Bullying is a form of violence that can be experienced by children in school. Statistics for the prevalence of bullying are varied because the behavior is not always delineated as a crime, so statistics are not readily available from uniform crime statistics. When law enforcement is involved, bullying behaviors are often identified as harassment, stalking, and assault through the legal system. Adding to the scattered data is the reality that bullying is often 'handled' within the level of the social-ecological system that it occurs. Bullying however does not occur in isolation; it results as a complex interaction between the individual and all levels of the social-ecological system (Swearer, Espelage, and Napolitano, 2009) and therefore is a societal issue of concern for everyone.
The statistics for childhood bullying vary a great deal. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, one in five children have experienced some degree of bullying in their lifetime (http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying 2011). The National Center for Education Statistics reports that in 2007, 32% of students aged 12-18 reported having been bullied at school (http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2010//ind_11.asp 2011). Seventy seven percent of junior and senior high school students from small Midwestern towns have indicated that they were victims of bullying during their school years (http://www.ojjdp.gov/jjbulletin/9804/bullying2.html Hoover, 1992). The FBI reports that "bullying remains one of the largest problems in schools, with the percentage of students reportedly bullied at least once a week steadily increasing since 1999" http://www.fbi.gov/stats-services/publications/law-enforcement-bulletin/2011pdfs/may-2011-leb (2011).
Most bullying definitions contain the same three major components; aggressive behavior, imbalance of power, and repetitive actions. Sutton, Smith, and Swettenham (1999) stated it well; "bullying involves an intentional, usually recurrent, action designed to inflict physical and psychological harm on another person or persons by one or more persons and is a part of a complex interplay of dominance and social status." Bullying behaviors may be physical, verbal, emotional, written, or electronic in nature. The actions may include behaviors such as unsolicited physical (hitting, kicking, etc.) and verbal (teasing, taunting) contact, social manipulations (spreading rumors, exclusion), negative/aggressive written and/or electronic contact, stealing or damaging another's property. Bullying can take many forms, but always has the intent of causing physical or psychological harm to another.
Aside from obvious physical injuries that can be a result of being bullied, there are other ways the victim is harmed. Bullied youth experience increased physiological symptoms such as headaches and stomachaches and they experience increased psychosocial problems. Bullied youth report more loneliness, increased school avoidance, less self-esteem and increased suicide ideation than nonbullied youth (Swearer, Espelage, and Napolitano, 2009). Victimization can also result in lower academic competence, performance and engagement. Consequently, the negative effect on a student's education can result in lowered earnings in adulthood.
There are factors at every level of the social-ecological system that are associated with bullying. Children with internalizing problems are at higher risk for becoming a victim of bullying. A person from a home that is unstable or where children are maltreated is more likely to be a bully or be bullied. School environments that have a climate of conflict and low levels of supervision are associated with bullying. Lastly, at the macro level, governmental policies that are less than inclusive perpetuate the message that some are better than others and not deserving of respect and equal treatment. It is time we recognize that bullying is not "just kids being kids", it is a serious phenomenon that harms the individuals involved (including the perpetrator), our schools, institutions, and society at large. This ever increasing form of violence requires attention at all social-ecological levels to make it unacceptable.
American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry. (2011). Facts for families: Bullying. Retrieved on October 28, 2011 from http://www.aacap.org/cs/root/facts_for_families/bullying
Hoover, J. H., Oliver, R., and Hazler, R. J. (1992). "Bullying: Perceptions of adolescent victims in Midwestern USA," School Psychology International 13:5-16,1992. Retrieved October 29, 2011 from http://www.ojjdp.gov/jjbulletin/9804/bullying2.html
National Center for Education Statistics (2011). Retrieved October 29, 2011 from
Sutton, J., Smith, P. K., & Swettenham, J. (1999). Bullying and "theory of mind": A critique of the "social skills deficit" view of anti-social behavior. Social Development, 8, 117-127. doi:10.1111/1467-9507.00083
Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D.L., and Napolitano, S. A. ( 2009). Bullying prevention and intervention. New York, NY: Guilford Press.
United States Department of Justice, FBI, (2011). Retrieved October 30, 2011 from