Bullying in American Schools

Girl being bullied at school. Public Domain- https://www.publicnewsservice.org/2013-03-04/childrens-issues/new-study-bullying-lasts-a-lifetime/a31114-1

By Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger or more powerful.” Furthermore, it can be “prone to or characterized by overbearing mistreatment and domination of others.” The Encyclopedia Britannica defines bullying as “intentional harm-doing or harassment that is directed toward vulnerable targets and typically repeated. Bullying encompasses a wide range of malicious aggressive behaviours, including physical violence, verbal mockery, threats, ostracism, and rumours spread either orally or by other means of communication, such as the Internet.”

Dan Olweus (A Norwegian researcher and psychologist) argues that “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.” However some scholars challenge Olweus’ definition because a single act of violence or verbal abuse can cause considerable damage to a person, especially a child going through various stages of development. So therefore, some scholars argue that the incident does not necessarily have to be a repeated behavior in order for it to be bullying. They also go on to argue that “additionally, not all people engaged in this interaction can be categorized as pure bullies or pure victims; research has distinguished a third category of “bully-victims,” that is, young people who are both the bully and the victim. As a result, the website stopbullying.com defines school bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time… In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include an imbalance of power. Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.”

The first known use of the term bully was in 1742 according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Therefore, the idea of bullying has been around for some time. It seems to primarily be associated with schools. In the 1970’s Olweus did significant research in Europe on bullying. Furthermore, the suicide of several victims in 1983 brought even more attention to the subject. In the 1990’s, due to increased school shootings and more suicides related to bullying, much media attention was given to the subject matter.  

There has long been a culture in the US to blame individuals that are being bullied as being a part of the problem. That is, it is thought that the victims’ actions or existence somehow warrant or justify their being bullied. For example, in many late twentieth century films an awkward student that excels in academics but is not good in sports is often targeted, becoming a victim of school bullies. The idea is that if the victim would somehow adopt more socially acceptable behaviors and become more “cool” they would no longer be the recipient of the violence or teasing. Many schools today tend to be a breeding ground for bullying. This culture has taken on a sinister turn, as many of the school shootings have been directly connected to bullying. That is, some of the school shooters have retaliated against their oppressors by resorting to violent resolutions. On the other hand, some of the shooters have been actual bullies themselves. Perhaps they fit the category we have mentioned earlier “bully-victims.” The Encyclopedia Britannica also points out that “A U.S. national study published at the turn of the 21st century documented that bullying and other forms of aggression affected approximately 30 percent, or 5.7 million, middle- to high-school students in the then-current school term.”

In contemporary times bullying has become a hot button issue in the US because of the increase of school shootings and suicides that seem to be directly connected to the phenomenon. Fortunately, many schools and classrooms have adopted anti-bully curriculum, that is often implemented throughout the entire campus. The resources below were identified for educators, to assist them in creating sophisticated and meaningful curricula surrounding bullying.

Curriculum/Lesson Plans

There Are No Bullies Just Children Who Bully—And You Can Help Them

National Bully Prevention Center

30-60 Minute Lesson Plan: Middle and High School, Introduction to Dynamics of Bullying

Week Long Curriculum: Middle and High School, Starting the Discussion Toolkit

Evidence-Based Bullying Programs, Curricula and Practices

Bullying Prevention Program

Violence Prevention Works: Safer Schools, Safer Communities

Open Circle: Getting to the Heart of Learning

PeaceBuilders® Creating Safe, Positive Learning Environments

Safe Schools Ambassador Program

Teaching Students to Prevent Bullying- NEA

Embedding Bully Prevention in Core Curriculum

Bullying Prevention Unit: The Power to Create a Positive School Environment

Safe School

Bully Prevention in Positive Behavior

Middle School Bully- Lesson Plans


“Bully” Award Winning Documentary

Too Scared For School (Bullying Documentary) – Real Stories (British Documentary)

Minnesota Nice? – A Documentary On Bullying And Suicide In Minnesota Schools

The Bully Effect | Stop Bullying: Speak Up | Cartoon Network


Bullying defined

Bullying- Encyclopedia Britannica

Bullying- Wikipedia

What is Bullying- Stop Bullying.gov

Dealing with Bullying

Bullying- Psychology Today

Stomp Out Bullying: Change the Culture

Bullying Facts, Statistics, Prevention and Effects

Discussion Questions

1. What are resources from above that might be most helpful to you?
2. Were you ever a victim of bullying in your own schooling experience? How was it handled, if at all?
3. What did you learn from your experience with bullying?
4. As a teacher have you witnessed bullying in your school? How has your school handled it?
5. What are strategies you have implemented to curtail bullying?
6. Do you think bullying is handled properly in US schools? Is it taken seriously enough? Why or why not?


