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What is bullying?

Bullying can range from physical violence to verbal abuse and being cut out of social groups. It also includes abusive texts, emails or nasty messages put on websites (cyber bullying). Bullying is not a one off incident such as a fight or when two equals have the odd fight or quarrel. The Department for Education definition:

Bullying is behaviour by an individual or group, repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. Bullying can take many forms (for instance, cyber-bullying via text messages or the internet), and is often motivated by prejudice against particular groups, for example on grounds of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or because a child is adopted or has caring responsibilities. It might be motivated by actual differences between children, or perceived differences. Stopping violence and ensuring immediate physical safety is obviously a school’s first priority but emotional bullying can be more damaging than physical; teachers and schools have to make their own judgements about each specific case.

Types of bullying

Bullying can take many forms but it usually includes the following four types of behaviour: 

  • Physical – hitting, kicking, pinching, punching, scratching, spitting or any other form of physical attack. Damage to or taking someone else’s belongings may also constitute as physical bullying. 
  • Verbal – name-calling, insulting, making racist, sexist or homophobic jokes, remarks or teasing, using sexually suggestive or abusive language, offensive remarks. This is the most common form of bullying
  • Indirect – spreading nasty stories about someone, exclusion from social groups, being made the subject of malicious rumours
  • Cyber – any type of bullying that is carried out by electronic medium such as:
    • Text message bullying
    • Picture/video clip bullying via mobile phone cameras
    • Phone call bullying via mobile phones
    • Email bullying
    • Chat-room bullying
    • Bullying through instant messaging and social networking sites
    • Bullying via websites

Signs of bullying

All school staff should be alert to signs of bullying. Equally talk to parents about any changes in patterns of behaviour they have noticed at home. Signs at school:

  • Beginning to do poorly in school work for unexplained reasons
  • Changes in emotional state, such as crying, aggression, becoming withdrawn
  • Refusing to say what’s wrong
  • Starting to bully others
  • Avoiding certain activities,where pupils from school are involved

Parents might notice that their children are:

  • Changing their normal route to school
  • Reluctant to go to school or regularly complaining of feeling ill each morning
  • Asking for unusual amounts of money or beginning to steal
  • Bed-wetting
  • Returning home with unexplained scratches and bruises, or with damaged books and belongings
  • Unusually hungry when getting home from school, although they have been given a packed lunch or dinner money

These are only examples, and there could be other reasons for these changes. Often those who notice are other children in school. It is important to take seriously the comments of other children. If you are worried that something is wrong, ask the child/young person directly about it, including asking them whether they are being bullied.

Effects of bullying

Bullying is meant to hurt physically and emotionally. It can have a long-term effect on children’s educational, emotional and social development. This sometimes lasts into adult life.

  • A child may refuse to go to school
  • Some children may become ill
  • A child may become socially isolated and lonely
  • Schoolwork can suffer
  • Over a period of time, self-esteem can be affected
  • A few children may become depressed or, in extreme cases, even attempt suicide

Children can also be affected if they witness bullying. They may feel guilty for not protecting the victim and too afraid of the bully if they do intervene.