Bullying Harms Victims and Perpetrators of All Ages

Bullying used to be considered an unfortunate, inevitable rite of childhood, but researchers now tell us that bullying often occurs in conjunction with more serious aggressive and antisocial behavior. They conclude that bullying, therefore, should not be considered a normal and accepted part of growing up.

Usually defined as the use of physical or emotional power to control or harm others, bullying can include making threats, spreading rumors, physical or verbal attacks and name-calling or intentionally excluding someone from a group. To be called bullying, the behavior must have the potential to happen more than once. […]

Why is it so difficult to prevent bullying? Decades of psychology research shows that people who witness others in trouble are more likely to help if they are the only ones available to do so. When bullying takes place in front of an audience, it is more difficult to stop.

In general, people are more heroic when somebody is completely dependent on them. Whether the problem behavior is bullying, a physical attack, sexual harassment or racial slurs, each “bystander” tends to look to see how others respond before saying or doing anything. As the bystanders see each other hesitating, subconsciously trying to figure out the “appropriate” way to respond, the minutes pass, they see each other doing nothing, inaction becomes the norm and the chances increase that nobody will help.

The bottom line is that while bullying is acknowledged to be a serious and widespread problem in the U.S., the only bullying prevention programs that have been evaluated are programs for children and teens, and those evaluations often lack rigor. Little is known about which programs work best in which types of schools or for which types of students.19

We have come a long way in recognizing that bullying needs to be taken seriously — but we haven’t made much progress in actually reducing it. To do so requires all of us to tackle a larger problem in our society: people who flaunt the power they have at the expense of others, and the hesitation of those watching to muster the courage to stop it.

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