What is Bullying - the Definition


It is the experiences of my fourteen-year-old son that have caused me to take a passionate interest in bully-proofing our schools. Beginning five years ago, when my son was in the third grade, I wrote letters to various school staff requesting assistance for my son, who was being bullied. In May of 1999, I made many copies of "An Education in Taunting", an article that appeared in The Washington Post on May 2, 1999 regarding bullying, and submitted the copies to my son’s school administration.

For the most part, school staff advised me that my son should ignore the bullies. My son, very quickly, has found that ignoring the bullies only causes the bullies to accelerate their efforts. Although, in support of the school, I instructed my son repeatedly to ignore both the verbal and physical abuse that he was being subjected to, I was well aware that this strategy did not work. In any event, to ask a child to ignore any kind of abuse is unfair. This past school year my son got bullied at school with increasing frequency. He reported to me, day after day, that he was being hounded, teased, harassed and taunted. He was physically attacked on several occasions as well. I was advised, once again, to request that my son ignore the bullying. Later, I was told that my son’s reactions were causing the bullying to occur. In effect, my son was actually blamed for the abuse that he had been previously asked to ignore!

Finally, my son, who had been writing for the school paper, quit due to bullies. School staff informed me that my son was so scared of eating in the lunchroom that he was seeking refuge in various staff offices and classrooms on a daily basis. With great trepidation and my encouragement, he went on his class trip, but did not enjoy himself, due to bullies. I watched, very sadly, as my son’s self-esteem evaporated. Following the first half of seventh grade, my son was depressed, explosive, and loathed himself. After much thought to the matter, I came to realize that we do not tolerate such verbal and physical abuse, as a society, in any other arena. I now know that if it were not my son that was being picked on, than it would be other children at the receiving end of the abuse. The fact is, bullying behavior is considered normal and tolerated at many schools.

Very upset that my son was so miserable, and angry that I could not do anything to make it any better, I contacted the middle school in Charlottesville, Virginia that was mentioned in the above-referenced Washington Post article that had successfully implemented a bully-proof policy in their school. That school directed me to the book Bully-Proofing Your School. (Sopris-West, 1994) In this book, I found following concise, complete definition of bullying:

A repetitive negative action targeted at a specific victim

An imbalance of power so that the victim has trouble defending him/herself. This imbalance can be the result of physical size or the result of emotional or cognitive capacity. Overall, the critical feature is that the victim does not have the skills to cope.

Bullying is usually characterized by unequal levels of affect. The child being victimized is typically very upset. The child doing the bullying, on the other had, is typically devoid of affect.


Who Is the Bully?                               Who Is the Victim?