The essence of bullying is a power imbalance between the bully and victim. This includes repeated overt aggression toward the victim, including physical and verbal intimidation. Covert aggression includes a third-party, achieved through rumor spreading. Educators may find it difficult to differentiate between teasing and bullying among students. Victims of bullying tend to try and blend into the background, in hope that the bully or bullies will leave them alone or cease the torments. Teasing occurs between children closely matched in size and physical ability, and may include elements of provocation and hostility. A victim of teasing may retaliate in these instances, however, a victim of bullying feels powerless to do so.
Bullying has serious consequences for both the bully and victim. Bullies risk poor relationships in their future, with an increased likelihood of becoming criminals. The effects of bullying may lead victims, in the most extreme circumstances, to homicide or suicide. Bullying in schools can take many different forms, including sexual and gender based harassment. This includes behaviors such as malicious rumors, sexual comments, jokes, graffiti and sexual identity. In 2001, the American Association of University Women reported that one out of every five students experiences verbal or active sexual harassment within schools. Other forms of harassment reported were on grounds of race or ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and others.
In the United States, school children learn that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of speech and expression. However, this law does not protect a bully's obscenities, fighting words or insults that damage peers' relationships with other students. The Internet provides a relatively new platform for victimization, harassment and threats among peers, instantly, remotely and anonymously. The possibilities the Internet creates for bullying, harassment and threats brings legal issues for school personnel, students and families.
In many cases of bullying, families on both sides can become involved and affected by the situation. A victim's families share the trauma and heartache of the bullying, while the bully's family may also suffer aggression and violence at home. The effects can be far-reaching, as the social skills children learn from the home, playground and school play a part in determining the success they will have in life.
Academics have suggested that the relationships formed by girls of school age appear more unstable and conflicting than those of boys. Bullying tactics among girls include "snitching", insults, gossip and rumor - powerful linguistic tools, and it appears that girls rely more on adult arbitration, bringing parents or others in to the school to support their claim. Studies show that boys appear to use overt modes of aggression to dominate the vulnerable, that are visible and easily identifiable. Boys need to be successful in interacting with playmates at this early stage in life. The ability of the child to integrate his activities with peers is reliant on the child's emotional and behavioral actions. Boys who experience difficulty on the playground will likely to carry the diminished self-esteem and emotional scars into adulthood.
Bullying behavior can stem from the child being used to getting their own way at home, transferred to the playground. The child will see nothing wrong with their actions and it is not uncommon for a child to appear to be bullying when, actually, he is not. The child has simply not learnt the appropriate social skills. Parents appear less emotionally involved in disputes among boys. This may be due to boys being more reluctant to discuss their problems, parents feeling boys should settle their own differences, or due to the overt nature of the disputes appearing to be resolved more quickly.
Bullying behavior will continue unless a direct confrontation or action is taken. Maladaptive tactics and behavior will be strengthened when the bully becomes emboldened by their success. This continues through the bully's life as the demands and means of getting their own way escalate. Research by Craig, Pepler and Atlas (2000) and Olweus (1993) clearly demonstrates that bullying and victimization are most likely to occur in unstructured school settings, such as the playground and lunch areas. Prevention programs implemented within schools attempt to promote change in the school environment. This is typically measured in changes in student behavior such as rates of bullying or aggression.