Bullying is an issue that affects every child at some point in their lives, whether as a victim, perpetrator, or bystander. Most kids will take turns playing all 3 roles at different junctures throughout their youth. Here are some important facts about bullying that every parent, teacher, and concerned citizen should know about:
Bullying fact #1: Children suffer in silence
Though exact statistics vary by study, research continually shows that the vast majority of kids DO NOT report bullying to an adult. A 1994 study found that 30% of victims do not tell anyone, and a different study in 2000 found that of those who witnessed bullying, only 21% reported what they had witnessed to an adult. (Sullovan, Cleary & Sullovan, 2004) Another survey found that only 5% of kids would tell their parents or another trusted adult if they were being cyber bullied. (PBS, 12-30-2009) Kids may be fearful that adults will freak out and cause additional hassles for them, or believe that there is nothing adults can do to help.
Bullying fact #2: Bullies tend to prey on the vulnerable
Approximately 20% of the population can be classified as “highly sensitive,” and thus will be more vulnerable to the effects of bullying. It’s a condition as common to males as it is to females, though boys are generally better at hiding their sensitive nature. (Bartz, 2011) Unfortunately, these gentle, empathetic, highly sensitive kids also tend to end up the target of bullies more often. So the very kids who are least equipped to cope with bullying are those who generally end up the targets. This also means that some of our best youth – the most empathetic and caring – usually suffer the most.
Bullying fact #3: Bullying also affects bystanders
Bullying can have a severe psychological effect on bystanders, too. Studies reveal that 75% of children who witness bullying say they feel “ashamed” afterwards for not having the strength and courage to intervene, and they suffer many other negative emotions, such as fear or anxiety, when bullying takes place in their school. (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, p. 85)
Bullying fact #4: Victim / perpetrator roles tend to remain stable
Bully and target roles tend to remain fairly stable over the years, meaning children who bully, those who are targeted, or those who are bully-victims (both perpetrators and victims of bullying) tend to stay in those roles. So although just about every child will experience taunting at some point in their lives, when children are involved in ongoing bullying, they tend to become solidified in those roles.
Bullying fact #5: The 20/20 Rule
In general, around 20% of kids will wind up frequent targets of bullying, while another 20% or so are frequent perpetrators. Among these, anywhere from 5% to 15% may overlap as both victims and bullies from time to time. Those kids not in either portion of the 20/20 tend to experience only isolated bullying.
Bullying fact #6: Bullying & gender differences
Males tend to report being hit, slapped, or pushed by bullies more frequently than do females, whereas females more frequently report being bullied through rumors or sexual comments. (Nansel et al., 2001, p. 2097) Boys tend to experience more bullying overall, with more of it physical in nature, whereas girls experience more psychological bullying through things such as exclusion, gossip, and verbal abuse. Many experts caution that rates of girl bullying may be equal to or greater than that of boys, but because it is more covert and difficult to spot, it is not reported as often or captured in statistical surveys.
Bullying fact #7: Bullying is generally random and indiscriminate
While it’s true that certain children or groups of children tend to experience more bullying and are targeted more often than others, bullying is also random and indiscriminate. Bullies can target any child for any reason. One child may be teased for being too fat, another one for being too thin. A child may be teased for playing golf at one school, while being welcomed as part of the ‘in-crowd’ for the same interests at another. It’s true that bullies may target those students who are different, but it’s also true that bullies invent or exaggerate differences when none exist. Bullying is a tactic used to elevate yourself by crushing others, and there is no rhyme or reason to it.
Bullying fact #8: Bullies seldom work alone
Bullying is hardly ever a fair fight, which is why telling kids to stand up for themselves is bad advice. Bullies harass children precisely because there is a power imbalance (physical, mental, or social) between perpetrator and victim. The social nature of bullying also tends to create situations where the crowd gangs up against certain students. When one person decides to bully another, all of that bully’s friends, as well as many in the crowd at large, tend to follow along.
Bullying fact #9: School interventions are often ineffective
A large scale 2008 study by the University of Oregon found that school bullying interventions are modestly effective at best, and “it should not be expected that these interventions will dramatically influence the incidence of actual bullying and victimization behaviors.” (Heller, 2011) This is not because there is no hope for a decrease in bullying, but because there are numerous causes of bullying behavior that run deep throughout our culture. It can’t be fixed by a few band-aids or political crusades, and requires the effort of everyone.
Bullying fact #10: Bullying is preventable
On the bright side, researchers believe that half or more of all bullying cases can be prevented. (Fox et al., 2003) This might even be a conservative estimate. Some cultures around the world have prevalence rates as low as 1-2% – 10 to 20 times less than what we average in the United States. If we base it upon these numbers, 95% of cases could be prevented. It’s just a matter of how much effort we want to put into building a more civil society.