  1. I love that they talk about the causes of bullying and how others influences can cause bullying. By starting that spark, such as an adult abusing a child and then that kid starts bullying others, it can cause a swarm of classmates to become bullies and use aggression to their advantage as a source of power. It seems that power is the main source of bullying, such as physical strength or embarrassing others for their benefit or popularity in school. I feel that the resources provided in the article are perfect for teachers, parents, and even students who are interested in the reasoning or solution to bullies. As a future educator, I hope to carry these ideas and lessons with me to my classroom and try to avoid the idea of embarrassing others for popularity/to improve yourself.

  2. I think this article introduces a really important topic and even more prevalent in today’s times. I do also think that the way we integrate this topic in our school systems plays a huge role in how they tend to pan out. It is so important to address the topic of bullying before it is too late, so I ultimately believe these discussions need to be had from the time students enter school in Kindergarten. I have noticed through practicum experiences that many schools have certain days of the month set up for their guidance counselors to come in and give mini lessons over feelings, bullying, and how we as humans can handle our emotions with love and kindness. While I think this is a great start, I do believe it is only the start and should eventually happen more than once a month.

  3. I was bullied once or twice in grade school but as I grew up I fit more into the “popular” group of kids and some of them were so mean to people and I once saw a girl push this kid in the lunch line while the teachers standing right next to them seemingly not paying attention but I was never one to let it slide. I think bullying is a huge problem and it does get worse the further in school you get, I think it’s affecting kids even more because like the article states, these children are still growing up and in the midst of puberty so being bullied on top of that can be very tough. I don’t really remember being taught much about bullying in school, it was always just something that you saw happen and sometimes the kid would fight back then the teachers would finally get involved. I feel like it’s a topic that should be touched on way more than it is because bullying does not help at all in the developmental process and it doesn’t give you “thick skin” as some would say, it’s emotionally damaging and has potential to ruin peoples lives’ and that’s never something to play about.

  4. Bullying is a very serious problem in American schools. I have seen it happen firsthand and it is terrible. Children and people should not be judged for who they are or for things that they can’t control, such as looks and monetary status. I remember growing up that when someone would report bullying, not much was done. It’s sad that adults would hear about some kid being picked on, yet they wouldn’t do a thing except for a small scolding, if that.

  5. In order to fix this problem, the teachers need to be educated on bullying. Not only what children can say or do, but also what it looks like. As well as the “new” terms that the children at using. Every teacher/professor needs to foster a classroom of acceptance and diversity. After all, we are the role models. I really like that that this article explains how bullying occurs in every aspect. I also like that it ads in repetition of the acts.

  6. This is an issue that only needs to be identified and resolved, because the outstanding consequences that result from children being bullied and the bully can have a negative impact on an individual and other student. There also needs to be different degrees for the person committing the bullying because the person being bullied should not feel afraid to advocate for themselves out of fear for being blamed.

  7. When I was in first grade, there was a girl in my class who bullied everyone. Thankfully, I had a teacher who intervened every single time, but when it came time to leave our classroom for lunch, recess or specials and our teacher was not there, the girl would bully everyone. It was so bad that I would dread leaving our teacher. My teacher’s reactions to the bullying situation are part of the reason I look forward to being a teacher; I want to be able to help students who experience bullying. As a future teacher, one of the most important things I believe in regard to dealing with bullying is talking about the situation. While it may be a touchy and difficult subject, it is a necessary topic. The resource “There are No Bullies” provided by Dr. Childs is a great resource that discusses how to help address bullying situations. My favorite tip from this resource is adopting comprehensive programming to promote social and emotional competencies. I have been in schools that adopt such programs, and I do believe they have positive effects.

  8. This article was an interesting read because I think almost everyone at some point in life gets bullied. Some schools are better than others at getting it under control and some schools seem to sweep it under the rug entirely. I agree with Dr. Childs when he states that “bullying is a hot button issue.” When it comes to children bullying other children, no parent wants to believe their child would be mean to another for no reason and will even defend their child’s actions. Many cases of bullying stems from a child’s home life. I believe the more positive parent interactions a child has, the less likely they are to bully another child. I think the resources Dr. Childs includes in this article are very useful for teachers. The more awareness that is brought to the issue and the more education on what bullying is and how to prevent it we can teach students, the more tolerance for one another everyone will have.

