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Frequently Asked Questions

Welcome to the NDE Bullying Prevention FAQ website. The following questions are shared here so that all educators and parents will benefit from the responses to these inquiries about bullying and safe and secure learning environments.

Click on the question to be directed to the response.

Link to other Frequently Asked Questions (California Department of Education)

Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

How common is bullying?

Studies in many different countries over the last twenty years have shown that bullying in schools is common. It is not unusual to find that a third or more of the pupils were involved in bullying, either as victims or bullies. However, it is very difficult to measure bullying accurately. Observation only tells part of the story. Much bullying happens in places it is impossible to observe, and much involves behavior which may be indistinguishable from normal play or conversation – to an outside observer anyway. Interviewing adults and children can produce conflicting and confusing reports of the level of bullying. Most researchers therefore use questionnaires, which allow a large number of people to be surveyed. It should be remembered however that, although such surveys have allowed us to understand much more about this difficult problem, they can only measure people’s perception of the level of bullying, rather than the actual level. Most people who take part in such surveys try to answer the questions as honestly as they can. But it can be difficult for young people involved in bullying to admit to themselves the truth of what is happening, let alone to admit this to others.

Does age make a difference?

Many studies have found that the number of children who report being bullied decreases with age. This finding – that more younger children than older children report that they have been bullied, begs a number of questions:

Are younger children more likely to report bullying because they are more trusting of adults?

Do teenagers find it more difficult to admit to being bullied because to do so would conflict with a natural desire to appear ‘grown up’ and ‘able to look after yourself’?

If this reported reduction in the number of bullying victims matches the reality, what is the cause? Are older children less likely to bully others than younger ones? As people grow older do they learn to avoid being bullied?
(Andrew Mellor)

Are there differences in the bullying experiences of girls and boys?

Many studies have found that there are differences in the bullying experiences of boys and girls. Most of the studies covered here have found that it is more common for boys to be involved in physical bullying. Girls on the other hand are more likely than boys to be involved in psychological bullying (for example ignoring someone or deliberately keeping someone out of a group). However, for both boys and girls, the most common type of bullying is verbal. The research finding that boys are more likely to be involved in physical bullying than girls is unsurprising. However, we should not assume that because of this, bullying among boys is more serious or damaging than that among girls. It could be that the more obvious methods of bullying used by boys makes it easier to spot – and to stop – than the subtlety of girls’ bullying. It is also worth noting that many of the cases of suicide where bullying has been identified as a cause, have involved girls who have not been physically bullied but ‘only’ subjected to name-calling and isolation.This is one of those areas that really does need more research. Another relates to the differing levels of peer support available to older boys and girls. Is it really true that teenage girls are more likely than teenage boys, to have the emotional support of a close friend? And, if this is true, does this then mean that a girl who does not have a ‘best friend’ will feel far more isolated and inadequate than a friendless boy?
(Andrew Mellor)

Are some children more likely to be bullied than others?

Bullying can happen to anyone, at any time in their school career, but there are some characteristics and factors which might make it more likely. Any child can become the victim of bullying if he or she is put into a school where bullying is not tackled effectively. Being different in some obvious way (such as ethnicity, disability or religion) may make it more likely that a child will be bullied. However, research seems to be pointing towards social skills and character as being even more closely linked to involvement in bullying than these more obvious factors. What is often not clear is whether a child is bullied because she is anxious and has low self- esteem, or is anxious and has low self-esteem because she has been bullied. (Andrew Mellor)

Are some children more likely to bully than others?

Some of the major bullying studies have identified certain characteristics which are found in many children who bully. For example being uncaring and having a positive view of violence. The studies did not find that a typical bully has low self-esteem (as previously suggested). It is important to remember that this is a general picture and there will be exceptions. There are some people who consistently bully others. It may be reasonable to describe these people as ‘bullies’ and to try to find out if they have any distinguishing characteristics. However, if we accept that ‘bullying’ is often a group activity in which one person may be picked on by the majority of his classmates, any attempt to describe the common characteristics of these ‘bullies’ is likely to fail. They are involved in a social activity and have a wide variety of family circumstances and personal characteristics. (Andrew Mellor)

How popular are victims and bullies?

It has been found that victims of bullying tend not to be as popular as their peers (including bullies). Scandinavian research found that bullies tend to be as popular (or almost) as their peers, although their popularity drops as they get older. (Andrew Mellor)

What do pupils do when they are bullied?

Children who are being bullied react in different ways. However many studies have found that in response to bullying, children will often attempt to stand up to the bully (without fighting). Perhaps we should be concerned here about what makes it possible for many children to stand up to bullying and what makes it difficult for others to find effective personal coping strategies. The information in these studies can be used in discussions with parents and children about the way that they could react to bullying.
(Andrew Mellor)

Who do children tell when they are being bullied?

