This chapter was updated in April 2016 and the Issues section has been expanded to include the needs of perpetrators as well as victims of bullying.
Bullying is defined as behaviour by an individual or group, usually repeated over time, that intentionally hurts another individual or group either physically or emotionally. This can take many forms and is often motivated by prejudice.
How does bullying differ from teasing/falling out between friends or other types of aggressive behaviour?
- There is a deliberate intention to hurt or humiliate;
- There is a power imbalance that makes it hard for the victim to defend themselves;
- It is usually persistent.
It can be inflicted on a child by another child or an adult.
What does bullying look like?
Bullying can include:
- Name calling;
- Making offensive comments;
- Physical assault;
- Taking or damaging belongings;
- Cyber bullying/online bullying - inappropriate text messaging and e mailing; sending offensive or degrading images by phone or via the internet;
- Producing offensive graffiti;
- Gossiping and spreading hurtful and untruthful rumours;
- Excluding people from groups.
Although bullying can occur between individuals it can often take place in the presence (virtually or physically) of others who become the 'bystanders' or 'accessories'.
Why are children and young people bullied?
Specific types of bullying include:
- Prejudice crime related bullying of children with special educational needs or disabilities, homophobic and transphobic bullying or related to race, religion or culture;
- Bullying related to appearance or health;
- Bullying of young carers or looked after children or otherwise related to home circumstances;
- Sexist or sexual bullying.
There is no hierarchy of bullying – all forms should be taken equally seriously and dealt with appropriately.
Homophobic bullying and using homophobic language
Homophobic language is terms of abuse used towards lesbian, gay and bisexual people or those thought to be LGB. It is also used to refer to something or someone as inferior. This may also be used to taunt young people who are different in some way or have gay friends, family members or their parents/carers are gay.
Dismissing it as banter is not helpful as even if these terms are not referring to a persons sexuality they are using the terms to mean inferior, bad, broken or wrong. We should challenge the use of homophobic language even if it appears to be being used without any homophobic intent.
Where does bullying take place?
Bullying is not just something that happens at school. It may also persist outside school, in the local community, on the journey to and from school and may continue into Further Education.
The increasing use of digital technology and the internet has also provided new and particularly intrusive ways for bullies to reach their victims. Children need to be taught safe ways to use the internet and encouraged to consider their own online behaviour.
Whilst most incidents of Cyberbullying/online bullying occur outside school offer support and guidance to parents and their children who experience online bullying and will treat Cyberbullying/online bullying the same way as any other forms of bullying.
Bullying can take place between:
- Young people;
- Young people and staff;
- Between staff;
- Individuals or groups.
Children are often held back from telling anyone about their experience either by threats, a feeling that nothing can change their situation, that they may be partly to blame for the situation or that they should be able to deal with it themselves.
Parents, carers and agencies need to be alert to any changes in behaviour such as refusing to attend school or a particular place or activity, becoming anxious in public places and crowds and becoming withdrawn and isolated. The DfE have produced 'Advice for parents and carers on cyberbullying'.
Any change in behaviour which indicates fear or anxiety may be a potential indicator of bullying. Children may also choose to avoid locations and events which they had previously enjoyed - changes in attitude towards schools or organised activities are particularly significant.
Behaviour such as:
- Being frightened of walking to and from school and changing their usual route;
- Feeling ill in the mornings;
- Beginning truanting;
- Beginning to perform poorly in their school work;
- Coming home regularly with clothes or books destroyed;
- Becoming withdrawn, starting to stammer, lacking confidence, being distressed and anxious and stopping eating;
- Attempting or threatening suicide;
- Crying themselves to sleep, having nightmares;
- Having their possessions go missing;
- Asking for money or starting to steal (to pay the bully) or continually 'losing' their pocket money;
- Refusing to talk about what's wrong;
- Having unexplained bruises, cuts, scratches;
- Beginning to bully other children/siblings;
- Becoming aggressive and unreasonable.
should be taken seriously and the behaviour discussed between parents/carers and schools.
The Child Bully
Children sometimes bully others because:
- It feels like fun;
- They dislike or are jealous of someone;
- They feel powerful and respected;
- It gets them what they want;
- They are bullied or have been bullied themselves and are taking it out on someone else;
- They have problems in their life that are making them feel bad.
