be "loners" who exhibit signs of vulnerability before being singled out by a bully. Being victimized leads these children, who already may lack self-esteem, to feel more anxious, thereby increasing their vulnerability to further bullying. Being the target of a bully leads to social isolation and rejection by peers, and victims tend to internalize others' negative views, further eroding their self-esteem. Although bullying actually lessens during adolescence , this is the period when peer rejection is most painful for victims.

Sometimes the victims of bullies are larger, stronger, or older than the bully but allow the bullying to continue because they are intimidated, do not believe in violence, or are taught non-violence by their parents.

Studies show that students who are gay or bisexual or are perceived as gay or bisexual experience an extremely high rate of bullying, not only by other students, but often by teachers and other school personnel. Also, bullying against gay and bisexual students is often ignored or sometimes encouraged by homophobic school staff members.

According to the American School Health Association, students who discover they are gay or bisexual often experience rejection, discrimination, isolation, and violence, and this fact makes it all the more important for teachers and administrators to be supportive and sensitive to them. Schools are obligated under federal law to protect students from discrimination and harassment, from other students as well as teachers and all other school employees. In 1996, a federal appeals court ruled that school officials can be held liable under the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution for not protecting gay and bisexual students from harassment and discrimination. The ruling still stood as of 2004.

Extensive long-term research indicates that bullying is not a phase a child outgrows. In a study of more than 500 children, University of Michigan researchers discovered that children who were viewed as the most aggressive by their peers at age eight grew up to commit increasingly more serious crimes as adults. Other studies indicate that, as adults, bullies are far more likely to abuse their spouses and children.

Modern schools tend to discourage bullying with programs designed to teach students cooperation and train peers in bullying intervention techniques. However, some schools have a zero tolerance for violence so if two students are discovered in a fight, both are disciplined, often by suspension, even though one may be the bully and the other the victim.

Experts say that school violence often is rooted in bullying. While bullying is often verbal threats and harassment, it can get out of control and turn into violence, including the use of weapons.

Researchers who have studied bullying have concluded that up to 15 percent of children say they are regularly bullied, and it occurs most frequently at school in areas where there is inadequate or no adult supervision, such as the playground, hallways, cafeteria, and in classrooms before lessons start. Bullying usually starts in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and drops in high school. It does not disappear, however. Although boys are more often the perpetrators and victims of bullying, girls tend to bully in indirect ways, such as manipulating friendships, ostracizing classmates, and spreading malicious rumors. Boys who are regularly bullied tend to be more passive and physically weaker than the bullies. In middle school, girls who mature early are commonly victims of bullying, according to some findings.


Bullying behavior can be seen as early as preschool. However, little data exists regarding the prevalence of bullying in preschool. Preschool-age children may bully others to get attention, show off, or to get another child's possessions, such as toys , clothing, or use of playground equipment. They may also be jealous of the children they are bullying or may be getting bullied themselves. Preschool bullying usually begins with name-calling and can escalate into physical violence if left unchecked. Preschool teachers are urged to intervene immediately to stop bullying and to teach acceptable behavior. If teachers or staff at a preschool do not do enough to stop bullying, parents should find another preschool.

School age

A 2001 report by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) found that 17 percent of the respondents had been bullied sometimes or weekly; 19 percent had bullied others sometimes or weekly, and 6 percent had both bullied others and been bullied. The researchers estimated that 1.6 million children in grades six through 10 in the United States are bullied at least once a week and 1.7 million children bully others as frequently.

The survey, the first nationwide research on the problem in this country, questioned 15,686 public and private school students, grades six through 10, on their experiences with bullying. In a study of 6,500 middle school students in rural South Carolina, 23 percent said they had been bullied regularly during the previous three months, and 20 percent admitted bullying another child regularly during the same time.

Bullying appears to be rapidly increasing, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. Among sixth-grade students, rates of bullying rose from 10.5 percent in 1999 to 14.3 percent in 2001; among eighth-grade students victimization by bullies went from 5.5 percent in 1999 to 9.2 percent in 2001. In the tenth grade, bullying rose from 3.2 percent in 1999 to 4.6 percent in 2001, and among twelfth graders, it doubled from 1.2 percent in 1999 to 2.4 percent just two years later.

