The Problem of School Bullies: What the Research Tells Us

By Beaty, Lee A.; Alexeyev, Erick B. | Adolescence, March 22, 2008 | Go to article overview

The Problem of School Bullies: What the Research Tells Us


Beaty, Lee A., Alexeyev, Erick B., Adolescence


The issue of school bullies and their victims has been a source of much research during recent years. This paper seeks to clarify and elaborate on some of the most salient findings of empirical studies in the United States and other countries. Various interventions have been utilized to deal with students who bully and have also focused on the needs of those who are victimized. The process of bullying can have negative consequences, both for bullies and victims. Psychological profiles of bullies and victims are examined as well as the nature, prevalence, and demographics of bullying.

Several general types of bullying have been identified in the literature (e.g., Donahue, 2004; Owlets, 1993). Among these are (a) Direct Bullying: Behaviors such as teasing, taunting, threatening, hitting, and stealing that are initiated by one of more bullies against a victim; (b) Verbal Bullying: Taunting, teasing, name calling, spreading rumors; (c) Physical Bullying: Hitting, kicking, destroying property, enlisting a friend to assault someone for you; (d) Verbal (Non-physical) Bullying: Threatening or obscene gestures, excluding others from a group, manipulating friendships, sending threatening E-mail; (e) Sexual Harassment: A form of bullying in which the intent is to demean, embarrass, humiliate, or control another person on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.

Bullying is present in most schools in the country and has been reported to impact (to some extent) as many as 70% of students (Canter, 2005). Students of all ages and grade levels may experience the problems that bullying creates (Acre, 2001; Roberts, 1988). It is all too often symptomatic of the aggressive way in which young people interact with each other in our society (Melton et al., 1998). Every school should recognize the extent of bullying and take steps to stop it. When bullying is ignored or downplayed, students suffer ongoing torment and harassment. It can cause lifelong damage to both victims and those who bully. A school's failure to deal with bullying endangers the safety of all its students by allowing a hostile environment to interfere with learning. There is evidence that school interventions can dramatically reduce the incidence of bullying. We need to know which interventions really work; with this information, school officials can make the appropriate decisions about suitable programs designed to reduce and eliminate this serious problem. Dealing effectively with bullying is one means of improving school climate, maximizing achievement, and curbing the tide of violent behaviors in our schools.

LITERATURE REVIEW

History of Bullying Research

Bullying has received research attention only since the 1980s when Olweus (1991; 1993), a Norwegian researcher, began to study this matter. At that time, a strong societal interest in bully/victim problems, emerged in Scandinavia.

School officials in Scandinavia did not take serious action against bullying until a newspaper report in 1982 revealed that three young adolescent boys from Norway had committed suicide because of severe bullying by peers (Olweus, 1993). This event triggered national interest in bully/victim problems prompting a study in which data were obtained from 140,000 students in 715 schools (Olweus, 1991). The results suggested that 15% of children in Norwegian schools were involved in bullying from time to time or more frequently. About 94% of the students were classified as victims while 6% were classified as bullies (Olweus, 1991).

Nature and Prevalence of Bullying

Following Olweus' (1993, 1991) groundbreaking research in Scandinavia, a number of other researchers studied the prevalence of bullying. In England, Stephenson and Smith (1987) found that 7% of their samples were victims of bullying, 10% were bullies, and 6% were both bullies and victims. Whitney and Smith (1993) reported that 10% of students in their sample were bullied at least once a week.

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