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. While looking through the articles to see which one I wanted to respond to and read about this week, one really caught my attention very quick again as soon as I saw it, and this article was titled; “Bullying in American Schools”. While growing up, fortunately, I really never dealt with any kind of serious bullying in any grade level. Every now and then there would be a mean student or two, or “popular” student that would act a little rude to me, but nothing very serious, as I tried to always be nice and respectful to everyone I went to school with and always had a really good group of friends that I enjoyed going to school with. As well as being raised by two great parents that taught me to just ignore anyone that would try to be mean to me, and just focus on the good friends I had, as well as trying to be respectful to all. Being that I am trying to become an elementary school teacher, understanding and fully grasping how impactful and real bullying is in schools within American society is such an important concept to stay informed about in my opinion. This article was a very informative and very interesting article to me, as there were some astonishing facts and numbers that were listed and mentioned. One of those very interesting facts was how the first known use of the term “bully” was used in 1742. And the definition of bullying and what it really entails has been a very controversial / not agreed upon set meaning, which to me, was not very surprising as I have already had many discussions within some of my educational classrooms where different professors and individuals has different views on it. While one thing is very apparent about bullying, as it stated in the article, is that it really does not have to be “repeated or constant” actions (physical or verbal) in order for some one to be a victim of bullying. One thing about bullying that I believe and further believe from reading this article is that it really is an ever-changing and evolving issue as we advance and grow as a country. In the very early stages of this country and world overall, bullying existed, but in 2019-2020, bullying, while yes can still exist in schools and does, I think bullying exists more so online and within social media forums. The most alarming sentence I read in this article was listed towards the end where it mentioned how many students (middle-high school students) were affected by bullying / other forms of aggression in just the current school term, which was 30% of them and more specifically 5.7 million individuals. And one of the biggest goals I have as a teacher is that I really want to make sure I not only create an environment within my own classroom that fosters a very welcoming and positive climate, where everyone feels wanted and respected, and also sends a message that NO FORM of bullying will ever be accepted, and make sure that they understand that that type of behavior is never accepted no matter how old you are or what grade you are in. Until more teachers take initiative and promote this type of attitude and mindset to students and their families in large masses, this issue will only worsen and grow, and it is something that I really am hopeful will improve and better over time, as long as more teachers and people in a position of power take more of an initiative on addressing this issue. And as a result of this, the world will become an even better place! I really appreciated and thought it was a great idea to attach all of the links that led to more information about creating a better environment within your own classroom and school to address and handle bullying, and also more links to look into this horrible issue of bullying as well. And I found this article to be very informative and interesting.

    —Jake Martin

  2. This article is not only relevant but enlightening. I thought it was very insightful where it was mentioned that scholars argue that behaviors do not have necessarily have to be repeated in order to be considered bullying. I agree with this statement because I think often what is considered “bullying” is aggressive or malicious, intended behavior. I don’t agree that this is always the case, I believe bullying can also be implicit as well. Some kids may think they are teasing around or making light, but others on the receiving end of the “teasing” may not feel the same way. I think that the best way as an educator, parent, guardian, etc. to deal with bullying or any hurtful commentary/actions is to find the root of the problem right then and there, by creating safe environments for children to feel free to share their concerns. It is also so beneficial to find out why the child who is causing the hurtful behavior is doing so. As well as to talk with the child that was hurt by the actions and to find out more about why it was hurtful to them.
    I think that often bullying is overlooked because teachers may not have the time to correct the behaviors, may not see it, or just let it slide. Something vital we all need to avoid in not only education, but society is choosing sides and making one party feel dismissed and not having validation. When this happens it only allows for resentment and pent up anger to keep building.
    In addition, to these comments I think it is also very interesting when we talk about bullying how many people feel they were bullied. I know I have instances of being bullied that I can remember. That is what is so intriguing, is anyone who is bullied still remembers it to this day, even as adults. So, imagine what it is like for students who are not able to overcome what was done to them. I also think that each of us is probably also guilty of having bullied at one point in time, whether we realize it or not. I am sure that in life we have all said hurtful things to others that we may or may not have intended to say. That is why as a society we need to look at ourselves for the actions other humans are also capable of doing and try our best to not become those bad behaviors. Going back to the old saying treat others the way you want to be treated.” Reading this article shed light on the fact that bullying during adolescence is even more difficult because children are still growing and developing. It is worth all of us taking into consideration and being a more empathetic culture overall.

  3. Bullying is a very serious and common thing heard around the world. Education tends to be home to the root of bullying and as a future secondary teacher I won’t let bullying occur in my classroom. At the very beginning of the year it would be very beneficial to teach about bullying, show means for help, etc. Of the resources from above, the documentaries are things that would be most helpful to me; many students are visual learners and when they see something explained they grasp the concept a lot better. I would show these videos to my classes and have them watch what bullying can do to other people. I was personally never a victim of bullying in my own schooling experience. While I wasn’t bullied that doesn’t mean that others in my school were not being bullied; one thing I learned by watching it happen to others is how crucial adult intervention is for both parties. Discipline should be given to those who bully and has a teacher I have seen different types of bullying in my school. My school uses discipline as well as communication to handle each situation; being able to talk to both parties and understand what is happening will ultimately give teachers a better outlook on what to do. Some strategies that I will implement to curtail bullying is setting a no bullying expectation at the beginning of the year. Now this doesn’t mean reading it on the syllabus, but enforcing/discussing what it means to be a bully and why it will not happen. Another strategies that I might implement is a consequences policy that explains what will happen to those who bully. There are many different opinions on bullying in education, but it needs to be taken seriously because students are taking their lives over what others have doing to them. I think that US schools need to take bullying even more serious and the past few years things have gotten a little better. Bullying is a very serious topic and I personally know I will do my best to set a very high expectation of no bullying in my future classroom.