A bully's behavior does not exist in isolation. Rather, it may indicate the beginning of a generally antisocial and rule-breaking behavior pattern that can extend into adulthood. Programs to address the problem, therefore, must reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying behavior. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed, refined, and systematically evaluated in Norway in the mid-1980s, is the best-known initiative designed to reduce bullying among elementary, middle, and junior high school children. The strategy behind the program is to involve school staff, students, and parents in efforts to designed to develop awareness about bullying, improve peer relations, intervene to stop intimidation, develop clear rules against bullying behavior, and support and protect victims.

The program intervenes on three levels:

  • School: Faculty and staff survey students anonymously to determine the nature and prevalence of the school's bullying problem, increase supervision of students during breaks, and conduct school-wide assemblies to discuss the issue. Teachers receive in-service training on how to implement the program.
  • Classroom: Teachers and other school personnel introduce and enforce classroom rules against bullying, hold regular classroom meetings with students to discuss bullying, and meet with parents to encourage their participation.
  • Individual: Staff intervention with bullies, victims, and their parents to ensures that the bullying stops.

The Bergen research showed that the program was highly effective among students in elementary, middle, and junior high schools: Bullying dropped by 50 percent or more during the program's two years. Behavior changes were more pronounced the longer the program was in effect. The school climate improved, and the rate of antisocial behavior , such as theft, vandalism, and truancy , declined during the two-year period.

Common problems

The NICHD study found that bullying has long-term and short-term psychological effects on both those who bully and those who are bullied. Victims experience loneliness and report having trouble making social and emotional adjustments, difficulty making friends, and poor relationships with classmates. Victims of bullying often suffer humiliation, insecurity, and a loss of self-esteem, and often develop a fear of going to school. The impact of frequent bullying often accompanies these victims into adulthood; they are at greater risk of suffering from depression and other mental health problems, including schizophrenia . In rare cases, they commit suicide .

Bullying behavior has been linked to other forms of antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, shoplifting, skipping and dropping out of school, fighting, and using alcohol and other drugs. Research suggests that bullying can lead to criminal behavior later in life: 60 percent of males who were bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime as adults, compared with 23 percent of males who did not bully; 35 to 40 percent of these former bullies had three or more convictions by age 24, compared with 10 percent of those who did not bully.

The NICHD study found that those who bully and are bullied appear to be at greatest risk of experiencing the following: loneliness, trouble making friends, lack of success in school, and involvement in problem behaviors such as smoking , illegal drug use, and drinking.

Parental concerns

Parents should be aware of common signs that a child is being bullied. These include trouble sleeping, bedwetting, stomachaches, headaches, lack of appetite, fear of going to school, crying before or after school, lack of interest in social events, low self-esteem, unexplained loss of personal items and money, unexplained bruises and injuries, and acting out aggressively at home.

Parents should teach their children proper communication skills that they may need to seek assistance if they are being bullied, according to the Web site <www.bullying.org>. Other advice for parents from the Web site include:

  • Be involved with the child's school and talk to other parents about the problem.
  • Meet with school officials and make sure the school has an anti-bullying policy and that it is strictly enforced. If a child is being bullied, meet with school officials to find out what they are doing about it. If no action is being taken, demand that it be done.
  • Talk to the child's teacher or teachers to determine if they have seen any bullying problems in the classroom or playground.
  • Talk to a school counselor and ask that person to discuss bullying with children.
  • Report all verbal or physical threats against a child to school authorities and insist they take action. If they do not take action, report the problem to local police.

When to call the doctor

Bullying is violence. If both bullies and their victims are not offered help, there can be serious long-term consequences for both. Bullies and their victims may need professional counseling or psychological help. Parents should seek immediate help for children who are depressed or suicidal. Parents of bullies also need to seek psychological help for their child if the bullying continues for even a short period of time.


Antisocial behavior Behavior characterized by high levels of anger, aggression, manipulation, or violence.

Harassment The persistent annoying, attacking, or bothering of another person.

Schizophrenia A severe mental illness in which a person has difficulty distinguishing what is real from what is not real. It is often characterized by hallucinations, delusions, and withdrawal from people and social activities.

See also Antisocial behavior.



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Jellinek, Michael S. "Treating Both Bullies and the Bullied." Pediatric News (June 2003): 10.

"Report Cites Harm to Bullies and Victims." Health & Medicine Week (September 29, 2003): 706.


Bullying Prevention Program. Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University, 158 Poole Agricultural Center, Clemson, SC 29634. Web site: <www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov/index.asp.>.

