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. Bullying, as stated in the article, has been around since 1742, when the word was first defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Since then, major advances to stop bullying has been implemented in school districts all over the world. Anti-bullying and Zero Tolerance curriculums are usually taught during the first few days of the new school year. School administrators, teachers, staff, and parents are all responsible for executing the program requirements throughout a student’s life. As a daycare supervisor it is important to me to have reliable anti-bullying guidelines to reinforce the behavior I desire in my “class”. I believe it is important to establish the rules in the very beginning so that each child understands what is expected of them and that you can have a resource to recall when something goes wrong. I always like to have the kids help create the “class” rules so that when they are broken, they can feel more responsible. Obviously, there are broad rules that they need to follow, such as nice words and keep hands and feet to themselves, but they also can add more ideas that relate to them and their peers. Giving the students the responsibility to be charge of some of the rules makes them more accountable for their actions. I looked over some of the lesson plans/resources and I liked the idea of the Open-Circle: Getting to the Heart of Learning and Violence Prevention Works: Safer Schools, Safer Communities. They have excellent resources that can reinforce the Zero-Tolerance idea of limiting bullying in classrooms, schools, and the community. These can be nice to have regarding future educators and how to create a kind classroom.

  2. When reading the article, Bullying in American Schools it brings me a lot of emotions. This is something that is an extreme problem in today’s world. Not only is it a problem for out student and young teens, but even full-grown adults. There are many different ways a person can be bullied. I agree that bullying can occur in just one instance and does not need to be classified as only something repeated. A friend of mine has a daughter in 7th grade, about two weeks ago she came home and told her mom that there was an article online on a news channel that she had died in a car accident. The mom could not believe that someone would bully her child, but sure enough another person was able to create an article that appeared to be real about this girl being killed in a car accident on a local highway, they even included a picture of her. I don’t what know what has been done to handle this, but I hope justice is served in some capacity. It is sickening the degree bullies are willing to go to victimize others. I share this story to make people aware of how extreme bullying is in today’s world and that we as educate need to do more with our students. We need to step in if we see a problem and report it. We need to teach morals and values to these students at an early age. I am hopeful that there is a better future.

  3. Bullying is something that we see often whether it was when we were in school or in our placements. When I was in Elementary school I was consistently teased and bullied from a young age. It got so bad that I refused to get on the bus because I knew they’d call me name, throw things at me, or even shove or take things from me. I do think it’s interesting to see how many specialists believe that students who are bullied have been or are being bullied. They are reflecting possibly what they are feeling to try and make themselves feel better. Which makes a lot of sense why a student would resort to bullying another, because it’s something that they have seen so much that they learn that behavior and believe that it’s normal. I think it’s so important for us as teachers to make sure we are teaching our students that our classroom is a safe zone and that our students should be able to come to us to help them if they are being teased or bullied. This is the first step to stop bulling is to have these students feel safe not just at home or with their parents but to know that we are there to help them. When I was little, I didn’t trust any of my teachers enough to tell them when I was bullied and I feel like if I had told a teacher or even the bus driver, the bullying would have stopped earlier then later.

  4. Bullying has always been an issue and continues to be an issue withing the schooling system in America. I have seen many issues in school, through being felt like an outcast although no definite experiences have occurred in my life. When I was in eighth grade, I had a classmate who experienced bullying and thus committed suicide. This happened while I was experiencing the same feelings about myself as he was, which affected me for years to come. I had many negative self-esteem issues so feeling outcasted was never good for me, and still sometimes affects me.
    There are some schools that understand how to handle issues of bullying but some school teachers and administrators have no idea what to do. I have seen firsthand when the administrators are not capable of handling bullying issues well. I have seen when they downplay the issues and try to cover up bullying occurrences, leading up to suicide. Teachers and administrators need to be trained how to appropriately handle bullying because it occurs much more than it should be admitted. By being trained on how to handle these situations, it can help students feel loved and possibly stop suicide attempts.