Many studies have found that children who are being bullied become less likely to tell as they get older, and when they do confide in someone, it is much more likely to be a family member or friend than a teacher. A worrying finding of many studies is that a lot of children do not tell anyone. Creating an atmosphere of openness in which children feel safe enough to talk to an adult about problems, is one of the key challenges for schools. In a 1989 study, half the pupils who had been bullied had told no-one about it. In a 2002 study this proportion had fallen to 22 per cent, which points to an increasing willingness among bullied pupils to talk. This could be due to the development of anti-bullying policies in schools during the period between the two studies. (Andrew Mellor)

Why don’t children tell?

Children give a variety of reasons for not telling an adult about bullying, ranging from being afraid of what the bullies might do if they found out, to feelings of failure because they could not deal with the bully themselves. The reasons that children give for not telling are usually reasonable and logical. The fear of retaliation is real and should be acknowledged. However, this fear is sometimes expressed in another way – as a fear that the adult will do something which will make matters worse. This knowledge can help adults to react more sensitively when approached by bullied children for help. (Andrew Mellor)

Does bullying cause problems in later years?

Unfortunately studies have found a connection between being bullied in childhood and problems in later years. There are a number of ways in which childhood bullying may be linked to problems in adult life. It has been suggested that some victims are brutalized by their experiences and go on to become bullying or abusive adults. It has also been suggested that some bullies graduate to more serious adult criminality. However, it should be remembered that the majority of people who are involved in bullying at school (either as bully or victim) go on to have happy, productive adult lives. The size of the proportion who are not so lucky is unclear, but there are many people who believe that their lives have been blighted by childhood bullying. (Andrew Mellor)

Where does bullying take place?

Many studies have found that the most common location for bullying is the school playground. The fact that most studies have found that bullying is most common in the playground is unsurprising. Teachers are often uncomfortable with the fact that so many pupils have said that the classroom is an important location for bullying. Sometimes this happens when the teacher is not present, but it can also happen in subtle but damaging ways right under a teacher’s nose. (Andrew Mellor)

What does it feel like to be bullied?

It is widely accepted that bullying causes distress, at times extreme. Some studies have gathered information about the emotions children experience when they are being bullied. These studies help us to understand the range of emotions that may be experienced by a bullied child. At one end of the spectrum it is upsetting for a short time. At the other end it can drive a child to contemplate suicide. In between are various feelings and reactions, but a major concern for teachers and parents is that the strength of these feelings can have a serious effect on learning. For example, it is difficult to concentrate on what a teacher is saying when you are being subjected to glances – glances which are imperceptible to the teacher but which say to you, ‘you may think you are safe here in the classroom but just wait until …’ (Andrew Mellor)

Does bullying cause health problems?

Many studies have found that there is a link between being bullied and health problems. If bullying causes stress and stress can cause physical illness, this could explain the findings of some of these studies. Perhaps even more worrying is the link that is emerging between bullying and mental health. (Andrew Mellor)

Is there a link between childhood bullying behavior and anti-social behavior in later years?

As yet, there have only been a few studies which have looked at links between bullying behavior and later anti-social behavior. However the existing studies have found a link. It is important to remember that most children who admit to bullying others (up to 50% in some studies) do not go on to commit crime as adults. The studies which have found a link between childhood bullying and criminality tend to use a much narrower definition of what constitutes a ‘bully’ than is used in the majority of studies aimed at measuring levels of bullying in school.
(Andrew Mellor)

What is the role of peers in bullying?

Studies have found that peers do play an important part in bullying whether they are openly encouraging it or ‘just’ standing by and watching. It has been suggested that if witnesses of bullying are not actively trying to prevent it, they are encouraging it (whether they realize it or not). This question shows just how complex a bullying situation can be. An adult observer may find it difficult to distinguish between those children who are actively involved in bullying and those who are bystanders. What is clear, however, is that bystanders may provide the key to finding a solution to many bullying incidents. Peer pressure can be positive as well as negative. (Andrew Mellor)

What are the feelings of bystanders?

As the findings presented here suggest, bystanders have different feelings about bullying. Some are upset by it, but unfortunately there are some who seem to enjoy it. It is likely that children’s attitudes towards bullying are changing as the subject is discussed more and more in schools. In 1990, bullying was rarely discussed in schools in Scotland and other English speaking countries. By 1996 most schools in the UK and Australia had adopted anti-bullying policies and an Australian study mentioned seemed to point to the fact that the majority of young people now think that bullying is wrong. (Andrew Mellor)

Is bullying usually carried out by an individual or group?

