What We Know About Bullying
What is bullying?
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional
and that involves an imbalance of power or
strength. Typically, it is repeated over time. A child
who is being bullied has a hard time defending
himself or herself.
Bullying can take many forms, such as hitting or
punching (physical bullying); teasing or namecalling
(verbal bullying); intimidation using
gestures or social exclusion (nonverbal bullying or
emotional bullying); and sending insulting
messages by e-mail (cyberbullying).
Prevalence of bullying:
• Studies show that between 15–25 percent of
U.S. students are bullied with some frequency
(“sometimes or more often”) while 15–20 percent
report that they bully others with some frequency
(Melton et al., 1998; Nansel et al., 2001).
• Recent statistics show that although school
violence has declined 4 percent during the past
several years, the incidence of behaviors such as
bullying has increased by 5 percent between
1999 and 2001 (U.S. Dept. of Ed., 2002).
• Bullying has been identified as a major concern
by schools across the U.S. (NEA3, 2003).
• In surveys of third through eighth graders in 14
Massachusetts schools, nearly half who had been
frequently bullied reported that the bullying had
lasted six months or longer (Mullin-Rindler, 2003).
• Research indicates that children with disabilities or
special needs may be at a higher risk of being bullied
than other children (see Rigby, 2002, for review).
Bullying and gender:
• By self-report, boys are more likely than girls to
bully others (Nansel et al., 2001; Banks 1997).
• Girls frequently report being bullied by both boys
and girls, but boys report that they are most
often bullied only by other boys (Melton et al.,
1998; Olweus, 1993).
• Verbal bullying is the most frequent form of
bullying experienced by both boys and girls. Boys
are more likely to be physically bullied by their
peers (Olweus, 1993; Nansel et al., 2001); girls are
more likely to report being targets of rumorspreading
and sexual comments (Nansel et al.,
2001). Girls are more more likely to bully each
other using social exclusion (Olweus, 2002).
• Use of derogatory speculation about sexual
orientation is so common that many parents do
not think of telling their children that it could be
hurtful (NEA2, 2003).
Consequences of bullying:
• Stresses of being bullied can interfere with
student’s engagement and learning in school
(NEA Today, 1999).
• Children and youth who are bullied are more
likely than other children to be depressed, lonely,
anxious, have low self-esteem, feel unwell, and
think about suicide (Limber, 2002; Olweus, 1993).
• Students who are bullied may fear going to
school, using the bathroom, and riding on the
school bus (NEA1, 2003).
Ahmad, Y. & Smith, P. K. (1994). Bullying in schools and the issue of sex differences. In Male violence, J. Archer (Ed.). NY: Rutledge.
Banks, R. (1997). Bullying in schools (ERIC Report No. EDO-PS-97-170.) University of Illinois Champaign, Ill.
Limber, S. P. (2002). Addressing youth bullying behaviors. Proceedings from the American Medical Association Educational Forum on Adolescent Health:
Youth Bullying. Chicago, IL: American Medical Association. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from www.ama-assn.org/ama1/pub/upload/mm/39/
Melton, G. B.. Limber, S. Flerx, V. Cunningham, P., Osgood, D.W., Chambers, J., Henggler, S., & Nation, M. (1998). Violence among rural youth. Final
report to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.
Mullin-Rindler, N. (2003). Findings from the Massachusetts Bullying Prevention Initiative. Unpublished manuscript.Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M. D., Haynie, D. L.,
Ruan, W. J., & Scheidt, P. C. (2003). Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. Archives of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 157, 348-353.
Nansel, T. Overpeck, M., Pilla, R.S., Ruan, W.J., Simmons-Morton, B. Schmidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among US youth. Journal of American Medical
Association, 285, 2094-2100.
National Education Association. (1995). Youth risk behavior survey data results. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from www.nea.orgs.
National Education Association1. (2003). National bullying awareness campaign. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from www.neaorg/schoolsafety/bullying.html.
National Education Association2. (2003). Parents role in bullying prevention and intervention. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from
National Education Association3. (2003). School safety facts. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from www.nea.org/ schoolsafety/ssfacts.html.
National Education Association4. (2003). Youth violence intervention and prevention. Retrieved August 12, 2005, from
NEA Today. (1999). Easing the strain of students’ stress. Departments: Health. September 1999. NEA Washington, DC Retrieved August 12, 2005, from
Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.
Olweus, D. (February 23, 2002). Personal communication.
Rigby, K. (2002). New perspectives on bullying. London: Jessica Kinglsey Publications.
U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, The continuation of education 2002, NCES 2002-025, Washington, DC:
U.S. Government Printing Office, 2002.
These and other materials are available online at: www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov
• In a survey of third through eighth graders in 14
Massachusetts schools, more than 14 percent
reported that they were often afraid of being
bullied (Mullin-Rindler, 2003).
• Research shows that bullying can be a sign of
other serious antisocial or violent behavior.
Children and youth who frequently bully their
peers are more likely than others to get into
frequent fights, be injured in a fight, vandalize or
steal property, drink alcohol, smoke, be truant
from school, drop out of school, and carry a
weapon (Nansel et al., 2003; Olweus, 1993).
• Bullying also has an impact on other students at
school who are bystanders to bullying (Banks,
1997). Bullying creates a climate of fear and
disrespect in schools and has a negative impact
on student learning (NEA1, 2003).
Adult response to bullying
• Adults are often unaware of bullying problems
(Limber, 2002). In one study, 70 percent of
teachers believed that teachers intervene “almost
always” in bullying situations; only 25 percent of
students agreed with this assessment (Charach
et al., 1995).
• 25 percent of teachers see nothing wrong with
bullying or putdowns and consequently
intervene in only 4 percent of bullying incidents
(Cohn & Canter, 2002).
• Students often feel that adult intervention is
infrequent and unhelpful and they often fear that
telling adults will only bring more harassment
from bullies (Banks, 1997).
• In a survey of students in 14 elementary and
middle schools in Massachusetts, more than 30
percent believed that adults did little or nothing
to help in bullying incidents (Mullin-Rindler, 2003).