  9. yeah bullying is bad and it needs to stop not just in america it needs to stop everywhere no matter where you are in the earth it needs to stop no matter what. In my words bullying is a form of harassment, verbal and physical.
    Sometimes leading to self doubt, depression and suicide as the bullying
    continues. Bullies use hurtful words and actions on purpose to discourage others.
    Anyone can get bullied, even adults and anyone can be a bully. In some cases,
    the bullies are stressed or angry and don’t know how to express it. Making
    someone else suffer with them. In my point of view, insults are considered
    bullying. Even the little things hurt a lot. It’s hard to understand what the bully is
    going though, we all just assume that they are disrespectful. When most of the
    time, they were hurting too.
    An example of bullying was when my friend got shamed because of her
    body size. I didn’t know about it until later on. I know it has happened multiple
    times and I have witnessed it. I’m not proud of being a bystander, being honest I
    was scared of standing up and getting bullied myself. We don’t always recognize
    bullying, sometimes it’s unnoticeable and other times it’s right in front of us. It’s
    challenging to get over words that come out of anyone’s mouth, frequently you go
    days with thinking about it. My friend was hurt, I could tell. It’s hard fixing
    someone’s thoughts about them self, once something is said to make them think
    We can’t stop all bullying, but we can prevent it from happening so often.
    Like I said, most of the time bullies just need someone to talk to. It’s anger kept
    inside for so long they need someone to express that anger out on. I truly don’t
    know all the reasons why someone would bully, but I do know anger is something
    that is hard to keep in. We can always get a school counselor to monitor kids
    behavior. Try to make kids know its okay to talk to someone about bullying. It’s
    challenging to tell adults about what’s happening, kids feel like they’ll always get
    in trouble. So when it comes to telling an adult, it’s not in option. Instead of being
    a bystander, there is always the option of being an upstander. Reporting bullying
    is always a way to stop bullying.
    In situations, J realize that for some people it is challenging, including me,
    to stand up but this is the one of the ways bullying will decrease. I will talk to
    people about how they are feeling, letting them take their anger and sadness out
    before they do in a negative way. I can’t get to everyone, so it’s important that we
    all ask and ask yourself if you are doing the best you could. Bullying is one of the
    world’s issues, and everyone’s support in it will help us all.
    Bullying is to seek harm, intimidate, or coerce. A few synonyms are persecute, oppress,
    tyrannize, torment, browbeat, dominate, pressurize, constrain, press, harass, nag, and pester.
    One type of bullying besides traditional bullying is cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is the use of
    electronics to bully someone, usually by messaging. Cyberbullying and traditional bullying are
    quite alike, but there are some distinct differences. One difference is cyberbullying is online and
    traditional bullying is face to face. One similarity is both are quite hurtful to the victim.
    Example of a time I was bullied: (true story)
    One time I was playing a game and two girls were starting to call me a monster because
    of what I looked like in the game and not on how I acted. (which was kind, even towards them)
    They kept bullying me so I tried to ignore them,which worked for awhile. Until eventually we
    bumped into each other. One of them started to bully me again the other gave up on bullying me
    and befriended me. The one who befriended me tried to negotiate with the bully, but it didn’t
    work. So to resolve the problem I left the game.
    To put a stop to traditional bullying and cyberbullying here are a couple things you can
    do. You could be a upstander. You could always not bully. You could negotiate with the bully.
    You could try to ignore the bully. (I’m talking about if you are a victim) You could stay true to this
    quote “No one can truly harm you without you allowing them to get to you.” You could tell a
    adult. These are just some ways you can cope with bullying and prevent bullying.These are
    some things I, personally can do to prevent bullying . I could do the things in the paragraph
    above. I can create a website or group to raise low-esteem, confidence, and self trust. can
    become the victims friend. I could be nice to everyone as well.
    I define bullying as harmful and hurtful. The reasons I think that is
    because, when you are getting bullied, it will make the person feel miserable and
    unwanted. Bullying can hurt a person even if it is with just words because, the
    words go to heart, and then makes it feel bad, especially if it goes on and on. I
    feel bad for people getting bullied because, the bully does not see the beauty of
    the person she or he is aiming at. Matter of fact bullies are like guns, aiming at
    the victim they choose to bully, with their bullets. When you are being bullied, it is
    like depression, especially if no one helps, even though they see you with a sad
    and lonely expression. Some people getting bullied, wants their life to end,
    because of those bullies who aren’t smart enough to realize, what they’ve done.
    To be honest if you are a bully and you actually know what your doing and what
    before you hurt someone.
