According to the Anti-Bullying Alliance, 32% of all UK students are bullied - with over half of those cases attributed to cyberbullying. Over the last decade, schools have tried to implement a “zero tolerance” bullying policy – but it’s hard to crack down when the majority of pain is implicit. Here’s a brief overview of the types of bullying, why it happens and action points to improve school policies.
What is bullying?
The official definition of what bullying is was developed by Dan Olweus in 1978: it is “direct and indirect aggression that (a) is intentional, (b) is repeated, and (c) involves a power differential between the aggressor(s) and the target”. In layman’s terms, bullying is an expression of power; these actions are intended to make another person (or group) feel small and weak over a period of time.
Now, we might not be experts, but a lot has changed in 30 years, not to mention the internet. Researchers argue that this is a definition created by adults to understand what bullying is, but isn’t the best representation for young people and what they feel.
One study goes further, interviewing children aged 11 to 13 years old to interpret their view of what bullying is. Their findings revealed that most children identified bullying as physical aggression, humiliation (like pulling a chair away before someone sits on it), mean comments (online and offline) and to a smaller extent, social exclusion.
5 Types of Bullying
We can see that bullying is an umbrella term for a lot of different acts. It can be broken down into 5 different types of bullying, as documented by the National Centre Against Bullying.
1. Physical Bullying
Physical bullying is usually the most overt type, which includes hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping someone over and even breaking personal property. Generally, bullies will be physically bigger or stronger than those they target. Hence the phrase “why don’t you pick on someone your own size”. Usually this type of bullying is easiest to spot, and tends to receive more attention in schools.
2. Verbal Bullying
Verbal bullying can start off in jest, but can quickly turn into something hurtful. It includes name-calling, insults, teasing and racial or sexist remarks. Despite the old rhyme “sticks and stones may break my bones”, words do in fact hurt.
3. Social Bullying
The social type of bullying encompasses humiliation, exclusion, spreading rumours or gossip, mean facial or physical expressions and playing pranks or rude jokes. These acts are more implicit and harder to spot in schools, often downplayed to be ‘harmless and childish behaviour’. However, it has the most negative effects on the learning environment, personal relationships and absenteeism levels.
In March 2020, 1 in 5 people reported being bullied online. This includes: abusive texts, emails, posts, creating fake social media accounts and spreading images intended to humiliate. However, the majority of people (including victims themselves) don’t tend to describe these actions to be ‘bullying’ in nature.
Cyberbullying is a growing force; with more and more teens on social media, it’s virtually impossible to track and trace. This makes it difficult to identify and stop, especially as bullies can remain anonymous or be passed off as ‘internet trolls’.
5. Prejudicial bullying
This type of bullying can come under verbal, but there’s more intent to target and belittle people based on race, sexual orientation or religion. It’s usually more vindictive and spiteful, designed to create a sense of ‘otherness’ and a ‘them vs. us’ rhetoric.
Why does bullying happen?
There are several reasons why bullying happens, which also has an effect on how school policies and appropriate responses are developed.
- Child lacking attention from parents and acting out
- Learned behaviour from role models
- To feel powerful or popular
- Reduced empathy levels
- Lack of discipline at home
- Severe mental health or behavioural issues
Usually violence and prejudice is learned. For instance, if children witness abusive or aggressive behaviour, they are more likely to replicate it. Racism and homophobia is also drip-fed and as a result the language or actions are copied. This is especially true if it’s an adult or role model with more status, as it legitimises bad behaviour.
More often than not, bullying is a power play. For example, if a child is bullied or abused themselves – whether by a sibling, parent or other – they might bully others to feel more empowered and secure in themselves.
What are the effects of bullying?
Depending on how long or explicit the bullying is, the main effects are on learning and mental health. Young people report higher levels of anxiety, depression and may even develop eating disorders.
In terms of learning, victims of bullies report “not feeling safe in schools” and therefore will fake illness, refuse to go to school or truant. This obviously affects their learning development and academic performance, which can harm their education and future careers.
Steps to an updated school bullying policy
There are 4 main areas of improvement that schools should develop in their bullying policy:
Focus on covert types of bullying: verbal bullying and cyberbullying are harder to identify, but can be taught in schools. Schools could create an annual bullying awareness day that teaches young people about the types of bullying, behaviours, the actions and what to do if someone witnesses or is a victim of bullying.
Develop an inclusive learning approach: school policies should teach young people about race, religion, learning disabilities and the LGBTQ+ movement. This will create a more inclusive learning environment that helps students feel safe, but also that educates everyone on these differences to remove barriers and animosity.
Provide a safe space to report bullying: whether this is anonymous or an encrypted online form, there should be an easy method for victims to report issues. This will help to crack down earlier on bullying, and for teachers to be on the lookout.
Access to counsellors or wellbeing advisors on site: we might never be able to stop bullying, but we can provide victims and students with support. It’s paramount to hire professionals who can counsel, give advice and prevent serious mental health problems developing.
The main takeaway
Bullying is ever-present but it has evolved in nature. School policies should promote anti-bullying in more diverse ways that match up with the latest research and lifestyles. If we start with a top-down approach, we’ll be in a better position to stop bullying in schools.
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