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Building Kind Schools and Communities

About Bullying

Peer abuse (bullying) in its many forms, is destroying lives in every school and community.  Youth involved in bullying behavior are more likely to have lower academic achievement, abuse substances, drop out of school, take part in other rule breaking behavior, contemplate suicide and/or eventually abuse partners and children.  When bullying is not addressed effectively in schools, all children are affected.  There is a climate of fear and anxiety.  When students are worried about being teased and bullied they cannot concentrate.  It is difficult to learn in such an environment.

Bullying and violence prevention in our schools is about creating safe and respectful environments where all students can learn and participate at an optimal level.  The respectful behavior that is learned doesn’t end when students leave the school building. Ultimately, our homes and communities will be safer places where children and adults feel safe and can thrive.

Peer abuse (bullying):

  • Is hurtful, negative behavior directed towards someone
  • Involves a real or perceived imbalance of power
  • Repeated over time

Forms of peer abuse:


-Physical bullying includes hitting, pushing, shoving and kicking.

-Verbal bullying includes name calling, hurtful teasing, threats and intimidation.


-Purposeful exclusion, spreading rumors

-Via texting or online (Cyberbullying)

Statistics and Studies

  • Nearly one in six U.S. students in grades six to ten (3.2 million children) are bullied at school (Fight Crime:  Invest in Kids, 2003).
  • Students who are bullied are five times more likely to become depressed (Fight Crime:  Invest in Kids, 2003).
  • Boys who are bullied are 4 times more likely to be suicidal.  Girls are 8 times more likely to be suicidal (Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2003).
  • Children who are bullied are twice as likely to develop psychotic symptoms in early adolescence (Schreier, 2009).
  • Being a target of bullying was a factor in 75% of the school shootings (U.S. Secret Service Report, 2002).
  • 17% of six to 11 year-olds and 36% of 12 to 17 year-olds reported being bullied online or with texting (Fight Crime:  Invest in Kids, 2006).
  • Rates of violent crime victimization at school were higher than rates of violent crime victimization away from school  (National Crime Victimization Survey, 2007).
  • Students who bully and students who are bullied are more likely to experience loneliness, difficulty making friends, lower academic achievement levels, and increased involvement in rule breaking behaviors (Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, 2001).
  • For every “at risk” child we help or divert, we save 1.7 to 2.3 million dollars (Cohen, 1998)

Schools with a welcoming and caring environment are more likely to have:

  • staff and students that feel a sense of belonging and connectedness to school  (Blum, et. al., 2002; Osterman, 2000; CDC, 2009)
  • staff and students with a positive attitude towards school and learning in general (Freiberg, 1998; Manning & Saddlemire, 1996; Taylor & Tashakkori, 1995)
  • fewer discipline problems  (Kuperminc et al., 1997; McEvoy & Welker, 2000; Welsh, 2000)
  • increased school attendance  (deJung & Duckworth, 1986; Croninger, & Lee, 2001)
  • higher academic achievement scores  (CDC, 2009; Freiberg, 1998; Gottfredson & Gottfredson, 1989; Johnson & Johnson, 1993, 1997; Kuperminc et al., 1997; Kuperminc, Leadbeater & Blatt, 2001; Manning & Saddlemire, 1996; McEvoy & Welker, 2000)


The following information regarding common myths about bullying was researced and written by a student at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota for a class service learning project.  We are so grateful for her contribution to our work.

Clearing Up Seven Common Bullying Misconceptions

Misconception #1: “Any type of mean or hurtful behavior is bullying.”

Reality: Knowing the difference between children simply being unkind and actually bullying is vital to successful intervention. There are three main conditions for behavior to be defined as bullying: the behavior must be repeated, the abuse must be intentional and it must be directed at someone with less power than the aggressor.[1] It can be hard to know in every situation if the behavior perfectly fulfills each of these conditions. For instance, the imbalance of power may only be perceived but feel very real for the child being bullied. If every unkind exchange between children gets classified as bullying, it not only takes resources away from children who are actually experiencing bullying but also dilutes the seriousness with which parents, teachers and school administrators respond to the claims. Dr. Elizabeth Englander put it best when she explained “By calling everything bullying, we’re actually failing to recognize the seriousness of the problem…if everyone is a victim, then no one’s a victim.”[2] By no means, however, do we want to ignore behavior that is unkind just because it falls outside the parameters of bullying. Hurtful behavior that goes unchecked is often the type of behavior that turns into bullying. The distinction may be difficult to make but it’s important to try and discern in order to best handle the situation.


