What Is Bullying?

By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. Leviticus 19:18

What emotions do you feel when you hear that someone is or was being bullied? Anger? Fear? Helplessness? Sadness? We hear about bullying frequently in the news. Bullying can happen anywhere—at school, at work, within families—and to anyone. Since October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, this month’s topic will provide some basics about bullying. Although bullying can happen to anyone, at any age, today’s article is focused on children and bullying.

According to stopbullying.gov, “bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.” Bullying can take place in-person and/or using electronic technology (cyberbullying). Examples of cyberbullying include hurtful text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites like Facebook, and embarrassing pictures and videos.

A consequence of being a victim of bullying is living in a constant state of fear. Children who are bullied may find their schoolwork and health suffering and are also at risk for mental health problems such as low self-esteem, stress, depression, or anxiety.

Who is a bully?

There is not one, easy way to identify a bully by just looking at him or her. We often think of a bully as being a male who towers over us and is outgoing, loud, and aggressive. However, both boys and girls can be bullies and a bully may not appear aggressive. The calm, reserved bully may use other methods to bully, such as starting rumors and cyberbullying. According to kidshealth.org, there are some common characteristics that bullies share. They like to dominate others and are generally focused on themselves. They often have poor social skills and poor social judgment. Sometimes they have no feelings of empathy or caring toward other people.

What can we do about bullying?

One of the things we can do about bullying is talk about it. Here are some suggestions about what we can do to prevent bullying: Help kids understand what bullying is and that it is unacceptable; Discuss how to handle bullying, including how to get help; Encourage special activities, interests, and hobbies that can boost confidence, help kids make friends, and protect them from bullying behavior; Demonstrate, through your own actions, how to treat others with respect. Bullying affects everyone concerned—whether they are bullied, bully others, or see bullying. All kids involved (yes, even the bully) should be supported in order to make sure the bullying doesn’t continue.

The website, stopbullying.gov, gives us helpful tips about how to respond to bullying.

If you witness bullying behavior:

  • Stop bullying immediately
  • Separate the kids involved
  • Make sure everyone is safe
  • Attend to any medical or mental health needs
  • Remain calm and reassuring

Avoid these common mistakes if you observe bullying:

  • Don’t ignore it
  • Don’t immediately try to sort out the facts
  • Don’t question the children involved in front of other kids
  • Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately
  • Don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot

For additional information on bullying, check out these three excellent websites:





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