This paper will present an examination of bullying in schools. Bullying can be linked to school violence and the decrease of academic achievement and low self-esteem (Bulach, Fulbright, & Williams, 2003; Shears, 2002; Beane, 1999). The dynamics of bullying and the nature of the problem were examined in the study.
The U.S. Department of Education (1997) has reported that approximately three million serious crimes take place at schools annually, which means an average 16,000 major episodes occur each day. Almost 30 percent of students reported some to frequent participation in bullying behaviors, either as a bully, a victim, or a bystander (National Association of Social Workers [NASW], (2002b). However, a survey study done by Salmivalli (2001) discovered that a majority of the school-aged children responded that they believe “bullying is stupid” (p.273). Bullying is happening in America’s schools daily. Tragedy has been demonstrated through horrible events like school shootings and suicide among youth, and evidence shows bullying was a precursor to these events. A brutal attack took place in Conyers, Georgia when T.J. Solomon killed six follow classmates. Bender, Shubert, and McLaughlin (2001) cited Solomon was viewed as a nerd, really shy and not popular by his peers. The victim of bullying became the perpetrator of a deadly attack. Similarly, in Littleton, Colorado Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold killed 13 classmates and injured many others. “You deserve to die because you let this bullying go on,” Klebold had stated during his 1999 attack (Winter, 2001, p. 21). Klebold’s statement suggests bullying may have been a factor in these violent attacks. The violent attack of Harris and Klebold’s at Columbine High School was not the only possible result of the bullying they encountered, but also their committal of suicide, demonstrating suicide is also a potential outcome of unresolved bullying conflict. Another scenario explained by Hazler (2000), was the incident of Kelly, a thirteen year old girl who was consistently verbally abused by peers and clearly unwanted by others. She told her mother before she went to bed that she was sick of it and had enough of her classmates. She overdosed, committing suicide after being the victim of bullying. According to Bulach, Fulbright, and Williams (2003), violence in the schools is a significant effect of bullying behaviors. Commonly bullying is thought to occur mostly in big cities, although bullying, can take place in any size city. Infact, Olweus (1993) found that the amount of bullied students and bullies in large cities was lower than or similar to the amount in small towns. Dramatic incidents of school violence that have resulted from bullying have occurred in medium to larger sized cities, such as West Paducah, Kentucky; Jonesboro, Arkansas; and Littleton, Colorado; but not Los Angeles, CA or New York City. Bullying is an issue that must be addressed, as tragic events have succeeded those behaviors. In addition, bullying decreases self-esteem, increases school absences, and decreases academic performance (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2001; Beane, 1999). As explained by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (1995), the force with which bullying can impact the emotions of a student is obvious when 1 of every 20 students missed school at least one time in a month because the student felt unsafe on the way to school. Bullying behaviors need to be prevented and stopped. According to Hazler (2000), a strong influence for youth as they seek their identity is feeling of acceptance and worth from others. If a feeling of worth is not perceived, youth find a way to respond, whether it is by internalizing which leads to depression, or by externalizing, which leads to aggression. Failure to address bully behaviors undermines school safety. In the last 10 years safety in school has been increasingly compromised (Shen, 1997). Schools are often viewed as one of the safest environment for children; contrary to that belief, 7-10% of school-aged children are occasionally involved in bullying during a school term, either as a bully or a victim (Atlas & Pepler, 1998). Yet, important to remember that National Association of Social Workers (2002B) reported about 30 percent of students reported some to frequent participation in bullying behaviors, either as a bully, a victim, or a bystander. Research demonstrates many more students are affected by bullying than just the victim and perpetrator. Although some teasing is a portion of normal development, there comes a point when teasing becomes bullying. Roberts (2000) explained that when manner, intensity, and incidence of teasing behaviors have increased it is an indication of teasing possibly turning into bullying. Bullying takes place in three forms: physical, verbal, and emotional. According to NASW (2002a), physical bullying can include poking, pinching, biting, hitting, choking, and beating, while verbal bullying may include name-calling, threats and spreading rumors. Emotional bullying can include all of the previously stated behaviors but also include exclusion, defamation of character, and blackmail.
Statement of the Problem
Bullying is aggressive or insulting behaviors by an individual or group, often repeated over a period of time that intentionally hurts or harms. Research confirms the destructive effects of bullying on young people’s lives. Although some can shrug it off, bullying can produce feelings of powerlessness, isolation from others, undermine self-esteem and sometimes convince the victims that they are at fault. It can affect attitudes to and performance in school. For some, it can lead to serious and prolonged distress and long-term damage to social and emotional development.
Importance of the Study
Although the literature on bullying has grown significantly over the last decade, little research has been published in this area from a North American perspective (Hoover & Hazler, 1991). The main research interest in bullying began in Scandinavia in the 1970”s. Today, the bulk of the research still originates in Europe, with a large amount of work also being done in Australia. Only a few studies on the nature of bullying in Canada have been located in the literature.