Misconception #2: “Referring to children as bullies or victims is okay.”

Reality: Labeling children with those terms is detrimental in the anti-bullying movement for a variety of reasons. Labels create something Dr. Carol Deweck calls a “fixed-mindset” which negatively affects the children involved and the way adults view them.[3] Labeling children who are bullied as victims suggests they are helpless and depicts them in a largely one dimensional way. This can lead to them internalizing the label and all the limitations that come with it. Being bullied, albeit a very difficult experience, does not need to define them. In the same way, labeling children who bully as such allows adults and other bystanders to dehumanize them and feel justified in punishing them rather than getting to the root cause of their aggressive behavior. Getting to the root cause is necessary in order to support them in changing their behavior. Bullying is a behavior, not an identity.[4]


Misconception #3: “Girls and boys bully differently.”

Reality: According to Dr. Susan Swearer, society has created a “gender dichotomy” in which we can only understand girls as bullying through gossip and forms of social manipulation while boys bully through more physical and stereotypical means.[5] Pop culture plays a huge role in perpetuating this idea. Books, TV shows and movies constantly portray females who bully as “mean girls” who destroy social lives with the snap of their perfectly manicured fingernails while boy who bully are tough, violent trouble-makers who steal lunch money and beat up kids at recess. But Swearer and other researchers have found that relational aggression knows no gender.[6] Moreover, physical bullying is not reserved for males only. Both males and females have the capacity for either form of bullying. Trying to gender different forms of aggressive behavior is a waste of time with negative consequences. For instance, a young boy may not want to admit that a girl is bullying him for fear of being emasculated or having his experience met with disbelief. Being preoccupied with assigning different types of bullying with gender takes the spotlight away from the actual issue at hand: that aggressive behavior is going on in the first place.   


Misconception #4: “We just need stricter punishment if we want to eliminate bullying in schools.”

Reality: Although adopting a zero-tolerance policy seems like an appropriate response to the bullying crisis, bullying experts advise against these types of policies because they essentially put a band-aid on the larger issue. Zero-tolerance policies shut down dialogue and programs necessary to prevent bullying before they even have a chance to be implemented. Dr. Jaana Juvoen warns that such harsh tactics fuel the perception that youth have no choice but to fight for themselves because schools are doing little to stop bullying besides garnering policies that state they do not tolerate bullying.[7] Social worker Kara Penniman notes, “[Zero-tolerance policies]…are kind of inflammatory for most kids because…if kids acknowledge [bullying]…as a common cultural behavior within their peer group…they are kind of admitting something that is completely not tolerated in schools, so there is not very much room for them to talk about change or growth or doing something different.”[8] So while zero-tolerance policies and severe punishment for children who bully may give the appearance that schools are taking the issue seriously, we must ask ourselves, how is it actually helping to end on-going bullying and prevent future bullying?


Misconception #5: “It is primarily students who need to learn about being kind and respectful when trying to prevent bullying.”

Reality: This misconception takes many other forms such as “kids who are bullied are really the only ones affected” or “it’s the parents’ responsibility to teach their children not to bully.” These sentiments do a disservice to the entire community. Adrienne van der Valk, social worker and journalist, believes that the most effective interventions do not solely focus on children who bully or children who have been bullied but rather understand that all students benefit when schools empower youth and teach them about healthy relationships. Interventions of this sort can include mentorship and transition programs that involve members of the community: parents and other family members, friends, teachers, coaches, religious leaders – really anyone child identifies as a positive support system.[9] But the role of adults within the community does not end there. Faculty and staff within school systems need to be modeling the same behavior they expect of their students. The Oakland Unified School District in California recognized this and adopted a social-emotional learning program but spent the first five years of the program working from the top down with district administrators to teachers and staff to students.[10] Oakland Unified shifted attention away from students and onto teachers in order to better serve and care for them. Social-emotional learning, already a strong contender in the fight to end bullying, becomes so much more useful when adults are not only teaching it but living it out themselves.