    My experience was with my cousin. My cousin was bullied before, and I
    am pretty sure she felt bad, but she said, she did not care. I knew she cared
    because, bullying is not something simple, it can be stressful. She told me, she
    didn’t wanna tell the teacher because, she did not want to “snitch”, I didn’t like the fact she said that because, she needed to take care of her health too, and not just act like she was fine. Things that can kinda stop bullying is, stand up for yourself. One other thing you can do is, ask the bully why they are bullying you, maybe have an important conversation. If you see someone bullying, then don’t be afraid and tell the teacher, but don’t lie. Lying is something, that will cause more trouble. If you are a bully, you can help yourself too, ask yourself ,” Why is the person i’m bullying deserving this?”,. If you are the person getting bullied, you should act smart. Fight them back? NO, If they are harming you, go to an adult nearby, and tell them what happened, don’t be afraid because, it is for your own good. I know why they are afraid to tell though, because they think the bully is gonna hurt them more, by telling a teacher, they’ll get angrier. But for your own good, you should really tell an adult you know, and is trusted. For people who see their friend getting bullied and just ACT like nothing is happening, or you just laugh at it.WHAT ARE YOU? A FAKE OR A FRIEND? For people who is always on the
    bullies side. PICK THE RIGHT SIDE, NOT THE WRONG! Can we just take
    power away from a bully instead of giving the bully more and more by being on
    their SIDE!What I can do to help is, maybe make the person getting bullied feel
    better. I can become their friend, if they want. I am just one simple person, so I can’t do much, I usually don’t really see people getting bullied at our school. We all are humans, not animals, not aliens, not insects, not trees. If only bullies knew how the person, they are targeting felt. I can try to stand up to the bully, and maybe help out on some stuff. Also I can tell someone, and they might help, i can also call teachers to tell their parents, because parents are people who loves you very much. They can call 911, or they can have different choices. I know the targets can tell their teachers, parents, and their friend, but please just make this bullying thing end. I hope that when it is like 2021 at least comes to a peaceful community.Fear. Malice. Hatred. Betrayal. Abhorrence. Repugnance. Revulsion.These are words that can describe bullying, however, these words are not bullying.Bullying is lack of friendship, longing or sadness, simply expressed with cruel intent or with physical eruption. But at its core, bullying is simply a sadness, a longing for a friend. Deep, deep within the soul of those who are so vile and repulsive, there is a part, no matter how small the fraction of a fraction may be,there is a part that wants a friend, a shoulder to cry on, a lifelong companion, a person that wants nothing more than care, and care can only be provided by those who are willing to look past the darkness, to find the light at the end of the tunnel.For those who are not afraid of the dark, will find light in one who was dark.I, being someone who lives in a peaceful area with people who support one another, do not know the unfortunate circumstance of being bullied.I will, however tell a story. One of many shapes and sizes.There was a time when humans and creatures did not exist. Only shapes.These shapes were all that existed at the time, just shapes on a white background.There within the blank space were 6 clans. Circle, Triangle, Rhombus, Oval,Trapezoid and Square. These shapes were at war with one another, shouting
    “You’re too sharp!” and “You’re too round!”.Eventually the shapes combined into 2 armies. The Circles, Triangles and Ovals.These were the shapes with less than 4 sides, while the Squares, Rhomboid, and Trapezoids joined together as shapes with 4 sides. The war ended with a stalemate,with both sides making a society.
    Then one day, a new shape arrived. This shape was nothing like the other shapes had ever seen before. The shape of was 3-Dimensional. It was a cube.Every other shape disgraced them, saying “Leave this place and never come back!”Eventually, the cube gave in. It turned itself 2-dimensional, and the cube was never heard of again. The cube was now a square.
    The cube is gone.

  10. I decided to read this article because as a future teacher I figured I could find some sort of benefit or insight from it. Bullying is the intentional harm doing or harassment that is directed toward vulnerable targets and is typically repeated. It can include aggressive behaviors, including physical violence, verbal mocking, threats, ostracism, and rumors spread either orally or by other means of communication, such as the Internet. Bully has been around for some time, whether it was labeled as such or not, someone has experienced it in some form a very long time ago. Bullying will always be around, but schools and teachers need to inform students about what to do when bullying occurs, give resources for help, and make it a point to let those being bullied that it is not their fault, they are a victim not the problem. I made it through the majority of school without being bullied, but I had witnessed others being bullied and I was too scared to speak up. I was afraid I would be the target if I reported it, so I never said anything. I feel that this is a regular thing, so if schools had implemented an anonymous way to report bullying, I may have done something.

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