Many studies have found that it is most common to be bullied by a group rather than an individual. However there are studies which have found it more likely to be bullied by an individual. The important thing here is that group bullying and bullying by an individual are both common. However, they are often very different types of behavior. An individual who consistently bullies others in a variety of situations usually has a number of personal and social problems, of which bullying is only one manifestation. A bullying group may be composed of individuals who have little to distinguish them from their non-bullying peers. (Andrew Mellor)

Is there a difference between the personal characteristics of the individual and the group bully?

There seems to be very little in books or articles on the personality differences of the individual and the group bully. The researcher, Ken Rigby, feels that more attention should be paid to this difference. This is a crucial difference. It is remarkable that it has not been the subject of more research. It is particularly important for teachers to decide whether they are dealing with group bullying or individual bullying when reacting to an incident or episode. Some reactive strategies, such as the ‘no blame approach’ are only effective when used in response to group bullying. Many individual bullies need long term behavior support to deal with this and the other undesirable behaviors they exhibit.
(Andrew Mellor)

How are different groups, such as ethnic minorities and disabled pupils, affected by bullying?

Some studies have looked at whether being part of a particular group makes it more likely that a child will be bullied. Unfortunately some studies have found that being part of a minority group can make it more likely. Racism and bullying are very closely related. In schools, it can sometimes be difficult to decide where one ends and the other begins. These studies show that being a member of a minority group increases the risk of being bullied in certain situations. If all minority groups are educated in separate schools, any resulting trouble might be described as ‘conflict’ rather than ‘bullying’. Even where children are completely separated in this way, sub-groups can become a target. In one school where all pupils had some degree of sight loss, the minority who were completely blind were picked on by children who were partially sighted. (Andrew Mellor)

Are there differences between types of school?

As this selection of studies shows, there is no clear agreement on whether the type of school (for example size and location) affects bullying levels or not, sometimes it will, sometimes it won’t. The research evidence here is conflicting and confusing. At the moment it seems safe to say that there is no conclusive evidence which shows that the size of a school, its religious orientation, the ethnicity of its pupils, whether it is privately or publicly funded, or the social class or wealth of the parents of the children at the school has any influence on the level of bullying. (Andrew Mellor)

Do children “grow out” of bullying others?

Children need direction and raising to “grow out of” certain behaviors. A child who is allowed to abuse others will do so unless he/she is compelled to stop, to change their ways. The bully-child needs to be told that only he/she can control what they do, but we (parents) and society can use powerful, memorable consequences to help them decide to stop bullying. They need the strong message that there is no excuse for violence. Parents, and society – teachers, principals, other students and adults that the bully comes in contact with – and if necessary, a judge – must persuade them to stop. (Julie Clark)

If there is “no excuse” for violence, does that mean that a child should have to put up with physical bullying?

No, not at all. No one should have to put up with violence. Defending oneself against physical assault is not violence – it is self-defense. We teach our kids to scream for help if they’re in danger of being kidnapped, we tell them what to do in just about any situation we can think of…except bullying. No one has to tolerate bullying. (Julie Clark)

Is bullying only physical, or the threat of the physical such as hitting, kicking, and so on?

No, bullying is not limited to physical abuse. That is often the first thing one thinks of when one thinks of bullying – one kid beating up on another. Bullying can also be emotional – lying and gossiping about another, excluding and spreading rumors is bullying. Name calling, harassment, put downs and ridicule is also bullying – verbal abuse. Remember, bullying is abuse. And when one is constantly called “fudge pudge,” “ugly,” referred to as “gay” “homo” “fag” and so on, that child is being verbally bullied. Low self esteem is one result of verbal abuse, and is probably worse than physical abuse most children say. To dismiss verbal abuse as not a part of bullying is turning a blind eye to a very real problem.

What schools should do about bullying?

Schools should first have a clear, unambiguous idea of what bullying actually entails. They should first learn what bullying is, and then write a clearly defined policy, put it in effect, and enforce it consistently. (Julie Clark)

The principal and teachers at my children’s school say that they can’t do anything if they don’t see the bullying happening first hand. Even when several children all report the same thing, the bullies still get away with it because bullies won’t bully in front of authority figures. What can we do?

When bullied children are not believed, they can fall into despair and think that no adult cares. Bullies count on this, and it is a dangerous situation. When a child reports being bullied, they should be helped by those who are supposed to make sure that the children are safe. If there are not enough adults in the school to properly supervise, ask the principal if cameras could be installed in areas of the school where bullying is likely to take place away from adult eyes or recruit volunteers to help supervise. (Julie Clark)

The Nebraska Department of Education offers this website to provide awareness and resources that help schools prevent bullying and provide safe and secure environments. Click on the topics in the column on the left for bullying prevention information. 

Bullying Prevention Site Information

Updated September 8, 2017 5:46pm