What is Bullying?

Posted on March 14, 2014 in Uncategorized -

By Clinical Psychologist, Danielle Corbett


School Bullying – Research Changing the Face of How Schools Intervene in Bullying

As published today on Web Child in the lead up to Bullying No Way! Day.  http://www.webchild.com.au/read/viewpoints/what-is-bullying

An ever growing body of systematic international research has shown that school bullying is a frequent and serious public health problem. Bullying at school is an age-old problem with experts estimating that one of five children are bullied on a regular basis with others being infrequently bullied.

Dan Olweus, PhD from Norway is an expert in school bullying and has been researching in the area since the 1980’s. He defines school bullying as a “repeated negative, ill-intentioned behaviour by one of more students directed against a student who has difficulty defending himself or herself. Most bullying occurs without any apparent provocation on the part of the student who is bullied”. Bullying can be physical, verbal, or relational. Boys may be more likely to bully others by more physical means whereas girls often bully others by social exclusion.

Thanks to much research, we now know a lot more than we used to about the nature and effects of bullying. A recent longitudinal study in The Journal of Pediatrics found that bullying is associated with poor health among children. Strikingly, when the researches compared the mental health of kids who had been bullied and kids who had not they found that only 4% of the non bullied kids showed low psychological health versus 31% of the bullied kids. Further, they found that teens who had been bullied in the past had persistently poorer outcomes than those who had not been bullied. Teens who were still being bullied had the worst outcomes of all. The effects of bullying can and often do persist into adulthood. Depression, Anxiety, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder resulting from bullying in childhood, can cause follow on problems such as difficulty holding down a regular job, and poor social relationships. One group of researchers assessed the victims of bullying, the bullies themselves, and those who fall into both categories, so-called ‘bully-victims’. They found that the ‘bully-victims’ were at greatest risk for health problems in adulthood, over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop a psychiatric disorder compared to those not involved in bullying. The results show that bully-victims are perhaps the most vulnerable group of all. This group may turn to bullying after being bullied themselves as they may lack the emotional skills to deal with it. In the case of bully-victims, it shows not only how bullying can affect mental health but in a subset of cases how bullying can spread when left untreated.

We are only just now coming to terms with the long term consequences of bullying. Research has prompted changes in the way schools deal with bullying than they did 20 years ago. In the past, bullying was perceived by some to be a part of childhood. Kids were told various conflicting forms of advice such as to turn the other cheek, to fight back, and we all know the chant “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me”. And that’s if parents and educators were aware that anything was happening in the first place. The tittle-tattle was not received well and many kids did, and still do keep their pain and shame to themselves. In the past, there was probably a higher threshold for bullying behaviour and less awareness and reporting of bullying. Through research, psychologists are learning the effects of bullying are so serious that immediate intervention is needed.

The result of all of this research is that we are becoming better at developing programs to inform students, parents, and educators about bullying. Bullying in schools has been around for a long time. However, schools that have embraced cultural change have found the key to preventing bullying is to not wait until a problem has arisen, but to immediately combat any negative behaviour that puts another person down.             

Children who have been bullied or who bully others can be assisted by a clinical psychologist to help stem the long term negative consequences of bullying and provide them with skills to promote future resilience. For more information on Danielle Corbett and the team of Psychologists at Psychology Consultants, visit www.psychologyconsultants.com.au







Bogart, L.M., Elliot, M.N., Klein, D.J., Tortolero, S.R., Mrug, S., Peskin, M.F., Davies, S.L., Schink, E.T., & Schuser, M.A. (2014). Peer Victimization in Fifth Grade and Health in Tenth Grade. Pediatrics (133) pp440-447.

Olweus, D (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

Wolke, D., Copeland, W.E., Angold, A., & Costello, E.J. (2013). Impact of Bullying in Childhood on Adult Health, Wealth, Crime, and Social Outcomes. Psychological Science 24(10), 1958-1970.

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