This article is about student-related bullying at school. For teacher-related bullying at school, see Bullying in teaching.
School bullying is a type of bullying that occurs in an educational setting.
Bullying without comprehensive definition, can be physical, verbal or emotional in nature, or it can occur online (cyberbullying). For an act to be considered bullying it must meet certain criteria. This includes hostile intent, imbalance of power, repetition, distress, and provocation. Bullying can have a wide spectrum of effects on a student including anger, depression, stress and suicide. Additionally, the bully can develop different social disorders or have a higher chance of engaging in criminal activity.
If there is suspicion that a child is being bullied or is a bully, there are warning signs in their behavior. There are many programs and organizations worldwide which provide bullying prevention services or information on how children can cope if they have been bullied.
There is no universal definition of school bullying; however, it is widely agreed that bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior characterized by the following three minimum criteria:
- hostile intent (i.e., the harm caused by bullying is deliberate, not accidental),
- imbalance of power (i.e., bullying includes a real or perceived power inequity between the bully and the victim), and
- repetition over a period of time (i.e., more than once with the potential to occur multiple times).
The following two additional criteria have been proposed to complement the above-mentioned criteria:
- victim distress (victim suffers mild to severe psychological, social or physical trauma) and
- provocation (bullying is motivated by perceived benefits of their aggressive behaviors).
Some of these characteristics have been disputed (e.g., for power imbalance: bullies and victims often report that conflicts occur between two equals); nevertheless, they remain widely established in the scientific literature.
The underlying causes of school violence and bullying include gender and social norms and wider contextual and structural factors.
Discriminatory gender norms that shape the dominance of men and the subservience of women and the perpetuation of these norms through violence are found in some form in many cultures. Gender inequality and the prevalence of violence against women in society exacerbate the problem. Similarly, social norms that support the authority of teachers over children may legitimise the use of violence to maintain discipline and control.
The pressure to conform to dominant gender norms is also high. Young people who cannot or who choose not to conform to these norms are often punished for this through violence and bullying at school.
Schools themselves can "teach" children to be violent through discriminatory practices, curricula and textbooks. If unchecked, gender discrimination and power imbalances in schools can encourage attitudes and practices that subjugate children, uphold unequal gender norms and tolerate violence, including corporal punishment.
Some attribute part of the cause of bullying to the atmosphere in which it occurs. Thornberg and Knutsen state in their study, "School attributing refers to attributing the cause of bullying to the school setting." They say that school attributing has two subcategories which are "boredom in school" and “poor antibullying practices". Boredom in school involves a student who does not have anything else to do other than bully. Poor antibullying practices may include teachers and staff not caring enough to intervene, or a school not having enough teachers for students. This may lead to the students feeling unwanted or unimportant due to the lack of care from the school's staff.
Schools and the education system also operate within the context of wider social and structural factors and may reflect and reproduce environments that do not protect children and adolescents from violence and bullying. For example, physical and sexual violence may be more prevalent in schools in contexts where it is also more prevalent in wider society. Studies suggest that sexual violence and harassment of girls is worse in schools where other forms of violence are prevalent, and in conflict and emergency contexts, and that gang violence is more common in schools where gangs, weapons and drugs are part of the local culture.
In their paper "Predicting Bullying: Exploring the Contributions of Childhood Negative Life Experiences in Predicting Adolescent Bullying Behavior," Connell, Morris and Piquero identify three primary aspects of a child’s life- family, school and peers- as major indicators to whether or not that child exhibits behavior akin to bullying.
A victim, in the short term, may feel depressed, anxious, angry, have excessive stress, learned helplessness, feel as though their life has fallen apart, have a significant drop in school performance, or may commit suicide (bullycide). In the long term, they may feel insecure, lack trust, exhibit extreme sensitivity (hypervigilant), or develop a mental illness such as psychopathy, avoidant personality disorder or PTSD. They may also desire vengeance, sometimes leading them to torment others in return.
Anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms are common among both bullies and their victims. Among these participants alcohol and substance abuse are commonly seen later in life. It is known that people suffering from depression feel much better when they talk to others about it, but victims of bullying fear may not talk to others about their feelings in fear of being bullied, which can worsen their depression.
In the short term, being a bystander "can produce feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and sadness.... Bystanders who witness repeated victimizations of peers can experience negative effects similar to the victimized children themselves."
