Is there anyone amongst us who has not been singled out for some form of bullying at some time in their lives? In the majority of instances, it is a one-off occurrence, where a child or group of children get irritated by another child and either withdraw their goodwill for a short while, or say something to discourage the behaviour that caused the problem in the first place.

Even as we attain adulthood, some of us will encounter bullying at work or home or in our neighbourhood.

So what is bullying? I offer several descriptions which may support your own understanding of this:

  • the act of intimidating a weaker person to make them do something;
  • blustering and noisy domineering, tending to browbeat others;
  • a form of abuse, comprising repeated acts over time that involve a real or perceived imbalance of power (whether social power and/or physical power), with the more powerful individual or group abusing those who are less powerful;
  • deliberate action or behaviour directed towards another person which may take many forms and can often occur over a long period of time.

The list can be infinite. The real key to this form of abuse is that it usually continues for a lengthy period of time.

If we have older siblings, we may have been subjected to some form of power oppression which could be considered as bullying. Each family manages this in their own way. Some parents have a zero tolerance of any form of victimisation whilst others may see this as a rite of passage which each successive child in the family experiences as they develop. Most of us have a line where regular sibling rough-house play or falling out are acceptable, but threats and constant terrorising are not.

It is very easy to make someone feel unworthy and inadequate just by looking in a certain way, or always ignoring them. Children learn this behaviour from the adults they have available to them during their formative years – parents, teachers, family friends, club organisers and so on. We must all check our own behaviours so that we cannot claim to be unaware of the effect we have on others.

Bullying has numerous forms: intimidation with no verbal threats, merely a ‘presence’; physical violence or persistent torture; withholding goodwill or recognition of the person; making derogatory remarks within the victim’s hearing; emotional abuse; sexual abuse; the list is endless. Sometimes it takes the form of a friendship group where one individual is the scapegoat for the others. They are hit harder, teased more often, left out of significant events. We now have cyber bullying where victims must feel they cannot escape.

The frightening aspect of bullying is where the victim feels that life is not worth living despite having a loving family or interests outside of school or work. For some, suicide seems to be the only answer. At least for some period of time, the victim assumes they will be at peace.

Bullying is an act of repeated aggressive behaviour in order to intentionally hurt another person, physically or mentally. Bullying is characterised by an individual behaving in a certain way to gain power over another person.

Norwegian researcher Dan Olweus defines bullying as when a person is “exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons.” He defines negative action as “when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways”.

Bullying behaviour may include name-calling, verbal or written abuse, exclusion from activities, exclusion from social situations, physical abuse, or coercion. Bullies may behave this way so that they will be be perceived as popular or tough or to get attention. They may bully out of jealousy or be acting out because they themselves are bullied.

The USA National Center for Education Statistics suggests that bullying can be broken into two categories: direct bullying, and indirect bullying, which is also known as social aggression.

Ross (Ross, P. N. (1998) Arresting violence: A resource guide for schools and their communities Toronto: Ontario Public School Teachers’ Federation.) states that direct bullying involves a great deal of physical aggression such as shoving and poking, throwing things, slapping, choking, punching and kicking, beating, stabbing, pulling hair, scratching, biting, scraping and pinching.

He also suggests that social aggression or indirect bullying is characterised by threatening the victim into social isolation. This isolation is achieved through a wide variety of techniques, including spreading gossip, refusing to socialise with the victim, bullying other people who wish to socialise with the victim, and criticising the victim’s manner of dress and other socially-significant markers (including the victim’s race, religion, disability, etc).

Ross outlines other forms of indirect bullying which are more subtle and more likely to be verbal, such as name-calling, the silent treatment, arguing others into submission, manipulation, gossip/false gossip, lies, rumours/false rumours, staring, giggling, laughing at the victim, saying certain words that trigger a reaction from a past event, and mocking.

There is a strong link between bullying and suicide. Bullying leads to several suicides every year. It is estimated that between 15 and 25 children commit suicide every year in the UK alone because they are being bullied.

31% of children experienced bullying by their peers during childhood, a further 7% were discriminated against and 14% were made to feel different or ‘like an outsider’. 43% experienced at least one of these things during childhood.

Cawson, P. et al. (2000)  Child maltreatment in the United Kingdom: a study of the prevalence of child abuse and neglect. London: NSPCC. p.26.

Children who were abused or neglected by their parents were consistently more likely than others to experience bullying, discrimination, or being made to feel different by their peers. For example, 70% of those who were sexually abused by parents were also bullied by other children. 60% of those who were physically abused by parents, and 58% of those who experienced absence of physical care, also reported being bullied.
Cawson, P. (2002) Child maltreatment in the family: the experience of a national sample of young people. London: NSPCC. pp.61-62.

Information taken from www.nspcc.org.uk

There are many other findings related to this aspect of anti-social behaviour that may have serious and life-threatening consequences. I wonder what other countries do about this. This article from Canada illuminates the problem for some European countries.

Bullying is a Public Health Issue in Canada

(CBC News, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Canada’s largest TV and radio network.  November 20, 2009)

Bullying should be considered a public health problem and governments should adopt national strategies to deal with it, says a Canadian psychology professor who led a study of bullying in 40 countries.

The study, led by Wendy Craig of Queen’s University, involved more than 202,000 children aged 11 to 15 in North America, Europe and Israel. It was published this month in the International Journal of Public Health.

The study compared recent estimates of the prevalence of bullying among adolescents across countries using standard measures, something that had not been done before.

It found that countries with established anti-bullying campaigns had the lowest bullying rates.

Treating bullying as a public health issue “is the new belief, given the long-term costs personally, including mental health, physical, academic, employment, crime, etc.,” Craig told CBC News in an email interview Friday. “With the current prevalence, it is the approach that is needed. ”

“Also, there is now growing recognition that the problem does not [just] happen at schools. It happens in communities, recreation centres, on sports teams and in cyberspace.”

Many countries in Northern Europe have had anti-bullying programs in place for years, and of eight countries with the lowest bullying rates, four were Scandinavian. Sweden had the best results with 8.6 per cent of boys and 4.8 per cent of girls reporting they’d been bullied in the past two months.

The other seven nations with notably low bullying rates were Hungary, Norway, Ireland, Finland, Iceland, the Czech Republic and Wales.

Lithuania appeared most brutal, with 45.2 per cent of boys and 35.8 per cent of girls saying they’d been bullied.

Canada ranked in the middle, placing 21st for boys and 26th for girls. Researchers interviewed 2,744 Canadian boys and found 23.3 per cent reported being bullied. Of 3,051 girls polled, 17 per cent said they’d been bullied.

The survey is considered to have a 95 per cent likelihood of being accurate within three percentage points.

Variations between countries “may reflect important cultural and social differences or differences in the implementation of national policy and programs,” the researchers said in the study.

“For example, in countries where the prevalence was relatively low (mainly Scandinavian) there are national programs in place to address bullying, whereas in the countries with the highest prevalence (eastern European) there are no countrywide national campaigns.”

Canada does not have a national anti-bullying strategy, Craig said. The problem is tackled in a piecemeal fashion, although a national organization, PREVNet, is trying to deal with the issue. The group’s website features links to stories and programs that deal with bullying.

Taking Action Together

This leads to the announcement that this year’s Anti-Bullying Week will be 15-19 November 2010 . The theme is Taking Action Together. Perhaps we should all make an effort to become involved.

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