Definition of Terms
For clarification in understanding, the following terms are defined:
Bullying.”…student is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (Olweus, 1993, p.9).
Negative Action. “…intentional infliction, or attempt to inflict inquiry or discomfort upon another” (Olweus, 1993, p. 9). This behavior is carried out verbally with threats, name calling, teasing and taunting. Physically, the behavior is carried out by behaviors such as hitting, kicking, and pinching (Olweus, 1993). Emotional bullying can include spreading rumors, exclusion, extortion, defamation of character, and blackmail (NASW, 2002a).
Several limitations in the data collection process of this study exist. One limitation was small sample size. Lack of accessibility precluded survey of additional schools. The validity of the instrument is not well-established as it has only been used in one other study. Participants used self-report to answer all questions accurately and honestly, limiting the reliability of the answers.
Typology of bullying behavior is explained with regard to the actual behaviors taking place. The characteristics and outcomes of bullying behaviors are described for both the perpetrator and the victim.
According to Shen (1997), school violence is on the rise. Violence from the home and communities is stretching into the schools. Situations such as school shootings and suicide do not occur as the result of one awful school day. Rather school shootings and suicide are the result of the advancement of traumatizing encounters over time (Hazler, 2000). Social withdrawal, feelings of isolation, loneliness, persecution, and rejection, as well as low interest in school, and expression of violent writing and drawings are indications of a student bullying that often lead to violence (Beane, 1999). Shen (1997) also explained that the percentages of people who view weapons as being problematic in schools doubled between 1988 and 1994. Students who commit violent acts in schools are not normally the students known as trouble-makers or aggressive types. Aggressive students viewed as the bully usually do not commit the violent school crimes. Research shows that it is usually the victim of long-term bullying that commits violent school crimes (Bender, Shubert, & McLaughlin, 2001).
Deciphering a bullying behavior from teasing behaviors can come with difficulty. Roberts (2000) explained that some teasing normally occurs during child development and is valuable in building social skills necessary to be assertive and stand up for themselves; it is the manner, incidence, and intensity that mark the behavior as bullying. In understanding bullying developmentally, the behaviors begin in elementary school, but reach their peak in middle school and begin to decrease in high school (Bulach, Fulbright, & Williams, 2003).
Bullying can be manifested verbally, physically, and emotionally. Physical bullying entails poking, pinching, biting, hitting, hair pulling, kicking, or beating (NASW, 2002a). Physical bullying such as this takes place more often among school-age boys than school-age girls (Olweu, 1993). NASW (2002a) also reported females were more likely to be bullied with rumors than males. Since girls have been found to be less physically aggressive than their male counterparts, their more subtle bullying behavior is overlooked by adults (NASW, 2002b). In a study conducted by Atlas and Pepler (1998), 53% of observed bullying episodes included verbal bullying, while physical bullying took place in only 30% observed episodes.
It is commonly believed that bullying takes place primarily on the way to and from school, but Olweus (1993) has reported that without a doubt most bullying takes place at school. Olweus (1993) found that three times more bullying took place at school than in route to and from school. Sheras (2002) explained that the locations within the school that are unsupervised like bathrooms and locker rooms are most often used by bullies.
School-age bullies are unique in comparison to classmates due to their aggression toward peers. Sheras (2002) clarified that all students feel anger; bullies usually have an inability to channel their anger in an acceptable fashion. Beane (1999) explained that bullies are different from a student who may tease someone occasionally, because a pattern of intimidation forms. Perpetrators of bully behaviors have little empathy for others, have a more positive attitude toward violence, and are aggressive to parents and teachers as well as their peers. (Olweus, 1993). According to Sheras (2002), bullies find victims who are weak in some way to harass in mental or physical ways.
A random sample of approximately 200 students was drawn from each of grades 5 through 8 across the participating school division. Proportionate numbers were drawn from all 33 elementary schools as well an alternative middle school, which had students in grades 7 and 8 among its student body. The students received parent consent forms at school, along with a letter from the Superintendent of Education, and students whose parent (s) or guardian (s) returned signed consent forms were allowed to participate in the study.
The Peer Relations Questionnaire (PRQ) (1995) was developed in Australia by Ken Rigby and Philip Slee to measure bully/victim problems between school children. The PRQ is designed for use with children ten years and above in age, and consists of seven sections with a total of 40 items.
The results from the study supports the findings that link bullying to school violence and other negative outcomes such as low self-esteem and poor academic achievement (Bulach, Fulbright, & Williams, 2003; Beane, 1999; Hazler, 2000). This evidence supports the findings of Olweus (1993), who reported more bullying to occur at school than in route to and from school or before and after school .
With less supervision in the hallways and the cafeteria, the results confirm those of Sheras (2002), who reported that locations within the school that are unsupervised are most often used by bullies.
Recommendations for future research in this area include many areas. Researchers need data from a larger sample in a different population such as a large urban city, suburban community. Intervention and prevention strategies for faculty, parents, and students should be investigated to find what best can help reduce bullying in the school.
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