Bullying in the School Years

Bullying is an ever-increasing concern for parents and young people, with more than half of Australian students experiencing bullying and one in five of these students experiencing bullying at least weekly. Unfortunately, the impact of COVID has seen some forms of bullying increasing over the past year due to more people using technology for school and physical distancing rules.

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools defines bullying as an ongoing misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that causes physical and/or psychological harm (Dept. of Education, 2015).  Bullying can happen anywhere, at any time and often be grouped into four main types:

Verbal Bullying
Verbal bullying can include behaviours like name calling, teasing, putting someone down and threatening to cause someone harm. 

Physical Bullying
Physical bullying can include behaviours like poking, hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, tripping or pushing someone, breaking someone’s things, pulling faces or making rude hand signals.

Social Bullying
Social bullying includes behaviours such as excluding a person, publicly humiliating a person, spreading of rumours, turning your back on a person, whispering behind a person’s back, restricting where a person can sit and who they can talk with and gossiping or criticising people. This type of bullying mostly inflicts psychological harm by damaging another’s social reputation, peer relationships and self-esteem.

Cyber Bullying
Cyberbullying is a newer form of bullying that has been facilitated by increased use of devices and social media. Cyberbullying behaviour might include abusive texts and emails, hurtful messages, images or videos, imitating others online, excluding others online, humiliating others online, spreading nasty online gossip and chat and creating fake accounts to trick someone or humiliate them. One of the damaging aspects of cyberbullying is that the bullying continues at home when devices are needed for homework tasks as well as via platforms which young people use for connection. This makes “switching off” incredibly difficult.

Why do Children Bully Others?
Children are not born inherently mean or bad and its important to understand the factors that might be contributing to a child’s bullying behaviour in order to better handle the situation.  Bullying arises from the complexity of children’s relationships with family members, peers, and the school community and culture. Families, especially, play an important role in bullying behaviours in terms of being a main contributor to bullying behaviour as well as being its main remedy. 

Generally, children who bully do so in order to manage their own negative emotions or to feel better about themselves. For example, a child who bullies another person might feel jealous towards the person they bully, want others to like them, seek attention they desperately need, want to fit in with their friends, feel angry inside, like to be in control or have power over others, have been bullied themselves, or do not know what they are doing is wrong. However, regardless of the reason, bullying is not OK and can lead to longstanding negative consequences.

Consequences of Bullying
The impact of bullying on a child can be quite significant. Children who are bullied, as well as those who witness or intervene in bullying, may experience immediate physical or emotional consequences. Children who experience bullying are also more likely to have a poor academic performance, are at risk of struggling with transition points throughout life, such as adjusting to secondary school, and are more likely to have mental health concerns, such as feelings of anxiety and depression, and are at higher risk of dropping out of school and suicide. 

Further, children who bully other children also experience negative consequences of their behaviour. These include increased likelihood to engage in criminal offending and substance abuse, increased likelihood to have poor educational and employment outcomes and are at a higher risk of depression later in life. 

What to look out for if a child is being bullied
Sometimes, children can tell you they are being bullied. If not, there are certain signs you can look out for which may indicate that a child is experiencing bullying. These signs can include physical signs (bruises, torn clothes, missing items, poor eating and sleeping and stomach complaints), the child not wanting to go to school, sitting alone at meal times or in class, staying close to teachers, having trouble with school work or asking questions in class, asking for money and avoiding participating in school activities or activities that they previously enjoyed, being upset after using the internet or their mobile phone, becoming secretive about their online activities and mobile phone use, changes in their personality such as becoming more withdrawn, anxious, sad or angry, appearing more lonely or distressed and having unexpected changes in friendship groups. 

What can you do?
If a child is experiencing cyberbullying, the bullying can reported to the eSafety Commissioner at https://www.esafety.gov.au/key-issues/cyberbullying

Seek help from a professional support service, such as Bully Zero Foundation on 1800 028 559.

If your child feels unsafe or threatened, report the behaviour to the Police.

We have a team of highly skilled psychologists who work with young people. If you think that your child is experiencing bullying or if your child is engaging in bullying behaviours, please feel free to contact us

Written by Cassie Garling
Senior Psychologist/Clinical Psychology Registrar

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