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Bullying and Teasing | Print |  E-mail
Behaviour and Mental Health Problems

Most people have had the experience of being teased about something – wearing glasses or the style of their clothes.  However common the occurrence, teasing is really just a subtle form of bullying.  Teasing can undermine a child’s self-confidence, and cause feelings of sadness or embarrassment that should not be dismissed by parents or teachers.

Both teasing and bullying are forms of aggression that are often used to exclude or ostracize another person.   And it’s become a cause of increasing concern.

In a study of 15,686 students in grades 6 through 10 in public and private schools throughout the U.S., 1 in 3 elementary and secondary school students reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying.  Some (13%) were bullies themselves, some (10.6%) had been bullied, and some (6.3%) had been both bullied and had bullied others.

Males were more likely than females to be both perpetrators and targets of bullying.  The frequency of bullying was higher among 6th- through 8th-grade students than among 9th- and 10th-grade students. [1]

Many people assume that children who are bullied are different in some way – quiet or awkward, for instance – which makes them stand out and causes other kids to target them.  The truth is that many children are victimized for no apparent reason.

What causes teasing to escalate into bullying?  Quite often, it’s the reaction of the victim. Children who stand up for themselves tend not to be bullied.  Unfortunately, far too many children suffer in silence, which only intensifies the abuse and the consequences of the abuse.

Indeed, bullying can produce severe and long-lasting effects in its victims, such as depression or anxiety, that interfere with normal activities and can persist into adulthood. A child or adolescent’s sense of self can be fragile and repeated verbal attacks like the gossiping that girls seem to favour (termed indirect or relational aggression) is as injurious as the physical assaults that some bullies resort to.[2]  Increasingly, too, bullying has become an online activity, with rumours or threats being broadcast on the Internet.[3]

While not all children who are aggressive become bullies, bullies are aggressive people.

The aggression that fuels bullying does not originate in elementary school, nor does the way it presents itself change with a child’s developmental stage.  A study that followed children aged 4 to 7 and tested them over time until they were 8 to 11 years of age, found the children who were persistently aggressive tended to develop a style: they remained either indirectly or physically aggressive as they got older.[4]

Children/adolescents who are part of bullying episodes have different roles:

  • the victim – often, this child may be quiet, withdrawn, and have few or no playmates
  • the bully – often has good leadership skills and usually has friends/allies who are either bullies themselves or bully/victims
  • the bully/victim – this child is both a bully and a victim of bullying, usually has poorer social skills, is less cooperative with others, and has fewer friends compared to children who aren’t involved with bullying [5,6]

Studies of school-yard behaviour have shown that the dynamics of bullying episodes are affected not only by the behaviour of the bully and his/her victim, but by the behaviour of bystanders. Bystanders have a special role to play: they contribute to the bullying by egging on the bully or by failing to act to protect the victim by intervening personally or finding someone else who can.  Bystanders who don’t intervene provide tacit approval to the bully.

There is some evidence that schools, too, can play a role in bullying by promoting a culture in which the administration turns a blind eye to bullying, fails to support the victims, or permits the bullying by teachers of students or their own peers. These schools are reported to have higher levels of student behaviour problems as assessed by the number of students who are suspended from school.[5]

The severity of the problem should not be downplayed but at the same time overreaction is not helpful.  Part of what underlies the behaviour of all of the children involved in bullying are feelings of sadness (possibly a symptom of depression), of being left out, and not belonging at school.[6]  There need to be thoughtful and compassionate programs developed that act on what causes or contributes to bullying and victimization that don’t merely punish the bully and confirm the victim role of their targets.

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  1. Stueve A, Dash K, O’Donnell L, Tehranifar P, Wilson-Simmons R, Slaby RG, Link BG. Rethinking the bystander role in school violence prevention. Health Promotion Practice. 2006; 7(1):117-124.
  2. Brough R, Sills J. Multimedia bullying using a website. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2006; 91:202.
  3. Vaillancourt T, Brendgen M, Boivin M, Tremblay RE. A longitudinal confirmatory factor analysis of indirect and physical aggression: Evidence of two factors over time?
  4. Perren S, Alsaker FD. Social behavior and peer relationships of victims, bully-victims, and bullies in kindergarten. 2006; 47(1): 45-57.
  5. Twemlow SW, Fonagy P. The prevalence of teachers who bully students in schools with differing levels of behavioral problems. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2005; 162(12): 2387-2389.
  6. Glew GM, Fan M-Y, Katon W, Rivard FP, Kernic MA. Bullying, psychosocial adjustment, and academic performance in elementary school. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. 2005; 159:1026-1031.
Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 February 2009 21:28