While most bullies, in the long term, grow up to be emotionally functional adults, many have an increased risk of developing antisocial personality disorder, which is linked to an increased risk of committing criminal acts (including domestic violence).
Negative impact on educational quality and outcomes
The educational effects on victims of school violence and bullying are significant. Violence and bullying at the hands of teachers or other students may make children and adolescents afraid to go to school and interfere with their ability to concentrate in class or participate in school activities. It can also have similar effects on bystanders.
The consequences include missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant or dropping out of school altogether. This in turn has an adverse impact on academic achievement and attainment and on future education and employment prospects. Children and adolescents who are victims of violence may achieve lower grades and may be less likely to anticipate going on to higher education. Analyses of international learning assessments highlight the impact of bullying on learning outcomes. These analyses clearly show that bullying reduces students’ achievement in key subjects, such as mathematics, and other studies have documented the negative impact of school violence and bullying on educational performance.
Bystanders and the school climate as a whole are also affected by school violence and bullying. Unsafe learning environments create a climate of fear and insecurity and a perception that teachers do not have control or do not care about the students, and this reduces the quality of education for all.
Social and economic costs
The 2006 UN World Report on Violence against Children shows that victims of corporal punishment, both at school and at home, may develop into adults who are passive and over-cautious or aggressive. Involvement in school bullying can be a predictor of future antisocial and criminal behaviour. Being bullied is also linked to a heightened risk of eating disorders and social and relationship difficulties.
Other studies have shown the longer-term effects of bullying at school. One study of all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958 analyzes data on 7,771 children who had been bullied at ages 7 and 11. At age 50, those who had been bullied as children were less likely to have obtained school qualifications and less likely to live with a spouse or partner or to have adequate social support. They also had lower scores on word memory tests designed to measure cognitive IQ even when their childhood intelligence levels were taken into account and, more often reported, that they had poor health. The effects of bullying were visible nearly four decades later, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood. For children, “peers are a much more important influence than has been realised. It is a terrible thing to be excluded by your peers”.
The economic impact of violence against children and adolescents is substantial. Youth violence in Brazil alone is estimated to cost nearly US$19 billion every year, of which US$943 million can be linked to violence in schools. The estimated cost to the economy in the USA of violence associated with schools is US$7.9 billion a year.
Analytic work supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows that school-related gender-based violence alone can be associated with the loss of one primary grade of schooling, which translates to an annual cost of around US$17 billion to low- and middle-income countries.
In the East Asia and Pacific region, it is estimated that the economic costs of just some of the health consequences of child maltreatment were equivalent to between 1.4% and 2.5% of the region’s annual GDP.
In Argentina, the forgone benefit to society from overall early school dropout is 11.4% of GDP, and in Egypt, nearly 7% of potential earnings is lost as a result of the number of children dropping out of school.
A study has shown that each year Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria lose US$974 million, US$301 million and US$1,662 million respectively for failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys, and violence in school is one of the key factors contributing to the under-representation of girls in education.
According to the American Psychological Association, "40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers." Various studies show that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds experience bullying more often than other students. The following statistics help illustrate the severity of bullying within classrooms:
- Statistics show that 1 in 3 children are affected by bullying in their lifetime in the U.S. school system, and 30% report being involved in some manner.
- A nationwide survey of bullying in first and second level schools conducted by Trinity College Dublin estimates that some 31% of primary and 16% of secondary students have been bullied at some time.
- In a 1997 study of five Seattle high schools, students recorded their peers' hallway and classroom conversations. It was discovered that the average high school student hears about 25 anti-gay remarks a day.
- In a study conducted across 32 Dutch elementary schools, 16.2% of the 2,766 participating children reported being bullied regularly (at least several times a month).
- At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada has reported being bullied.
- 47% of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying.
- Students who are homosexual, bisexual, or transgender are five times as likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation.
- According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who did not go to school at least one day during the 30 days preceding the survey due to safety concerns ranged from 11% to 30% for gay and lesbian students and 12% to 25% for bisexual students.
- 61.1% of LGBT middle- or high-school students were more likely than their non-LGBT peers to feel unsafe or uncomfortable as a result of their sexual orientation.
- In a Canadian study that surveyed 2,186 students across 33 middle and high schools, 49.5% reported being bullied online in the previous three months. 33.7% of the sample reported being the perpetrator of cyberbullying.
- The most common form of cyberbullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive emails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.
