Bullying: A Module for Teachers


Sandra Graham, PhD, UCLA

Children’s social lives — whether or not they have friends, whether they are accepted or rejected by their peers, whether they are victims or perpetrators of aggression — and their academic lives go hand in hand. This means that we cannot fully understand academic achievement without knowing about the social environment of children in school. For example, children who have few friends, who are actively rejected by the peer group, or who are victims of bullying are unlikely to have the cognitive and emotional resources to be able to do well in school (Juvonen & Graham, 2001).

Bullying by peers can have long-term effects on students’ academic achievement. Commonly labeled as peer victimization or peer harassment, school bullying is defined as repeated physical, verbal or psychological abuse of victims by perpetrators who intend to cause them harm (Olweus, 1993). The critical features that distinguish bullying from simple conflict between peers are: intentions to cause harm, repeated incidences of harm, and an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim. Hitting, kicking, shoving, name-calling, spreading of rumors, exclusion and intimidating gestures (e.g., eye rolling) by powerful peers are all examples of behaviors that constitute abuse that is physical, verbal or psychological in nature.

Note that this definition of school bullying does not include more lethal sorts of peer-directed hostilities. Although some widely-publicized school shootings may have been precipitated by a history of peer abuse, they remain rare events (National School Safety Center, 2006). The focus of this module is on more typical and widespread types of bullying that affect the lives of many children and that have been labeled as a public health concern by the American Medical Association. It is estimated that 40-80 percent of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers and 10-15 percent may be either chronic victims or bullies themselves (Nansel et al., 2001) Moreover, survey data indicate that more than 60 percent of elementary and secondary school students rate bullying as a major problem affecting their lives and that they worry most about being harassed at school rather than when they are going to and from school (Kaiser Family Foundation and Children Now, 2001). In light of such statistics and growing public concern, it is important that teachers have a better understanding of bullying and what they can do to both prevent it and intervene when it occurs.

Peer harassment

How widespread?

According to national surveys...

  • 70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point

  • 20-40 percent report having bullied or been part of bullying during the school year 

  • 27 percent report being harassed for not conforming to sexually stereotypical behavior 

  • 5-15 percent of youth are chronic victims 

  • 7-12 percent are chronic bullies

Peer harassment: How serious?
  • 8-15 year olds rank bullying as more of a problem in their lives than violence 

  • 5th-12th graders are more concerned about emotional maltreatment and social cruelty from peers than anything else 

  • Some recent school shootings have been traced back to a history of peer abuse 

  • Peer harassment is designated as a Public Health Concern by The American Medical Association