14: Bullying and Cyberbullying

Definition of Bullying

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behaviour that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Those who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. 

In order to be considered bullying, the behaviour must be aggressive and include:

  • An imbalance of power: bullies use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
  • Repetition: Bullying behaviours happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.

Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumours, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose. Bullying can take place face-to-face or via social media and the internet.

Types of Bullying

There are three types of bullying:

1. Verbal bullying is saying or writing mean things. Verbal bullying includes:

  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Inappropriate sexual comments
  • Taunting
  • Threatening to cause harm

2. Social bullying, sometimes referred to as relational bullying, involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying includes:

  • Leaving someone out on purpose
  • Telling other children not to be friends with someone
  • Spreading rumors about someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public

3. Physical bullying involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Physical bullying includes:

  • Hitting/kicking/pinching
  • Spitting
  • Tripping/pushing
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures

Where and When Bullying Happens 

Bullying can occur during or after school hours. While most reported bullying happens in the school building, a significant percentage also happens in places like on the playground or the bus. It can also happen travelling to or from school, in the youth’s neighbourhood, or on the Internet.

Definition of Cyberbullying

The way we interact online is changing at a pace that the law is struggling to keep up with and we need to realise that the things our children do (to each other) online can leave a permanent mark.

Cyberbullying is when a person uses technology i.e. mobile phones or the internet (social networking sites, chat rooms, instant messenger), to deliberately upset someone.

It can happen any time of day and occur on a large scale and speed, due to the nature of the technology.

Bullies often feel anonymous and ‘distanced’ from the incident when it takes place online and ‘bystanders’ can easily become perpetrators by forwarding or not reporting cyberbullying.

There is not a specific law which makes cyberbullying illegal but it can be considered a criminal offence under several different acts including Protection from Harassment Act (1997), Malicious Communications Act (1988), Communications Act (2003) Obscene Publications Act (1959) and Computer Misuse Act (1990).

Worrying Trends

There have been several incidents and tragic stories of young ones terribly affected by the reach of online bullying. According to the cyber bullying charity, the Cybersmile Foundation, every 20 minutes a child between 10 to 19 years of age attempts to commit suicide in England and Wales, while one in three children in the UK suffers from cyberbullying, hence the pressing need for anti-cyberbullying laws. Cyberbullying, harassment and hoaxes have been linked to teen depression, attempted self-harm and even suicide. The fact that young people can feel they have no alternative but to commit suicide should awaken us to the acute child-on-child violence made possible by cyberbullying.

All UK state schools are required to have anti-bullying policies under the School Standards and Framework Act 1998 and independent schools have similar obligations under the Education (Independent Schools Standards) Regulations 2003. These should include policies and processes for dealing with cyberbullying against teachers, as well as pupils.

What can you do if you suspect bullying is taking place?

Advice for parents, carers and teachers

  • Your child is just as likely to be a bully as they are to be a target. Watch out for uncharacteristic behaviour (your child being upset or secretive, using the phone/internet more than usual, changing friendship groups.)
  • Remind your child not to retaliate and keep any evidence – taking a screenshot may be the easiest method
  • Report the bullying – contact the school if the bullying involves another pupil and contact your service provider to report the user and remove the content. If the bullying is more serious and a potential criminal offence, consider contacting the Police by dialling 101

Useful websites

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