What is Bullying?

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Author, researcher and world-renowned expert on bullying behaviors, Dr. Dan Olweus, defines bullying as a form of aggression in which:

  • the behavior is intended to harm or cause distress
  • the behavior occurs repeatedly over time
  • there is an imbalance of physical or psychological power or strength among the parties

Bullying may be physical (hitting, shoving), verbal (name-calling, threats), or psychological (shunning, manipulating friendships).

Teasing vs. Bullying

It can be difficult to distinguish between the two behaviors, but it is important to know the difference so that bullying is not dismissed as “kids being kids.” Teasing can actually help children and youths learn to accept constructive criticism; bullying should never be accepted.

Teasing is constructive confrontation intended to test the strength of a person. It may occur in two forms:

Endearment teasing tests with the goal of strengthening the relationship and the familiarity between people. “Come on, Slowpoke.”

Influence teasing intends to change a valued person’s behavior by showing disapproval. This is conflict with dispute at its center. While an adult might say, “Jason, crying like this does not help,” a peer might say, “Okay Crybaby, stop your whining.” The goal of influence teasing is behavior change. In both forms of peer challenges, a child might retreat to an adult and complain that he or she is being “bullied.” 

Bullying, however, is predatory. The focus of bullying is not to strengthen the relationship or change the other person’s behavior to make him or her more acceptable. The goal of bullying is humiliation and subjugation. The focus is not on friendship, but on the self-gratification of the bully. 


Related Resources

Bullying Prevention Policy

Pennsylvania schools are required by law to adopt or amend their existing policies relating to bullying and incorporate them into their school’s code of conduct. A policy is one of many components of a successful bullying prevention program. Download a sample bullying prevention policy (PDF format) recommended by the Pennsylvania School Board Association.

Related Links

The ABCs of Bullying: Addressing, Blocking and Curbing School Aggression
Free, online course that examines the causes and effects of bullying, prevention techniques and programs, screening, treatment options, and legal/ethical issues surrounding bullying. Offered by CSAP’s Prevention Pathways.