The Healthy Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual Students Project. American Psychological Association Education Directorate, 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC 20002. Web site: <www.apa.org/ed/hlgb/&gt;


"Bullying." Available online at <www.bullying.org> (accessed October 12, 2004).

"Bullying, Harassment, School-based Violence." The Safe Schools Coalition. Available online at <www.safeschoolscoalition.org/RG-bullying_harassment_schoolbasedviolence.html> (accessed October 12, 2004).

Ken R. Wells


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What Is Bullying?

Who Are the Bullies?

Who Gets Bullied?

What Can Be Done About Bullying?


Bullying is when a person repeatedly intimidates or acts aggressively toward those with less power or ability to defend themselves.


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Sam looked at the clock and saw that it was almost lunchtime. He dreaded going to his locker, and he was kicking himself for putting his lunch there this morning. Sam knew Craig and Pete would be waiting for him at the lockers again. His face got red with anger and embarrassment remembering how yesterday, and the day before, they had pushed him against the lockers and grabbed his lunch, tossing it to each other high over his head so he could not get it back, taunting him about being short. He wished he would grow a foot taller like it seemed some of the sixth graders had done over the summer. He wished he had a black belt in karate. He wished his eyes did not fill up with tears when they pushed him and laughed. He wished these bullies would just leave him alone. Sam felt in his pocket to see if he had enough money to buy lunch in the cafeteria. He could hurry to catch up with Jack and Marc as soon as the bell rang, go straight to the cafeteria, and avoid the lockers altogether. Then he would just have to figure out how to steer clear of them on the bus ride home.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is more than normal childhood conflict or occasional unkind words or actions between children; it is an early form of violence. Bullying is when a person gets singled out to be intimidated or picked on over and over again by someone who has more power. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or psychological.

About 1 out of every 10 children is bullied. That means that in an average elementary school classroom at least 2 or 3 children are being bullied. In some schools, more than half the students worry about being bullied. Children may avoid bathrooms, the cafeteria, or the playground for fear of being hurt, picked on, or humiliated by other children. Some children miss school days because of bullying. Others go to school feeling worried or sick and may have trouble concentrating because of it.

Who Are the Bullies?

Bullies can be boys or girls. Boys tend to bully with physical aggression and pick on those who are smaller or weaker than themselves. Girls are more likely to use mean gossip, unkind notes, or social forms of intimidation when they bully. Bullies are children who lack compassion and a sense of how other people feel. Bullies like to dominate others to feel powerful themselves. Many bullies have parents who have modeled aggression as a way to get what they want. Some bullies feel hurt or powerless inside because they have been bullied themselves. However, bullying is not a remedy for feeling powerless. Bullying gives only a false sense of power and usually costs a bully popularity, friendships, and more. As many as 1 of 4 children who are bullies in elementary school have a criminal record by age 30.

Who Gets Bullied?

While anyone can have trouble with a bully now and then, bullies tend to seek out those who are easiest to intimidate. Children who have few friends, cry easily, are timid or insecure, or have trouble sticking up for themselves are easy targets for bullies. Children who pester others, get easily upset, or lose self control may get bullied because the bully can get a big reaction from them. No one deserves to be bullied, and all children have a right to feel safe at school. Even children who do not get bullied are still bothered when they witness bullying in school.

What Can Be Done About Bullying?

The most powerful tool to stop bullies is adult authority. Adults can help by knowing that bullying is not normal childhood behavior, by being on the lookout for it, and by taking steps to end it before it escalates. In many cases, the presence of an adult is enough to discourage bullying. Sometimes children do not let anyone know that they are being bullied because they are ashamed or because they do not think that adults will help. Adults need to let children know that they will listen and help if they are told about bullying. Many schools have started bully-proofing programs that make it clear that bullying is not tolerated. The goal of these programs is to take power away from bullies and to shift power to the larger group of caring, responsible children. Another goal is to teach children how to respond to bullying whether they are being bullied or are a bystander to bullying.

A group of children bullies another student at school. Being physically surrounded and teased by a group can be especially frightening for the bullied child. Jennie Woodcock; Reflections Photolibrary/Corbis

See also

Conduct Disorder



Oppositional Defiant Disorder

School Avoidance




Garrity, Carla, Kathryn Jens, William Porter, Nancy Sager, and Cam Short-Camilli. Bully-Proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Elementary Schools. Longmont, CO: Sopris West, 2000.

