What is Bullying?


Developing an understanding of bullying includes recognizing what bullying is and is not, the types of bullying behaviors, issues related to bullying and the characteristics of those involved in bullying situations.

Refer to the Resources section of the Bullying Prevention website for additional information.

Defining Bullying

  • Deciding on the Appropriate Definition
    A district may choose to develop a local definition or adopt a definition found in the literature sources or a locally adopted curriculum. Consideration should be given to differentiating bullying from other behaviors such as normal conflicts and harassment.
  • Themes Which Define Bullying Behaviors
    Display or unjust use of power
    Repeated and targeted negative behavior
    Intentionally harmful behavior
  • Definitions of Bullying
    Definitions of bullying are found in a variety of resource materials, curriculum materials, journal articles, and websites. A commonly referenced definition of bullying follows: “A person is being bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly, and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons.” Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Bullying Behaviors

  • Bullying or Normal Conflict
    Normal conflict can occur any time or place and is generally accidental and resolved by the parties in the conflict. Bullying behaviors occur where the person bullying feels safe engaging in power-seeking behavior which is intentionally harmful and directed at someone who is considered weak or vulnerable and generally is resolved by third party intervention.
  • Bullying or Harassment
    Harassment behaviors share the common themes found in a definition of bullying and additionally recognize that the behavior is discriminatory toward protected classes of individuals. For example, specific types of harassment would include sexual harassment or racial harassment.
  • Types of Bullying
    Bullying behaviors may be direct or indirect and include verbal and nonverbal behaviors that cause physical, social/relational, or emotional/psychological harm. The following lists provide examples of various types of bullying behaviors. (Adapted from: Bonds, Marla and Sally Stoker, (2000). Bully-Proofing Your School: A Comprehensive Approach for Middle Schools. Sopris West).

    • Physical Aggression: harm to a person or a person’s property Examples: pushing, shoving, spitting, kicking, hitting, ruining property, stealing, physically humiliating, locking in a closed space, physical violence against family or friends, threatening with a weapon, inflicting bodily harm
    • Social/Relational Aggression: harm to a person’s group acceptance Examples: gossip, embarrassing on purpose, spreading rumors, ethnic slurs, setting up to take blame, publicly humiliating (reveal personal information), excluding from a group or activity, manipulating situation to assure rejection, threaten with total isolation by peers
    • Intimidation: harm to a person through pressure or fear Examples: extortion, threatening looks, threaten to reveal personal information, graffiti, publicly challenging to do something, playing a dirty trick, threats of coercion, coercion, threatening with a weapon
    • Verbal Aggression Examples: mocking, name-calling, taunting, teasing about clothing, possessions, or appearance, intimidating phone calls, verbal threats against possessions or of inflicting bodily harm: harm to person through spoken words
    • Written Aggression: harm to a person through written words Examples: slam books, note passing, graffiti

Related Issues

  • Sexual Harassment: harm to a person through insensitivity to gender Examples: unwelcome comments or actions of a sexual nature; jokes, personal conversations, comments, stares, grabbing clothing or body parts, repeatedly asking someone out, pressure for sexual activity, cornering, standing too close
  • Racial/Ethnic Harassment: harm to a person through insensitivity to race or ethnicity Examples: jokes with racial or ethnic targets; exclusion due to race or culture; racial or ethnic slurs; verbal putdowns; public humiliation, destroying property, physical or verbal attacks due to race or cultural group membership
  • Cyber-bullying: harm to a person through the use of information or communication technology Examples: e-mail, cell phone and pager text messages, instant messaging, defamatory personal Web sites or blogs, sending or posting photos via cell phone or web sites
  • Hazing: harm caused through acts that carelessly or intentionally endanger the health or safety of another for the purpose of initiation or as a condition for affiliation Examples: forced activity, prolonged isolation, sleep deprivation, activities that cause humiliation, physical or mental harm.

Who Is Involved In Bullying?

  • The person who exhibits bullying behaviors (bully, perpetrator)
     displays power in some form( size, popularity, athleticism, knowledge, etc.) thrives on feelings of dominance; lacks empathy; uses blame; does not accept responsibility; craves attention; may have a small network of friends; without intervention, could continue to exhibit bullying behaviors which may escalate to other types of antisocial or more aggressive behaviors
  • The person who experiences the bullying behaviors (target, victim)
     lacks social skills such as friendship and assertiveness skills; may be passive (withdraws appearing weak) or provocative (restless with pesky behaviors or taunts); experiences isolation, frustration, hopelessness or fear leading to inability to concentrate, loss of interest in school, and, in more severe situations, suicide or violence toward others
  • A person may be involved as both – one who exhibits and experiences bullying behaviors (bully-target) Characteristics: exhibits characteristics of both one who bullies or one who is bu llied based on the circumstance or setting; experiences the highest level of depression; punishment and zero tolerance are not effective; needs one-on-one therapeutic model in order to break the cycle of bullying/victimization.
  • The person who observes or knows about the bullying behaviors (bystander, witness)
     generally involved in some capacity if only as an observer; feels empathy yet seldom steps forward; feels powerless to defend support the target; actions (not reporting, joining in, etc.) protect self from becoming a target; may begin to think the bullying behaviors are the ‘norm’; may feel guilt for not acting to stop the harmful behaviors; can successfully prevent or intervene if given instruction and practices intervention strategies (not join in, involve peers, assertive statements, report procedures, friendship and other social skills)
  • School staff involvement “Although the major concern in schools is bullying among students, bullying involving adults in the school community adds to the problem of peer victimization and must be addressed. ” (Adapted from Rigby, Ken. 2001.. Stop the bullying: a handbook for teachers. Markham, Ontario, CA: Pembroke Publishers). The bullying definition themes of repeated, intentionally harmful behaviors and unjust use of power apply to these situations as well as those among students.
    • Bullying of students by staff: 
      Circumstances: insisting on unrealistic goals; unacceptable methods of pressuring students (threats, humiliation, etc.); singling out an individual student to gain control of the class; or motivated by personal prejudice
    • Bullying of staff by students:
      Circumstances: deliberate acts to torment or frustrate the teacher; lack of effective classroom management skills or inappropriate curriculum/instruction on the part of the staff member provides opportunity for misbehavior; may occur when parents are not supportive of school staff and undermine their authority
    • Bullying between adults (between colleagues or staff and parents):
      Circumstances: seek control through actions outside of role; humiliation or domination as a result of personal antagonism; insensitive to roles and responsibilities of the other

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 January 14, 2019 2:55pm