- In the United States, a 2013 nationwide survey indicated that 20% of high school students were bullied on school property in the past year, 15% of the students were bullied electronically, and 8% of students ages 12–18 reported ongoing bullying on a weekly basis.
- Higher education students keep silent about the torment because they are expected to handle the issue as an adult, however it requires a support system.
- According to the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, victims of bullying are more likely to be sexually inactive compared to bullies.
Statistics referencing the prevalence of bullying in schools may be inaccurate and tend to fluctuate. In a U.S. study of 5,621 students ages 12–18, 64% of the students had experienced bullying and did not report it.
Proactive aggression is a behavior that expects a reward. With bullying each individual has a role to defend.[clarification needed] Some children act proactively but will show aggression to defend themselves if provoked. These children will react aggressively but tend to never be the ones to attack first.
There have been two subtypes created in bully classification; popular aggressive and unpopular aggressive. Popular aggressive bullies are social and do not encounter a great deal of social stigma from their aggression. Unpopular aggressive bullies, however, are most often rejected by other students and use aggression to seek attention.
- In a recent national survey 3,708,284 students reported being a perpetrator of bullying in the U.S. school system.
- Studies have shown bullies actually report more success in making friends than other children.
- Bullying behavior in perpatrators is shown to decrease with age.
- Developmental research suggests bullies are often morally disengaged and use egocentric reasoning strategies.
- Adolescents who experience violence or aggression in the home, or are influenced by negative peer relationships, are more likely to bully. This suggests that positive social relationships reduce the likelihood of bullying.
- The diagnosis of a mental health disorder is strongly associated with being a bully. This trend is most evident in adolescents diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or ADHD.
- Poor theory of mind is associated with bullying.
- 25% of students encourage bullying if not given proper education and information about the consequences of bullying.
- A study by Lisa Garby shows that 60% of bullies in middle school will have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24.
In a survey by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), students were asked to complete a questionnaire.
A total of 10.6% of the children replied that they had sometimes bullied other children, a response category defined as moderate bullying. An additional 8.8% said they had bullied others once a week or more, defined as frequent bullying. Similarly, 8.5% said they had been targets of moderate bullying, and 8.4% said they were bullied frequently. Out of all the students, 13% said they had engaged in moderate or frequent bullying of others, while 10.6% said they had been bullied either moderately or frequently. Some students — 6.3% — had both bullied others and been bullied themselves. In all, 29% of the students who responded to the survey had been involved in some aspect of bullying, either as a bully, as the target of bullying or both.
According to Tara Kuther, an associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University, "...bullying gets so much more sophisticated and subtle in high school. It's more relational. It becomes more difficult for teens to know when to intervene; whereas with younger kids, bullying is more physical and, therefore, more clear-cut."
Types of bullying
There are four basic types of bullying: verbal, physical, psychological, and cyber. Cyberbullying is becoming one of the most common types. While victims can experience bullying at any age, it is witnessed most often in school-aged children.
Direct bullying is a relatively open attack on a victim that is physical and/or verbal in nature. Indirect bullying is more subtle and harder to detect, but involves one or more forms of relational aggression, including social isolation via intentional exclusion, spreading rumors to defame one's character or reputation, making faces or obscene gestures behind someone's back, and manipulating friendships or other relationships.
Pack bullying is bullying undertaken by a group. The 2009 Wesley Report on bullying found that pack bullying was more prominent in high schools and lasted longer than bullying undertaken by individuals.
See also: Physical abuse
Physical bullying is any unwanted physical contact between the bully and the victim. This is one of the most easily identifiable forms of bullying. Examples include:
See also: Psychological abuse
Emotional bullying is any form of bullying that causes damage to a victim’s psyche and/or emotional well-being. Examples include:
- Spreading malicious rumors about people
- Getting certain people to "gang up" on others (this could also be considered physical bullying)
- Ignoring people on purpose (via the silent treatment or pretending the victim is non-existent)
- Provoking others
- Belittling, making fun of people, or saying hurtful things (which are also forms of verbal bullying)
See also: Verbal abuse
Verbal bullying is any slanderous statements or accusations that cause the victim undue emotional distress. Examples include:
Main article: Cyberbullying
According to the website Stop Cyberbullying, "Cyberbullying is when anyone is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones." This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of the lack of parental or authoritative supervision. Because bullies can pose as someone else, it is the most anonymous form of bullying. Cyberbullying includes abuse using email, blogs, instant messaging, text messaging, or websites. Many who are bullied in school are likely to be bullied over the Internet and vice versa. Since students have become more reliant on internet, the advancement in social media and technology has altered the fear of in-person bullying away from schoolyards but has rather increase cyberbullying. Studies have shown almost half of cyberbullies are repeat offenders and harass others as few at three times. Males are more likely to be active cyberbullies than females. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day and seven days a week and reach a child even when they are alone. Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts or pictures is extremely difficult after being posted or sent.
