In The Know Zone

bullying myths

Bullying: Myths and Reality

The baseline research on bullying was conducted in Europe, where an estimated 15 percent of students reported that they were affected by bullying behavior, as bullies, victims or both. [2] While U.S. studies have produced percentages ranging from 8 [3] to 80 [4] percent, the most extensive survey found that about 30 percent of students reported moderate or frequent involvement in bullying as a bully (13.0%), victim (10.6%) or both (6.3%). [5]

Contrary to a widely held belief that bullying occurs largely en route to and from school, research shows that two to three times as many students are bullied at school, with the majority of incidents occurring outside of classrooms during breaks. [6]

Another assumption about bullying not borne out by research is the image of the bully as a person of low self-esteem who bullies to build his ego. Instead, recent studies show them to have normal or even elevated levels of self-esteem, and to be reasonably popular, though their popularity tends to wane as they reach high school. [7] , [8]

Save for their higher-than-assumed self image, the general characteristics of bullies will come as no surprise to anyone who has encountered one: [9]

  • They have a more favorable view of violence than their peers
  • They are often aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers.
  • They have a marked need to dominate other students be means of force and threats
  • They are quick-tempered, impulsive and intolerant of frustration
  • They tend to be callous and unfeeling toward their victims
  • They find it difficult to conform to rules
  • They are good at talking themselves out of trouble

Victims tend to fall into two categories—passive/submissive and provocative. [10]

  • Passive/submissive victims fit the profile of the popular conception of bullying—unassertive, careful, sensitive from an early age, and, perhaps, smaller and weaker than their peers. They also frequently manifest increased anxiety, insecurity and negative self-image due to their victimization. What may be most significant, however, is that they have few or no friends
  • Provocative victims account for between 10 and 20 percent of bullying targets. They are quick-tempered, restless, clumsy, immature, disruptive and unable to concentrate. They are often disliked for their irritating behavior by both their fellow students and their teachers. They may be harassed by their entire class. Provocative victims are frequently bullies in their own right, taking out the anger and humiliation from their own oppression on those still more vulnerable.

The mechanics of bullying are simple and cruel: isolate the victim, prove his powerlessness, and thereby establish a “right” to persecute him. This process demonstrates one of the less often emphasized aspects of bullying—its group nature.

While a single individual’s discreet physical persecution of another may fall within the realm of bullying, it is probably more accurate to describe these encounters in terms of their component antisocial and criminal acts—assault, battery, extortion and theft. A bully without an audience isn’t a bully. He is a petty criminal.

Bullying is typically a public event, staged by the bully to humiliate the victim. [11] In one study of bullying in early grades, 85 percent of bullying incidents occurred in the presence of others. [12]


[2] Olweus, D, Bully/victim problems among School Children 1991, cited in Bullying is Not a Fact of Life

[3] DeVoe, J; Peter, K; Kaufman, P; et. al , Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2003, Sect. 12, pp. 16-17; , National Center for Education Statistics, NCES Publication #2004004, 2004, available at; accessed 22 July 2004

[4] Espelage, D, interview in Bullying is not limited to unpopular loners, say researchers,, American Psychological Association news release, August 20, 1999, available at; Accessed 2 August 2004

[5] Nansel, T; Overpeck, N; et. al., Bullying Behaviors Among U.S. Youth in, Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), Vol. 285, No. 16, April 25, 2001, available at; accessed 3 August 2004

[6] Bullying is Not a Fact of Life, p.5

[7] Ibid., p. 6

[8] Bosworth, K, Espelage, D., Simon, T; Factors Associated With Bullying Behavior in Middle School Students, The Journal of Early Adolescence 1999 19: 341-362, quoted in Bullying is Not Limited to Unpopular Loners, Say Researchers

[9] Bullying is Not a Fact of Life, pp. 5-6

[10] .Ibid

[11] Espelage, D; Bullying in Early Adolescence: The Role of the Peer Group; ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education; 2002, ERIC Identifier ED471912, available at; accessed 17 September 2004

[12] Craig, W & Pepler, D, Observations of bullying and victimization in the school yard; Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 13, 41-59

In The Know: At Risk Pamphlet/ DVD Package
"In The Know: At Risk-Bullying, It's Not Just Kids Being Kids" Pamphlet
In The Know: At Risk DVD Package