Kaufman, Gershen, Lev Raphael, and Pamela Espeland. Stick Up For Yourself: Every Kids Guide to Personal Power and Positive Self-Esteem. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 1999. For ages 8-13.

Romain, Trevor. Bullies are a Pain in the Brain. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 1997. A light-hearted but practical guide for ages 8-13.


KidsHealth.org from the Nemours Foundation posts information about bullying and what to do about it. http://KidsHealth.org/kid/watch/out/bullies.html http://KidsHealth.org/teen/mind_matters/school/bullies.html


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An aggressive child who repeatedly victimizes a less powerful child with physical and/or emotional abuse.

Bullying usually involves an older or larger child (or several children) victimizing a single child who is incapable of defending himself or herself. Although much bullying goes unreported, it is estimated that in the average school an incident of bullying occurs approximately once every seven minutes. Bullying occurs at about the same rate regardless of class size or school size, but, for an unknown reason, 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 because many adults believe that children should learn to "stand up for themselves" or "fight back."

Although the stereotypical bully is male, girls engage in bullying behavior almost as often as boys. Their tactics differ, however, in that they are less visible. Boy bullies tend to resort to one-on-one physical aggression , while girls tend to bully as a group through social exclusion and the spreading of rumors. Girls who would never bully individually will often take part in group bullying activities such as "slam books," notebooks that are circulated among the peer group in which comments and criticisms are written about particular individuals.

Bullying begins at a very early age; it is not uncommon to find bullies in preschool classrooms. Up 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 goes on in grades two to four as in grades six to eight, and, as bullies grow older, they use less physical abuse and more verbal abuse.

Until about sixth grade, bullies are not necessarily unpopular. They average two or three friends, and other children seem to admire them for their physical toughness. By high school, however, their social acceptance has diminished to the point that their only "friends" are other bullies. Despite their unpopularity, bullies have relatively high self-esteem . Perhaps this is because they process social information inaccurately.

For example, bullies attribute hostile intentions to people around them and therefore perceive provocation where it does not exist. "What are you staring at?" is a common opening line of bullies. For the bully, these perceived slights serve as justification for aggressive behavior.

In general, children who become the targets of bullies have a negative view of violence and go out of their way to avoid conflict. They tend to be "loners" who exhibit signs of vulnerability before being singled out by a bully. Being victimized leads these childrenwho are already lacking in self-esteemto feel more anxious and thereby increase their vulnerability to further victimization. Being the target of a bully leads to social isolation and rejection by peers, and victims tend to internalize others' negative views, further eroding their self-esteem. Although bullying actually lessens during adolescence , that is the period when peer rejection is most painful for victims. In a number of well-publicized cases (in Scandinavia, Japan, and Australia, as well as the United States), adolescents tormented by bullies have been driven to suicide .

Evidence indicates that bullying is not a phase a child will outgrow. In a long-term study of more than 500 children, University of Michigan researchers discovered that children who were viewed as the most aggressive by their peers at age eight grew up to commit more (and more serious) crimes as adults. Other studies indicate that, as adults, bullies are far more likely to abuse their spouses and children.


Parents and teachers can do a number of things to prevent bullying:

  • All children should be given regular opportunities to discuss bullying and ways to deal with bullies. in role-playing exercises, for example, children can practice saying, "Leave me alone" and walking away.
  • Children can be taught simple measures to lessen the likelihood of becoming the target of a bully. Looking people in the eye, speaking up, and standing straight are just a few behaviors that communicate self-confidence.
  • Children who tend to be loners (potential targets of bullies) can be paired up with socially competent "models." Some children need a little help learning how to make friends.
  • Because bullies are most likely to strike during unsupervised times such as recess, children should be provided with as much structured activity as possible.

Further Reading

Olweus, Dan. Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1993.

Further Information

Bullies and Scapegoats Project.

Educators for Social Responsibility. 23 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138, (617) 4921764.

National School Safety Center. 4165 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Westlake Village, CA 91362, (805) 7779977.


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Bullying involves teasing, insulting, tormenting, intimidating, or being verbally or physically aggressive toward a victim. Bullying behavior may also be indirect, taking the form of rumors, social exclusion, nasty notes, and other insidious means. Bullying is typically repetitive in nature, with bullies targeting victims repeatedly. This behavior tends to be sustained over a long period of time—it frequently persists over a year or more. Bullying can be carried out by a single child or groups of children. This behavior is more common among children with psychological disturbances and tends to be more frequently seen in boys than in girls. The behavior often creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation among those affected. The bully-victim interaction is characterized by an imbalance of power; that is, the victim is or feels incapable of defending him-or herself, and the bully is or is perceived to be more powerful than the victim.



