Each morning during the school week, Adam woke up with a knot of anxiety in the pit of his stomach. He knew that he faced bullying at school by three boys in his class. Yesterday, they told him they would beat him up if he showed up for school today. Adam was so nervous he pretended to be sick so he could stay home. Adam has does this a lot over the past three months and his grades are suffering because of it.

Adam is not alone. Every day there are more school absences due to bullying than any other issue or illness. Bullying affects not only students’ well-being and academic achievement, it can negatively affect a school’s climate and culture and it can put a school at risk for liability issues.

What is Bullying?

Dr. Dan Olweus pioneering researcher on bullying and the creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, defines bullying this way:

“Bullying is when someone repeatedly and on purpose says or does mean or hurtful things to another person who has a hard time defending himself or herself.”

According to Dr. Olweus, this definition includes three important components:

  1. Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
  2. Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
  3. Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.

This imbalance of power or strength could involve a larger or older student bullying smaller or younger students. It could involve a group of students bullying one student, or a student with more “social power” bullying a less popular student.

Types of Bullying

Bullying can happen in many ways. Most types of bullying fall into two categories: direct bullying and indirect bullying.

Direct bullying involves physical confrontations such as hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting; and verbal harassment such as taunting, teasing, racial slurs; and threats and obscene gestures.

Indirect bullying is more subversive and can include getting someone to bully for you, spreading rumors, deliberately excluding someone from a group or activity, and cyber bullying.

No matter the type of bullying used, all forms are equally harmful and can have long-lasting consequences.

How Prevalent is Bullying?

According to the 2007 Minnesota Student Survey, 29 percent of students reported they had been bullied once a week or more often and 55 percent of sixth grade students reported having been teased or excluded by others in the past month. These percentages are higher than the national average, representing nearly one in three students in our schools. In the 2006-2007 school year, there were 857 incidents of bullying resulting in out-of-school suspension or expulsion in Minnesota schools.

Not only is bullying prevalent, but children and youth report being extremely concerned about it.  In a 2003 Harris poll of more than 2,200 girls between the ages of 8 and 17 commissioned by the Girl Scouts of America, bullying topped girls’ list of concerns. When asked what they worried about the most, the most common response was being socially ostracized—being teased or made fun of.

In fact, among tweens (ages 8-13), 41% admitted that this was a major worry.  It was cited:

  • Two times as often as fears about terrorist attacks, war, or natural disasters;
  • 15 times as often as dying or the death of a loved one; and
  • 30 times as often as they cited fears or worries about school or grades.

When you consider the many different forms it can take and how prevalent it has become, educators can no longer consider bullying a “rite of passage” or something that children just need to learn to deal with. Bullying is a form of peer abuse and every child has a fundamental human right to feel safe at school and be spared the humiliation that happens with bullying.

For more information about bullying or the Michigan Bullying Prevention Summit, visit http://www.memspa.org/ or call 517.694.8955.

Thank you to Hazelden for providing this article.