What is bullying?

Bullying is when someone keeps doing or saying things to have power over another person.

We all think we know bullying when we see it, but bullying can also be something we don’t see. Often, people who experience it feel invisible.

Calling someone names, saying or writing nasty things about them, leaving them out of activities, not talking to them, threatening them, making them feel uncomfortable or scared, taking or damaging their things, hitting or kicking them or making them do things they don’t want to do are all forms of bullying.

Generally bullying has the following features:

  • It is repeated – this may be single acts with different targets or many acts with the same target.
  • It involves a power imbalance – this means that there is an unequal relationship between the target and the bully, this could be because of physical size, age, gender or social status. By not stopping bullying we increase this power imbalance.
  • It is harmful.

Generally, we think that bullying is deliberate. It is difficult for those being bullied (targets) to defend themselves and it can often be difficult for those doing the bullying (initiators) to learn new social behaviours.

There are four main types of bullying:

  • Physical – hitting and punching.
  • Verbal – teasing, taunting, unwanted threatening, homophobic or racist remarks and name-calling.
  • Social – ignoring or excluding, spreading rumours or gossiping, withholding friendship.
  • Cyber – repeated threats, unkind remarks or criticisms sent electronically.

Bullying may be directed towards people based on their ethnicity, gender, sexuality, religion or physical appearance.

No matter what the reason is, nobody deserves to be bullied.

  • Homophobic, transphobic & biphobic bullying

    Homophobic, transphobic and biphobic bullying takes place when someone is targeted because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, or that of someone within their family or friend group. As with all types of bullying, it can involve name-calling, nasty comments, spreading of rumours and even physical or sexual abuse. Phrases like “that’s so gay”, all-too-often dropped into casual conversation, can also be seen as bullying, as slurs against members of the gay, transgender, or bisexual communities.

  • Why are we concerned about bullying?

    Bullying is bad for the health, education and social relationships of both the targets of bullying and the bullies themselves.

    The target often feels anxiety, loneliness and depression, while the bully may not learn social negotiation skills, instead relying on bullying to get what they want. Both parties can suffer from low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.

    Everyone has the right to feel safe in their school, home and workplace. It is up to parents, schools and workplaces to provide safe environments for young people to live, learn and work.

    What are the effects of bullying on those involved?

    • anxiety
    • depression
    • fall in academic performance
    • health problems
    • lack of confidence
    • loneliness
    • low self esteem
    • poor social skills
    • relationship problems
    • suicidal feelings
    • truancy.

    Prevalence

    In New Zealand there are about 282,000 Year 9–13 students. A series of studies looking at the health and wellbeing of secondary school students in New Zealand showed:

    • 9.3% of students said they had been afraid that someone at school would hurt or bother them, within their school environment, three or more times in the last 12 months. (12% of those were 13 or younger, 20.8% were same/both-sex attracted students).
    • 6.2% of students reported being bullied at school least once a week (boys 6.9%, girls 5.7%).
    • 15% of those that were same/both-sex attracted students reported being bullied at school weekly or more often.
    • 86.9% said they felt safe at school all, or most of the time.


    In 2012, for the first time, the survey asked students the question “Do you think you are transgender? This is a girl who feels like she should have been a boy, or a boy who feels like he should have been a girl (eg, Trans, Queen, Fa’faffine, Whakawahine, TangatairaTane, Genderqueer)?”

    Ninety-six students (1.2%) answered yes to this question, 202 (2.5%) reported not being sure, and 137 (1.7%) responded that they did not understand the question.
    Over half of these students wondered about being transgender before they reached 12 years old, yet most of them had not told anyone close to them about being transgender.

    Students who were sure that they were transgender were at the most risk of violence:

    • 53.3% were afraid someone at school would hurt or bother them.
    • 17.6% reported being bullied at school weekly or more often.
    • 34% had significant depressive symptoms and 45.5% had self-harmed themselves in the past 12 months.
    • 19.8% had attempted suicide in the previous 12 months.

    Note: Using labels like “victim” and “bully” can inhibit growth and make people feel isolated. Consider using “target” and “instigator of bullying behaviour” instead.

  • References

    Data from the Youth 2000 series of reports 

    Clark, T. C., Lucassen, M. F. G., Bullen, P., Denny, S. J., Fleming, T. M., Robinson, E. M., & Rossen, F. V. (2014). The Health and Well-Being of Transgender High School Students: Results From the New Zealand Adolescent Health Survey (Youth'12). Journal of Adolescent Health, (0) 1-7. 

“Effective bullying prevention involves the whole school community staff, students, parents and whanau. It means having well-planned responses in place for when bullying does occur.”

Mike Williams

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand (SPANZ).