  4. I think the most important part that I got out of this article was understanding that no matter what the definition of Bullying you’re using it all comes down to the same result: inflicting harm upon someone else. I think as a society we have not even scraped the surface of the long-term effects that bullying has not just on a person, but on a large-scale of individuals that make us that society. Since we are in fact, living in a society in which bullying is normalized, or as some people would say it is “not a big deal”, or “just a joke”. So what will be the result of years and years of inflicted pain upon an entire generation? That we will find out.

  5. I choose to read this article because I wanted to see what bullying was like in more modern times than when I was in school. I was often bullied while in school due to my weight. This didn’t really happen until I was in middle school and in high school. I feel that no matter where you go to school around the country there will be some form of bullying. Same goes for all the programs schools hold to stop bullying or no matter how much they encourage “no bullying”.
    Through my experience within the schools as a teacher I have seen several different instances that would be characterized as bullying. At one point in time I didn’t know if it was right of me to say anything to the students within the situation, but I have now realized that it is encouraged to say something no matter who you are. Just recently I had a group of girls exclude one because she didn’t have something that all of them did. I looked at all the girls in the group to think about how they would feel if they were in her position and that it wasn’t fair to treat others different just because they may be different or may not have something that others do. Within in my classroom I will always make it a point to make sure my students have a happy and safe environment they can come to. At the beginning of the year there will be relationships established with not only the students and myself but the students as a whole. Throughout the year if they students need reminders we can and will have lessons on the subject. This could also be a good way to use social studies and do comparing and contrasting activities that have to with bullying in the past (ex- Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr, the Mississippi Boycotts).
    In the US I feel that bullying is addressed but that it is not implemented as well as it should be. There need to be more programs held at the schools to help teach students that it isn’t ok to day and that it could be a matter of life or death for some students. They may see that it happens and or do the bullying but there are very few punishments for students and if they are punished it doesn’t stick with them. Overall I feel that there are not enough ways to help or stop bullying within the schools.

  6. Bullying is something that can be seen in schools all over. As a future teacher I want my students to get along, so my classroom to feel like a community. Bullying is something that shouldn’t be tolerated at schools. Schools and teachers are shaping the minds of the students and if the schools just let it slide, then students might see nothing wrong with it. It can be hard to find solutions, but something has to be done. I think it is important to address the topic of bullying in the beginning of each school year. This will set the expectations of the students. I also think that if bullying happens at any time, then afterwards it needs to be addressed in the classroom/school why it’s not okay. This article is very informational and the lessons are perfect to teach my future classes.

  7. Even though many do not like to acknowledge bullying, it is present in many aspects of life especially in schools liked mentioned in the post. I especially liked how the post touched on the idea of the “bully-victims” idea. In my opinion, I agree that many bullies are the result of being a victim. There is a chance that when someone is being bullied, they feel like they have the right to bully someone “below” them on the social chain. They may use that as an outlet for their pain due to the bullying they’re receiving. I believe it is important for educators to be prepared to handle situations related to this issue because not only does this effect the wellbeing of the student, but it also effects the entire learning environment.

  8. I’ll admit that schools and outside activities like clubs and sports weren’t easy for me. I was born with severe hearing loss which I now have had surgeries to try correct it but growing up wasn’t easy because even though I can now hear, I have speech issues. I was in speech therapy all the way until 6th grade because I begged my parents not to be the weird kid who gets pulled out of class and doesn’t talk in front of the class. I was bullied not only in elementary but all through middle and high school all because I messed up on pronunciation, and I can get a stutter when I become overwhelmed, tired, or nervous. bullying has become a greater issue because people can now do it behind locked doors through an unknown user on a social media platform. Bullying is a real issue in schools and is something that needs to be talked about and resolved.

  9. Bullying has been around for years and the idea of bullying won’t ever change. In fact, it might just become more prevalent with all of the social media that teenagers have. It’s easier for a bully to say hateful things online. We are also very connected on these media platforms and anyone can message anyone from all parts of the world. Technology has many advances, but I would definitely say that cyber-bullying is one of the disadvantages to media. Are there steps we can take to changing these behaviors and actions that constitute as bullying? One thing that we can do individually is become more conscious of how words and violence can effect us. We also could speak up for others we see being attacked. If there is a situation where you can either involve someone else or get involved, you should take that opportunity. As stated in the passage, some kids bully others so they aren’t the target of bullying. If we change our perception and realize how serious bullying can be, maybe that will lessen the odds of bullying. I wish that schools and authorities took bullying more seriously because it can cause genuine harm.

  10. I think it is safe to say that bullying occurs at almost every school in America at some point in time. Schools all across America have the power to stop it. If schools begin to punish the bully’s and support the victims I feel like bullying in schools would become a lot less common.
    Another form of bullying that is really taking form now is bullying on social media, also known as cyber bullying. It is almost as if the students can never escape it. Kids can now be bullied all day while at school, and that bullying can continue once they get home online. As you can imagine this would be overwhelming for anyone to handle, especially for children who are at the most crucial developmental stages at their lives. I know there are schools who claim they cannot do anything about cyber bullying since it does not happen on school grounds, but this needs to stop.
    There needs to be an absolute zero tolerance for bullying and schools need to be there for their students no matter if the bullying is happening on school grounds or not. Only then will all students feel as comfortable as they can coming to school,

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