What is bullying? Important Definitions

Sources: Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center http://webhost.bridgew.edu/marc, www.StopBullying.gov and The ABC's of Bullying Prevention by Kenneth Shore, PSy.D.

BULLYING is aggressive behavior that is intended to physically or emotionally harm another person. Bullying differs from normal conflict or rough play in that:

  • It is deliberate and targeted.
  • It involves an imbalance of physical or psychological power. The power advantage of one student over another may be due to social status, age, size, ability, and/or popularity.
  • It is repetitive.

Bullying involves at least two parties: the AGGRESSOR, a student or staff member who engages in bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation and the TARGET, a student against whom bullying, cyber-bullying, or retaliation has been committed. A child may bully another child to gain social status, to get attention, to compensate for mental, physical, or social inadequacies, to gain a sense of power, or as a means of expressing frustration with problems at home or at school. Often aggressors have a history of aggressive behavior, are quick to anger, and tend to interpret neutral social situations as threatening or hostile.

TARGETS are often seen as “different” or vulnerable in some way. This difference may be due to size, age, appearance, ability, race, religion, or sexual orientation. Targets of bullying tend to be passive and have lower social status, which makes it difficult  for them to stand up to aggressors. If bullying behaviors continue unchecked, a target is likely to feel that the bullying is somehow their fault. For some children, bullying can lead to anxiety or depression, a decrease in academic performance, and social withdrawal.

BYSTANDERS are students who observe, but do not respond to bullying. In the school setting, most students fall into the category of bystander.

Bullying can take many forms including:

  • Physical - hitting, punching, shoving, blocking one’s way, damaging someone else’s property
  • Verbal - name-calling, teasing, threatening harm
  • Social - spreading rumors, excluding people on purpose, breaking up friendships
  • Cyber - using the Internet, mobile phones or other digital technologies to harm others

BULLYING as defined in M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O, is the repeated use by one or more students or staff member of a written, verbal, or electronic expression or a physical act or gesture or any combination thereof, directed at a target that:

  • Causes physical or emotional harm to the target or damage to the target’s property;
  • Places the target in reasonable fear of harm to himself or herself or of damage to his or her property;
  • Creates a hostile environment at school for the target;
  • Infringes on the rights of the target at school; or
  • Materially and substantially disrupts the education process or the orderly operation of a school.

CYBER-BULLYING is bullying through the use of technology or electronic devices such as telephones, cell phones, computers, and the Internet. It includes, but is not limited to, email, instant messages, text messages, and Internet postings. See M.G.L. c. 71, § 37O for the legal definition of cyber-bullying.

RETALIATION is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a student who reports bullying, provides information during an investigation of bullying, or witnesses or has reliable information about bullying.