  5. Bullying is being addressed more in schools, but the issue itself is not going away. In order to get the deadly issues under control, like the increase in school-shooters and teen suicides, the root issue needs to be addressed first. I have seen instances where a child being bullied commits suicide and even after they are gone, they are still being harassed online. This article does a very good job at discussing bullying in the school system, but we also need to speak up about cyberbullying. When bullying and cyberbullying are intertwined, the person doesn’t feel safe at school and they will no longer feel safe at home either. These issues need to be fixed so it won’t continue through future generations.

  6. Although bullying is an issue that lately is been addressed more, it is still very prevalent in today’s society, mainly in schools.
    It is bothering to think that one of the main reasons why kids get bully is because they don’t fit into a particular mold that society has established as “acceptable.” It seems like people (particularly kids and teenagers) are being punished for having different interests to others.
    A new concept I was introduced to in this article, was the “bully-victims”, it did not occur to me that people who bullied others could also be victims of bullying.
    Is good to know that measures have been taken in order to lower the incidence of bullying in schools, and therefore prevent tragic events such mass shootings and suicides.
    I am particularly interested on keep educating myself about this topic, I think a good start will be to check out some articles and documentaries suggested in the article.

  7. Bullying is such a horrible problem that America faces today. Bullying is so bad in the schools and in the school system I grew up in, it mainly occurred in middle school. I never really got bullied and I was never the bully, but my friend got bullied a lot. I would be the one to take up for her and today we are still friends. So, I never got to experience it first hand, but I know about it very well and it is sad the way kids talk to one another. What I find crazy is that the majority of student who bully, their parents are not even aware of this behavior.

    As a teacher, you need to be aware of these actions. I know that sometimes bullies are smart and are able to hide their interactions with the victim very well, but teachers still need to have that in the back of their minds throughout their days so that they can be on their toes to stop any underlying issue.

    Also, I think that Dan Olweus defines bullying as it reoccurring. Not all the time is bullying reoccurring, a lot of times it can be done just once that affects the victim. Bullying is the leading reason for suicide in the schools. Therefore, it needs to be stopped and something needs to be done about these bullies.

  8. I think that bullying in the American education system has become a serious problem in the past 5 years. I think that is something that needs to be put more light on for students to understand the consequences of it and things that could happen from those who are bullied. I believe that there is a way that we can fix bullying or maybe flatten the curve of what the percentage of people that bully or are bullied in a school day. I think that if these changes were to be made in his education systems that students would have a better education because instead of being worried if they’re going to get picked on that day they can focus on what topic they’re going to pick for their English project.

  9. when i go to pick my daughter , i saw every day other children bully my daughter in front of their parent , there is a slope where every child want to enjoy after school , when my daughter wants to join them those children don’t let my daughter in.
    that still okay but i overhared some comments made by those little angels which is pretty racists like my daughter skin color. and the discussion is with their parent evidently the parents are enjoying it ( may be encouraging it ) . A child of the age of 5 no matter from which part of the world is having purest heart of all , the words they are saying is not coming from them , for sure, let the children discover their world , let them understand the world in their ways, then it will be a better world

  10. Bulling unfortunately is something that is continually happening in schools, but at times is something that is hard for others to see especially teachers. With that, it is something that is hard to address due to not being able to see it first hand at times and the individual getting bullied not willing to speak up. As a future teacher, this is something that needs to be touched on with all students to let the students know they are open to talk to me when something is going on, as well as if I see it happening there are punishments.

    In the article, all the definitions were good definitions, but the one I I disagree with is Dan Olweeus, where it state when “a person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time.” If someone is tearing someone down in the first place, that is still bullying. Any time you are hurting someone physically or verbally that is bullying. Bullying is ANY way you hurt someone. It doesn’t matter how often. Some students will think bullying is on words that aren’t hurtful to the person saying them. Students and others need to know that words that hurt you might not hurt others, but there is no reason for those words anyway.

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