Definition of Bullying – Praeger Handbook of Victimology

(Published on 08.31.09)

I have defined bullying as: an intentional act of aggression, based on an imbalance of power, that is meant to harm a victim either physically or psychologically. Bullies usually operate alone or in small groups and choose to victimize individuals who they perceive as vulnerable. Victims may attract bullies by their small stature, their younger age, or lower social status. The intent of the bully is to satisfy his own personal needs, such as obtaining money, homework or simply using intimidation to prove one’s status.Bullying has been observed in children as young as preschool, and is commonly found in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the world. The prevalence of bullying is large however statistics vary greatly, with some experts reporting that one in three children are involved in bullying whereas other experts have found that 60% of all American students have been involved in bullying.Both males and females engage in bullying. Traditionally males have used physical means to intimidate their victims whereas females use psychological methods. However, the twenty first century has seen an increase in physical violence among girls who bully. In fact, sometimes girls post their physically violent bullying scenarios on the internet.

Both girls and boys are involved in cyberbullying, which is defined as harassment using the internet, or other digital technologies. Physical and psychological bullying as well as cyberbullying vary in intensity, from mild to severe. Bullying and cyberbullying have led to deaths in some cases. Victims of bullying and cyberbullying have committed suicide. Sometimes, as in the Columbine Massacre, victims of bullying strike back; becoming bullies themselves, killing others.

The myth, that bullies lack self-esteem, has been found to be false. Bullies may be popular, athletic, and intelligent; or they may be the opposite. However, bullies lack empathy and are aggressive.

The myth, that victims are weak and small, has been proven false as well. Victims vary in size, shape, socio-economic and intellectual levels. Victims are sometimes polite, rule- followers who signal, in a non-verbal way, their reluctance to fight. Victims may lack social status and/or lack social skills.

A study in Stockholm published in 2008 found that students with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder were four times more likely than the average child to be a bully, and ten times more likely to be bullied. More studies such as this are needed to determine whether there are psychological disorders that may predispose a child to being a bully or victim.1

Bullying can lead to problems such as depression, anxiety, and/or decreased academic or work performance and increased absenteeism. Such issues are found in children and adults, as bullying also occurs at work and in the military.Dan Olweus, a Swedish psychologist, is considered the father of bully and victim research. In the 1970’s he began to study the phenomenon and created anti-bullying educational programs that are integrated in schools throughout the world.2 In 2008 a meta-analysis of anti-bullying programs found that awareness of the problem increased, however actual bullying behavior was not significantly reduced.3


1. Kirsten Holmberg, Anders Hjern, Bullying and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in 10-year-olds in a Swedish community. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. VL: 50, NO: 2, PG: 134-138, YR: 2008, Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


3. School Psychology Quarterly, Editor:Randy W. Kamphaus, Phd. How effective are school bullying intervention programs? A meta-analysis of intervention research.

Merrell, Kenneth W.; Gueldner, Barbara A.; Ross, Scott W.; Isava, Duane M.

School Psychology Quarterly, Vol 23(1), Mar 2008, 26-42. doi: 10.1037/1045-3830.23.1.26

Suggested Reading:

Coloroso, Barbara. The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander: From Preschool to High School–How Parents and Teachers Can Help Break the Cycle of Violence.

Harper Collins: New York, 2004.

Williams, K.D., Forgás, J.P. & von Hippel, W. (Eds.) The Social Outcast: Ostracism, Social Exclusion, Rejection and Bullying. Psychology Press: New York, 2005.

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