The classic definition of bullying states that a victim of bullying experiences a repeated
negative behavior (frequency) that is intentional and involves a power differential between the victim and bully. When we question if a child is being bullied, we often count the number of times they were victimized and use this number to determine if it is bullying. However, research says that it is not just the number of times the child is victimized, but also the intention behind the bully’s act and the power imbalance between the victim and perpetrator.
It is important to clarify the difference between the definition of bullying and peer
victimization. Peer-victimization involves repeated acts of aggression towards someone,
but does not require intentionality or a power differential. This clarification is important
because youth report different levels of depressive symptoms, use different coping skills,
and differ in their understanding of the threat. Being a victim of bullying is associated with greater internalizing problems such as anxiety and depression and peer relational
problems compared to bullies or non-involved youth. Victims of bullying also tend to have lower levels of self-esteem compares to those who were peer-victimized.
The highest rates of bullying occur in middle school, which the literature suggests may be related to increased impulsivity in children. Boys are more likely to both bully and be
bullied and are more likely to engage in physical and verbal bullying. Girls on the other
hand tend to engage in rumor spreading and view bullying as intentionally mean.
It is thus clear that asking a child the number of times, or frequency, they have bullied is
just the first step. Further exploring with the child what they believe the bully’s intentions were and if there was a power imbalance will provide clarity if they are being victimized or bullied. Both experiences are difficult, but if a child is being bullied, there is the risk of higher levels of anxiety and depression and lower levels of self-esteem. Parents are encouraged to address the entire definition of bullying to get the best understanding otheir child’s experience.