Misconception #6: “The best thing a child can do when witnessing bullying is to tell the person bullying to stop and get an adult.”

Reality: Knowing exactly what to do in instances of bullying is no simple task. We often tell children to go tell an adult or maybe even intervene and stand up for the person being bullied. However, through their study known as the Youth Voice Project, researchers Dr. Charisse Nixon and Stan Davis found that things got better when other students supported the person being bullied through acts of kindness and friendship. For some children, things did get better through the usual strategy of peers telling the person bullying to stop but for a large majority, encouragement from peers had more of a positive impact.[11] What we can take away from Nixon and Davis’ findings is that every instance of bullying is different because every child is different; what is helpful and effective for one child will differ with the next. However, as much as we urge children to grab an adult or confront bullying behavior head-on, we should also teach them the importance of inclusion and support.


Misconception #7: “Kids who are bullied will eventually get over it. Besides, they can always transfer school if it gets too bad. They’ll be fine once they graduate.”

Reality: This common misconception is also expressed through sentiments like “it’s just a phase” or “kids will be kids” but it’s not just a phase. Bullying can have life-long effects. Studies consistently demonstrate that psychosocial issues, such as depression and anxiety are common symptoms experienced by children who have been bullied.[12] As we’ve seen in our society, suicide and suicidal ideation are also tragic but common consequences of experiencing bullying. Without intervention, bullying can wear a person down physically, emotionally and mentally. Bullying can cause a child to internalize feelings of worthlessness, unresolved anger and fear. Dr. Mark Dombeck has researched the long terms effects of bullying and found difficulty trusting people, increased incidence of continued bullying as well as reduced occupational opportunities are among the long term effects that can follow someone who has been bullied as a child all the way into adulthood.[13] Bullying has serious and sometimes fatal consequences and attitudes that tell children and young adults that their pain is unwarranted does nothing to help them and really only further alienates them.



Dombeck, Mark. “The Long Term Effects of Bullying.” MentalHelp.net (July

24, 2007). https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/the-long-term-effects-of-bullying/


Gumbrecht, Jamie. “Are we too quick to cry ‘bully’?” CNN (October 8, 2013).



Hong, Jun Sung, and Dorothy L. Espelage. “A review of research on

bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis.” Aggression and Violent Behavior 17 (2012) 311-22. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1359178912000250


Porter, Susan. “Overusing the bully label.” Los Angeles Times (March 15,

2013). http://articles.latimes.com/2013/mar/15/opinion/la-oe-porter-bullying-20130315


Van Der Valk, Adrienne.  “There Are No Bullies.” Teaching Tolerance. Fall

  1. http://www.tolerance.org/magazine/number-45-fall-2013/there-are-no-


[1] Adrienne van der Valk, There Are No Bullies (Teaching Tolerance, Fall 2013).

[2] Jamie Gumbrecht, Are we too quick to cry ‘bully’? (CNN, October 8, 2013).

[3] Susan Eva Porter, Overusing the bully label (Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2013).

[4] Van Der Valk, There Are No Bullies.

[5] Susan M. Swearer, Relational aggression: Not just a female issue (Journal of School Psychology, December 2008).

[6] Ibid.

[7] Van Der Valk, There Are No Bullies.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Vicki Zakrzewski, A New Model of School Reform (Greater Good, May 21, 2014).

[11] Charisse Nixon and Stan Davis. (YouthVoiceProject.com).

[12] Jun Sung Hong and Dorothy Espelage, A review of research on bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis (Aggression and Violent Behavior, March 21, 2012), 311-322.

[13] Mark Dombeck, The Long Term Effects of Bullying (MentalHelp.net, July 24, 2007).



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