Overview of PD & CE Most Commonly Requested PD Workshops • Bullying Prevention
Selection Criteria for Effective PD on Bullying & BiasKey Topics for Anti-Bullying PD
PD as a Component in Comprehensive Anti-Bullying Programming
Diversity Awareness •Bullying FAQsCyber Bullying • Relational Bullying
Bias-Based Bullying • Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity
CE/PD for Medical & Social Service Providers


Bullying Is Not What It Used to Be
What Is Bullying?
Types of Bullying

Bullying Is Not What It Used to Be

Most adults remember bullying of some kind from their childhoods. Some of us remember serious incidents, others were teased a little too much, and many of us just felt isolated and unpopular for most of our teenage years. Some of us were not bullied ourselves, but we struggled to fit in because we were afraid that someone would start picking on us if we didn't. Some of us remember saying or doing things to a peer that, thinking back, we regret because we realize that we might have really hurt someone. Almost all of us remember seeing someone else being bullied in school, and probably most of us didn't do anything to stop it.

Adults who were bullied as children or teens can usually remember the incidents with striking clarity. These memories stand out from other memories because they remain vivid even after decades; the feelings of fear, anger, self-doubt, and guilt come rushing back when we remember these incidents--as if they happened yesterday. It is no wonder that research shows that adults who were bullied in school have higher rates of depression than adults who were not. The scars are longlasting.

But we all survived it, didn't we? Some adults think that we are pampering our youth too much, that we are creating a generation that is overly sensitive and quick to complain. We give our children advice based on our own experiences, "Turn it into a joke and walk away." "Let it roll off you." "Just turn off the computer; don't read those messages." For some individuals, these pieces of advice might work. For others, these pieces of advice are hopelessly ineffective or impossible to follow.

Bullying is not what it used to be. The stereotypical bully is the playground tyrant, whose physical aggression terrorizes other students. Such a bully is clearly a bully; any reasonable person watching carefully enough would be able to recognize this kind of bullying. This kind of bully still exists today, but the kinds of bullying that our children and teens experience also involve other kinds of bullying that are much more insidious and much less visible than the playground tyrant. In particular, cyberbullying and relational bullying (social bullying) are more difficult for adults to recognize although they are potentially even more devastating for youth than physical bullying.

Cyberbullying is the clearest example of a form of bullying that is new, and far more devastating, than traditional bullying. Our youth today have grown up with digital communications technology; it is as much a part of their lives as the automobile is for most adults. Most adults, knowing that they could have an auto accident, still choose to drive because we have to be able to move long distances quickly to live effectively in our modern world. The possibility of an accident is simply a fact of life we feel we cannot avoid. Even those of us who have had auto accidents usually continue to drive, because giving up our cars would mean giving up our lives as we know them. Cell phones and computers play a similar role in the lives of our youth. Their electronic connections are vital to their lives as they know them. Asking youth to give up their cell phones or turn off their computers to avoid being cyberbullied is akin to asking most adults to give up their cars to avoid having an accident. The Cyberbullying page on this web site explains further why cyberbullying cannot be avoided simply by turning off a computer or leaving the cell phone home, and why this form of bullying can be particularly devastating.

"Relational bullying" is the term used for certain types of social bullying. In general, relational bullying involves any kind of social manipulation designed to cause harm. It includes, for example, cliques whose members purposefully exclude certain individuals, and who might spread rumors or otherwise harass the individuals they have chosen to exclude. It includes youth who wield social power over others because they are willing to put down others based on their clothing, style, appearance, weight, physical or mental ability, race or ethnicity, or other personal characteristics in order to establish their own superiority or popularity. It includes students who pretend to be someone's friend, only to gain access to their online passwords in order to impersonate them online and cause them trouble or embarrassment. Relational bullying received a great deal of publicity in the wake of the movie Mean Girls, starring Lindsay Lohan, and based on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman.

What is bullying?

An applied definition of bullying, based on widely accepted principles among professionals in the bullying prevention field and on New Jersey law, contains the following elements:

Gestures, written, verbal, electronic, or physical acts,
That a reasonable person should know will
Cause physical and/or emotional harm or fear of harm
To one or more other individuals or their property,
Or insults or demeans any student or group of students

Bullying is also often defined as behavior that involves a power imbalance, in which the aggressor (the bully) is using her/his greater physical, social, or psychological power to hurt a less powerful person (the target). I have not included this criterion in the definition above because it is controversial and problematic, and because it is not part of the definition of bullying in New Jersey law (nor of the school-bullying laws in most states in the U.S.). A discussion of why the idea that bullying involves a "power imbalance" is problematic can be found here.

Many experts in the field also define bullying as behavior that is unprovoked or "one-sided," and that usually occurs repeatedly and over time. I have not included these criteria in the definition above because the definition given above is intended as an applied definition, rather than a descriptive or technical one. For example, although it is a characteristic of youth who bully that they will generally repeat the behavior, and that they will tend to pick on the same targets repeatedly, we would not want to wait until a bully has repeatedly bothered another student before we step in and interrupt the pattern of behavior. Similarly, although bullying behavior is, by a technical definition, unprovoked and one-sided, we would not want efforts to stop offensive behavior to break down whenever we are unable to determine whether the offender was first annoyed by the victim, or if the targeted student responded in any way in defense.

Often, a distinction is made between "conflict" and "bullying." Conflict is said to be a mutual interaction between two parties of roughly equal power, whereas bullying is said to be a one-sided behavior in which a more powerful person hurts a less powerful person. However useful this distinction is in theory, it can be problematic in real situations. A discussion of this distinction, including the problems it raises, can be found here.

The definition given above uses the "reasonable person" standard, rather than a standard involving either the intent of the aggressor, or the actual impact of the behavior on the target. Click here for a discussion of the extent to which intent and impact should be taken into consideration in evaluating and responding to an incident.

For a more technical and detailed discussion of the definition of bullying, and of issues related to the implementation of the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act (ABR) in New Jersey, visit the ABR section of this website, or the subsection on the issues related to the ABR statutory definition of "Harassment, Intimidation, or Bullying" in New Jersey.

Types of Bullying

The following is a list of some different types of bullying. In the future, this web site will contain definitions and information about each of these types, and/or links to web sites with such information.