Work with children who bully should recognise that they are likely to have significant needs themselves.
The bystander has an important and significant role in bullying. People who bully others are often trying to impress their peers, either by looking tough or funny. Without bystanders to watch the reaction of the victim, the bully will not gain their gratification.
Research has identified the following reasons why students did not intervene:
- It might be me next;
- It's only a bit of fun;
- Ignore it and it will go away;
- They deserve it.
How bystanders can help
Encourage your children not to be bystanders by telling them to:
- See it, get help, stop it;
- Tell them that by not doing anything they are encouraging the bully;
- Support them if they decide to tell the bully to stop but only if they feel safe to do so;
- Discuss with them ways in which they might help the victim such as forming a friendship group for the person being bullied to make sure they are not isolated;
- Listen and support them if they tell you about bullying;
- Tell them not to forward unkind messages via email or texting.
All settings in which children are provided with services or are living away from home should have in place anti-bullying strategies. This includes youth clubs and all other children's organisations as well as all schools.
- Support should be offered to children for whom English is not their first language to communicate needs and concerns;
- Children should be able to approach any member of staff within the organisation with personal concerns.
In order to maintain an effective strategy for dealing with bullying, the traditional ideas about bullying should be challenged, e.g.
- It's only a bit of harmless fun;
- It's all part of growing up;
- Children just have to put up with it;
- Adults getting involved make it worse.
Clear messages must be given that bullying is not acceptable and children must be reassured that significant adults involved in their lives are dealing with bullying seriously. Some acts of bullying could be a criminal offence.
A climate of openness should be established in which children are not afraid to address issues and incidents of bullying.
Consideration should always be given to the existence of any underlying issues in relation to race, gender and sexual orientation. This should be addressed and challenged accordingly.
Where a child is thought to be exposed to bullying, action should be taken to assess the child's needs and provide support services.
If the bullying involves a physical assault, as well as seeking medical attention where necessary, consideration should be given to whether there are any child protection issues to consider and whether there should be a referral to the Police where a criminal offence may have been committed.
Where appropriate, parents should be informed and updated on a regular basis. They should also, when applicable, be involved in supporting programmes devised to challenge bullying behaviour.
Creating an anti-bullying climate that is conducive to equality of opportunity, co-operation and mutual respect for differences can be achieved for example by:
- Low Tolerance of Minor Bullying – dealing with incidents at the earliest sign;
- Never ignoring victims of bullying, always showing an interest/concern;
- Publicly acknowledging the bullied child's distress;
- Organising quality groups/circles, which allow children to work together to identify their own problems, causes and solutions with sensitive facilitators.
Practitioners may often be in the position of having to deal with the perpetrators as well as the victims of bullying. It should be borne in mind that bullying behaviour may in itself be indicative of previous abuse or exposure to violence.
It is important when addressing bullying behaviour by another child to avoid accusations, threats or any responses that will only lead to the child being uncooperative, and silent.
The focus should be on the bullying behaviour rather than the child and where possible the reasons for the behaviour should be explored and dealt with. A clear explanation of the extent of the upset the bullying has caused should be given and encouragement to see the bullied child's points of view.
A restorative approach and the use of restorative enquiry and subsequent mediation between those involved can provide an opportunity to meet the needs of all concerned. The child who has been bullied has the chance to say how he or she has been affected. The opportunity is provided for the child doing the bullying to understand the impact of his or her actions and to make amends.
Both the child engaged in bullying behaviour and those who are the target of bullying should then be closely monitored. The times, places and circumstances in which the risk of bullying is greatest should be ascertained and action taken to reduce the risk of recurrence.
Whatever plan of action is implemented, it must be reviewed with regular intervals to ascertain whether actions have been successful by consideration whether the target of bullying now feels safe and whether the bullying behaviour has now ceased. Consideration should also be given to lessons learned in order to constantly review and improve practice. Where bullying exists in the context of gang behaviour, there should be an institutional, as well as an individual, response to this.
Both victims and perpetrators of bullying can benefit from assertiveness training where this is available.