Bullying in Schools: School Counselors' Responses to Three Types of Bullying Incidents

Article excerpt

School counselors responded to an Internet survey containing vignettes describing physical, verbal, and relational bullying. Respondents rated relational bullying the least serious of the three types, they had the least empathy for victims of relational bullying, and they were least likely to intervene in relational bullying incidents. Counselors with anti-bullying training rated relational bullying as more serious and were more likely to intervene in relational bullying incidents than were those without training. Implications for counselor education are discussed.

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School bullying was once considered a childhood ritual or a normal part of development and was therefore often overlooked or ignored by school personnel. However, research has found that bullying is not a harmless phenomenon; rather, it is a widespread and serious problem that must be addressed (Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Hoover & Oliver, 1996; Nansel et al., 2001; Olweus, 1993). Bullying has negative consequences for victims, for bullies, and for school climate (Berthold & Hoover, 2000; Olweus; Payne & Gottfredson, 2004). A large body of research on bullying exists in Australia, Canada, Europe, and Japan, and recognition of the magnitude and effects of bullying is growing in the United States, as researchers, educators, and lawmakers address this problem with concern.

There is a general agreement that for a behavior to be considered bullying, it must have three elements: It must be intended to harm, it must be repetitive, and a difference of power--physical, social, or other--must exist between the bully and the victim (Olweus, 1993). Bullying is a subset of aggression that is typically categorized as physical, verbal, or relational (Shore, 2005). Physical bullying tends to receive more attention from school personnel, and this includes behaviors such as hitting, kicking, or any form of overt violence toward another student. Many schools have developed zero tolerance policies for violent behavior, prioritizing physical bullying over other forms of bullying (Limber & Small, 2003).

Verbal bullying refers to name calling, teasing, and verbal threats. Relational bullying is a form of social isolation that includes behaviors such as gossiping, intentionally leaving students out of activities, spreading rumors, and other measures that seek to change peer groups (Olweus, 1993). Bjorkqvist, Lagerspetz, and Kaukiainen (1992) described relational bullying as an "attempt to inflict pain in such a manner that he or she makes it seem as though there has been no intention to hurt at all" (p. 118).

Data on bullying prevalence rates vary and are usually limited to a single school or district. However, Nansel et al. (2001) conducted a national survey of students in public and private schools in grades 6 through 10 (N= 15,686), using the World Health Organization's Health Behavior in School-Aged Children survey. These researchers reported that 29.9% of students reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying--13% as bullies, 10.6% as victims, and 6.3% as both bullies and victims.

Victims of bullying can suffer from various health problems including diminished levels of psychological well-being, poor social adjustment, psychological distress, and physical symptoms (Rigby, 1996, 2003). Victims exhibit a range of problems from social isolation and truancy to suicidal feelings and depression. While these symptoms vary in severity, it is reasonable to infer that even moderate feelings of unhappiness may affect a student's ability to learn and be successful at school. Experiencing peer harassment has been linked to depression, loneliness, and social isolation (Juvonen & Nishina, 2000). Victims of bullying may suffer from low self-esteem, fewer friendships, school absences, and even suicide (Meraviglia, Becker, Rosenbluth, Sanchez, & Robertson, 2003). Crick and Grotpeter (1995) concluded that relational bullying is related to peer rejection, loneliness, isolation, and depression. …