Bullying—A Global Problem
“If you come to school tomorrow, we’ll kill you.”—A Canadian student named Kristen received that telephone threat from an unidentified female caller.*
“I am not an emotional person, but I got to the point of not wanting to go to school. My stomach hurt, and every morning after breakfast, I threw up.”—Hiromi, a teenage student in Japan, recalls her experience with bullying.
HAVE you ever had to deal with a bully? Most of us have at one time or another. It may have been at school or in the workplace, or it may even have occurred right at home—where such abuse of power is played out with alarming frequency these days. A British source, for instance, estimates that 53 percent of adults are verbally bullied by a spouse or a live-in partner. Bullies and their victims may be of either gender and from any walk of life in any part of the world.*
What exactly constitutes bullying? It is not quite the same as harassment or assault. It tends to involve many small incidents that accumulate over time rather than a single incident or a few of them. Psychologist Dan Olweus, a pioneer in the systematic study of bullying, identifies common elements of this behavior, such as deliberate aggressiveness and a marked inequality in terms of power.
Perhaps no single definition covers all aspects of bullying, but it has been called “a wilful, conscious desire to hurt another and put him/her under stress.” The stress is created not only by what actually happens but also by fear of what might happen. Tactics may include harsh teasing, constant criticism, insults, gossip, and unreasonable demands.—See the box on page 4.
Kristen, the teenager mentioned at the outset, was singled out by bullies during most of her school years. In elementary school, bullies put gum in her hair, teased her about her appearance, and threatened to beat her up. In high school, things got even worse—to the point that she received death threats over the telephone. Now 18, she laments: “School is a place where you’re supposed to learn, not get death threats and get thrown around.”
One mental-health professional comments: “It’s a sad but common aspect of human dynamics. Some people feel better diminishing someone else.” When such behavior escalates, it may lead to violent retaliation and even tragedy. For example, a transit employee who had a speech impediment was teased and bullied so much that he finally killed four of his coworkers and then shot himself.
Bullying Is Global
Bullying among school-age children occurs worldwide. A survey published in Pediatrics in Review reveals that in Norway, 14 percent of children are either bullies or victims. In Japan, 15 percent of primary school pupils say that they are bullied, while in Australia and Spain, the problem prevails among 17 percent of students. In Britain one expert figures that 1.3 million children are involved in bullying.
Professor Amos Rolider of Emek Yizre’el College surveyed 2,972 pupils in 21 schools. According to The Jerusalem Post, the professor found that “65% complained of being smacked, kicked, pushed or molested by fellow pupils.”
A new and insidious development is digital bullying—the sending of menacing text messages via cell phones and computers. Youths also create hate-filled Web pages about a victim, including personal information. According to Dr. Wendy Craig of Queen’s University in Canada, this form of bullying is “extraordinarily damaging to the child who is being victimized by it.”
Bullying in the workplace is one of the fastest-growing causes for complaints involving workplace violence. In fact, some countries report that it is more common than racial discrimination or sexual harassment. Each year, about 1 person in 5 in the U.S. work force faces bullying.
In Britain a report released in 2000 by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology said that out of 5,300 employees in 70 organizations, 47 percent reported that they had witnessed incidents of bullying in the last five years. A 1996 European Union survey based on 15,800 interviews in its 15 member states showed that 8 percent—some 12 million workers—had been subjected to intimidation or bullying.
Whether in the school yard or workplace, all bullying seems to have a common trait—the use of power to hurt or humiliate another. Why, though, do some people bully others? What are the effects? And what can be done about it?
Some names have been changed.
Although the bully is frequently referred to as “he” in these articles, the principles generally apply to female bullies as well.
[Box on page 4]
Types of Bullies
◼ Physical Bullies: These are the easiest to identify. They act out their anger by hitting, shoving, or kicking their chosen target—or by damaging their victim’s property.
◼ Verbal Bullies: They use words to hurt and humiliate their target, through either name-calling, insults, or persistent, harsh teasing.
◼ Relationship Bullies: They spread nasty rumors about their target. This behavior is predominantly adopted by female bullies.
◼ Reactive Victims: These are victims of bullying who turn into bullies themselves. Of course, their having been victims of bullying does not excuse their conduct; it only helps to explain it.
Source: Take Action Against Bullying, by Gesele Lajoie, Alyson McLellan, and Cindi Seddon