Bullying among schoolchildren is certainly a very old phenomenon. The fact that some children are frequently and systematically harassed and attacked by other children has been described in literary works, and many adults have personal experience of it from their own school days. Though many are acquainted with the bully/victim problem, it was not until fairly recently - in the early 1970s - that the phenomenon was made the object of more systematic research (Olweus, 1973a, 1978). For a number of years, these efforts were largely confined to Scandinavia. In the 1980s and early 1990s, however, bullying among schoolchildren attracted attention in other countries such as Japan, Ireland, Great Britain, The Netherlands, Australia, Canada and the USA. There are now clear indications of an increasing societal as well as research interest into bully/victim problems in several parts of the world.
A much-used definition of bullying or victimisation is the following: A student is being bullied or victimised when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students (e.g. Olweus, 1986a, 1993a, 1996b). It is a negative action when someone intentionally inflicts, or attempts to inflict, injury or discomfort upon another - basically what is implied in the definition of aggressive behaviour in the social sciences (Olweus, 1973b). Negative actions can be carried out by physical contact, by words, or in other ways, such as by making faces or mean gestures, spreading rumours, and intentional exclusion from a group. Although children or youth who engage in bullying very likely vary in their degree of awareness of how the bullying is perceived by the victim, most or all of them probably realise that their behaviour is at least somewhat painful or unpleasant to the victim.
In order for the term bullying to apply, there should also be an imbalance in strength (an asymmetric power relationship). The student who is exposed to the negative actions has difficulty in defending himself or herself and is somewhat helpless against the student or students who