Indirect Bullying: Working with Students and Schools to End the Cycle of Bullying

Indirect BullyingBullying is a prevalent issue across all levels of society.  While many may think of bullying as an adolescent problem, bullying also occurs in family units, organized groups, and in the workplace.  This blog post is dedicated to understanding and intervening in indirect adolescent bullying in schools.  We will take a look at bullying behaviors, outline examples of bullying scenarios, explore the impact of bullying, and finally discuss preventive strategies that schools can use.

Defining Bullying

According to psychology researcher Dan Olweus, a person is being bullied when he/she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons . Negative action is when a person intentionally inflicts injury or discomfort upon another person, through physical contact, through words or in other ways. Note that bullying is both direct (overt) and indirect (covert) behaviors. It occurs in all types of social groups and across all ages.

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Bullying Behaviors Include:

  • Completely overlooking someone

  • Sending mean notes

  • Trying to get other students to dislike another person

  • Saying hurtful and unpleasant things

  • Making fun of others

  • Using mean and hurtful nicknames

  • Deliberately excluding someone from a group of friends

  • Hitting, kicking, pulling hair, or pushing

  • Telling lies

  • Spreading false rumors

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Indirect Bullying

Indirect bullying can be defined as threatening someone into social isolation.  Threatening behaviors may include spreading gossip, lies, and rumors, name calling,  criticizing their appearance or  background, ignoring, giving the silent treatment, staring, mocking, refusing to engage or socialize, and bullying others who are trying to socialize with the victim.  Many researchers are also adding cybering bullying, bullying carried out by an electronic medium, to indirect bullying.  These behaviors include text messaging, picture and video clip sharing, phone calls, emailing, chat rooms, instant messaging, social media posts, and bullying tactics through websites.

Bullying Facts & Statistics in Schools

  • 1 in 7 Students in Grades K-12 is either a bully or a victim of bullying.

  • 56% of students have personally witnessed some type of bullying at school.

  • 15% of all school absenteeism is directly related to fears of being bullied at school.

  • 90% of 4th through 8th graders report being victims of bullying

  • According to bullying statistics, 1 out of every 10 students who drops out of school does so because of repeated bullying.

  • Harassment and bullying have been linked to 75% of school-shooting incidents.

These statistics are scary.  What’s more, studies show that there are distinct differences between female and male bullying behavior.  Girls are more indirect with bullying because they tend to bully others through the peer group leading the the social rejection of the ostracized member.  Boys on the other hand tend to be more direct with their words and engage in physical confrontations more often.

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Examples of Bullying Scenarios

Social Exclusion

The popular students will not allow other students to sit at their lunch table.  This is an indirect bullying scenario because they are purposefully and publicly excluding others from joining them through rejection.

Criticizing Others

Two girls verbally criticize how another girl dresses and what she looks like .  They confront the girl and tell her that she is overweight and ugly while also commenting on how she dresses to other students.  Other students do not want to be associated with this girl and exclude her from their social circles.

Cyber Bullying

A group of students create a fake social media account and interact with another student under false pretenses.  They use the fake account to start an online romantic relationship with this student and learn intimate details of his life.  The students then turn around and expose the fake relationship and/or use the private details of the student’s life against him

Spreading Gossip

One girl is jealous of the attention a rival girl is getting from a boy that they both like.  The first girl spreads false rumors that the second girl is sexually active and promiscuous  This story spread through the school and soon multiple students are talking about the second girl’s sexual experiences.

Bullying Others to Exclude

One boy suggests to his friends that they shouldn’t hang out with another boy at school.  When the other students protest, the first boy threatens to leave them out of the social circle too.  Students are forced to choose a side and exclude the second boy in order to remain part of the group.

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The Impact of Bullying

Bullying is harmful not only to students who are being bullied but also to  the students witnessing the bullying and the bullies themselves. Overall, bullying disrupts a student’s ability to learn and creates an unsafe physical and emotional environment.  Students who are bullied can suffer from depression, low self-esteem, physical and mental health problems, poor academic performance, and suicidal thoughts. Students who witness bullying often feel fearful, powerless, guilty, unsafe in their environment, and may even feel pressured to participate. Students who bully others are likely victims of bullying themselves, more likely to get into physical fights, steal, vandalize personal property, participate in underage drinking and drug use, have poor grades, and carry a weapon.

Prevention Strategies for Schools

Preventing bullying at school needs to be an on going initiative between educators, students, and parents. has created a five step plan to prevent bullying in schools.

1. Assess Bullying in Your School

Bullying goes notoriously under reported because the bullied student may feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Many schools have had success in measuring bullying by having students take an anonymous survey.  Schools need to learn what kind of bullying behaviors are going on so they can best target their efforts.  The bullying assessment should cover the frequency and types of bullying, the response from adults and other students, locations (you will be able to identify hot-spots), staff perceptions and attitudes toward bullying, student perception of safety, and the school climate.

2. Engage Parents & Youth

School staff members need to keep parents informed through emails, newsletters, and student conferences.  Parents should be encouraged to get involved with creating a positive school environment through parent teacher associations, volunteering, and school improvement events.  Students should be empowered to create anti-bullying groups and clubs and share their views and experiences around bullying.  They should actively be involved in setting the rules and policies surrounding bullying in their school.

3. Create Policies & Rules

Schools should create a mission statement of creating and maintaining a safe environment free from discrimination, violence, and bullying.  The school’s code of conduct should outline the positive behaviors that the school expects from its community.  Finally, students should be encouraged to create a student bill of rights of things they can expect at school like being treated with respect, receiving help and support when facing challenges, and learning in a safe environment.  It should go without saying that these policies and rules need to be upheld.  Train school staff members, parents, and students on these policies and empower them to take a role in upholding them.  Make a reporting system that is easy and people feel safe using.

4. Build a Safe Environment

In order to build a safe environment, schools need to set ground rules and then actively reinforce those rules.  Educators can reinforce rules by following the rules themselves, making the expectations clear, rewarding good behavior, and utilizing one-on-one feedback instead of public discipline.

5. Educate Students & School Staff

Schools need to take a proactive approach in educating students on how to identify and prevent bullying behaviors.  This can be done through class projects, presentations, role playing, speeches, class discussions, artistic works, creative writing classes, and classroom projects.  Staff members should receive formalized training on how to identify and stop bullying behaviors, the school’s rules and policies on bullying, and how to enforce those rules and policies.

Do you have any different solutions or prevention ideas for indirect bullying?  What techniques do you find work best?

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