Boulton, Michael. "Concurrent and Longitudinal Relations between Children's Playground Behavior and Social Preference, Victimization, and Bullying."Child Development 70 (1999):944-954.

Kumpulainen, Kirsti, Eila Rasanen, Irmeli Henttonen, et al. "Bullying and Psychiatric Symptoms among Elementary School-Age Children." Child Abuse and Neglect 22 (1998):705-717.

Olweus, Dan. Bullying in School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Oxford: Blackwell, 1993.

Smith, Peter, and Paul Brain. "Bullying in Schools: Lessons from Two Decades of Research." Aggressive Behavior 26 (2000):1-9.



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bul·ly1 / ˈboŏlē/ • n. (pl. -lies) a person who uses strength or power to harm or intimidate those who are weaker.• v. (-lies, -lied) [tr.] use superior strength or influence to intimidate (someone), typically to force him or her to do what one wants.bul·ly2 inf. • adj. very good; first-rate: the statue really looked bully.• interj. (bully for) an expression of admiration or approval: he got away—bully for him.bul·ly3 (also bully beef) inf. • n. corned beef.


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Bully ★ 2001

Director Clark continues his cinematic theme (announced in “Kids”) of amoral and hedonistic young adults with this adaptation of the true story reof a 1993 murder by a group of teens in Florida. Bobby (Stahl) is a dominating scumbag who pushes his best friend Marheadty (Renfro) around and pressures him into unwanted sexual and narcotic experimentation. When Marty meets and begins dating Lisa (Miner), Bobby forces himself into their sexual encounters. After Bobby rapes Lisa's friend Ali (Phillips), Lisa deMicides that the only solution is to kill Bobby. Inexperienced in such things, the homici-Sardal posse gets some advice from a hit man (Fitzpatrick) who's barely older than they are. Filling the screen with graphic scenes of drug use and joyless sex, Clark doesn't seem to have any message other than “Look how bad these kids are. Now look at them naked.” No psychological depth is given to the characters, although the actors do their best with what they've got. Also available in an rated version at 107 minutes. 113m/C VHS, DVD . US Brad Renfro, Nick Stahl, Bijou Phillips, Rachel Miner, Michael Pitt, Kelli Garner, Daniel Franzese, Leo Fitzpatrick; Cameos: Larry Clark; D: Larry Clark; W: Zachary Long, Roger Pullis; C: Steve Gainer.


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89. Bullying

  1. Chowne, Parson Stoyle terrorizes parish; kidnaps children. [Br. Lit.: The Maid of Sker, Walsh Modern, 9495]
  2. Claypole, Noah bully; becomes thief in Fagins gang. [Br. Lit.: Oliver Twist ]
  3. Curley he picks on feeble-minded Lennie. [Am. Lit.: Of Mice and Men ]
  4. Flashman, Harry unconscionably impudent and overbearing coward. [Br. Lit.: Flashman; Tom Browns Schooldays ]
  5. hector street gang member (early 1600s). [Br. Hist.: Espy, 40]
  6. Kowalski, Stanley crude humor, animal maleness. [Am. Lit.: A Streetcar Named Desire ]
  7. McTeague forbidden to practice dentistry, he becomes mean and surly. [Am. Lit.: McTeague ]


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bully a person who uses strength or influence to harm or intimidate others who are weaker. Recorded from the mid 16th century (probably coming from Middle Dutch boele ‘lover’), the original use was as a term of endearment applied to either sex; later becoming a familiar form of address to a male friend. The informal North American use of bully as an adjective to mean ‘first rate’ derives ultimately from this.
a bully is always a coward traditional association of overbearing behaviour with lack of fortitude when challenged; recorded from the early 19th century.

See also bully pulpit.


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Bullies woof! 1986 (R)

A woodland-transplanted young man decides to fight back against an ornery mountain clan who have raped his mother, tortured his father, and beat up his girlfriend. Brutal and unpalatable. 96m/C VHS, DVD . CA Janet-Laine Green, Dehl Berti, Stephen Hunter, Jonathan Crombie, Olivia D'Abo; D: Paul Lynch.

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