According to the website Stop Cyberbullying, "When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyberbullying actions that took place off campus and outside of school hours, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's free speech right."  They suggest for schools to make revisions to their policies that would allow for disciplinary actions to take place even if off campus or after hours. They say if the act is likely to affect a student mentally or physically while in school then the revision of the policy would allow for the staff to intervene without violating the student's constitutional rights.
Cyberbullying has become extremely prevalent; 95% of teens who use social media reported having witnessed malicious behavior on social media from 2009 to 2013. As sites like Facebook or Twitter offer no routine monitoring, children from a young age must learn proper internet behavior, say Abraham Foxman and Cyndi Silverman. "This is a call for parents and educators to teach these modern skills... through awareness and advocacy." Per Scott Eidler, "Parents and educators need to make children aware at a young age of the life-changing effects cyberbullying can have on the victim. The next step for prevention is advocacy. For example, three high school students from Melville, New York organized a Bullying Awareness Walk, where several hundred people turned out to show their support."
Clara Wajngurt writes, "Other than organizing events, calling for social media sites to take charge could make the difference between life and death. Cyberbullying is making it increasingly difficult to enforce any form of prevention." Joanna Wojcik concludes, "The rapid growth of social media is aiding the spread of cyberbullying, and prevention policies are struggling to keep up. In order for prevention policies to be put in place, the definition of cyberbullying must be stated, others must be educated on how to recognize and prevent bullying, and policies that have already attempted to be enacted need to be reviewed and learned from."
Researcher Charisse Nixon found that students do not reach out for help with cyberbullying for four main reasons: they do not feel connected to the adults around them; the students do not see the cyberbullying as an issue that is worth bringing forward; they do not feel the surrounding adults have the ability to properly deal with the cyberbullying; and the teenagers have increased feelings of shame and humiliation regarding the cyberbullying. Nixon also found that when bystanders took action in helping end the cyberbullying in adolescents, the results were more positive than when the adolescents attempted to resolve the situation without outside help.
Main article: Sexual bullying
Sexual bullying is "any bullying behavior, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person’s sexuality or gender. It is when sexuality or gender is used as a weapon by boys or girls towards other boys or girls—although it is more commonly directed at girls. It can be carried out to a person’s face, behind their back or through the use of technology."
As part of its research into sexual bullying in schools, the BBC TV series Panorama commissioned a questionnaire aimed at people aged 11 to 19 in schools and youth clubs across five regions of England. The survey revealed that of the 273 respondents, 28 had been forced to do something sexual, and 31 had seen it happen to someone else. Of the 273 respondents, 40 had experienced unwanted touching. U.K. government figures show that in the 2007–2008 school year, there were 3,450 fixed-period exclusions and 120 expulsions from schools in England due to sexual misconduct. This included incidents such as groping and using sexually insulting language. From April 2008 to March 2009, ChildLine counselled a total of 156,729 children, 26,134 of whom spoke about bullying as a main concern and 300 of whom spoke specifically about sexual bullying.
The U.K. charity Beatbullying has claimed that as gang culture enters, children are being bullied into providing sexual favours in exchange for protection. However, other anti-bullying groups and teachers' unions, including the National Union of Teachers, challenged the charity to provide evidence of this.
Sexting cases are also on the rise and have become a major source of bullying. The circulation of explicit photos of those involved either around school or the internet put the originators in a position to be scorned and bullied. There have been reports of some cases in which the bullying has been so extensive that the victim has taken their life.
Higher education bullying
According to HealthDay News, 15 percent of college students claim to have been victims of bullying while at college. In the article, "Bullying not a thing of the past for college students," Kaitlyn Krasselt writes, "Bullying comes in all forms but is usually thought of as a K-12 issue that ceases to exist once students head off to college." The misconception that bullying does not occur in higher education began to receive attention after the death of college student Tyler Clementi.
Bullying is usually associated with an imbalance of power. A bully has a perceived authority over another due to factors such as size, gender, or age. Boys tend to bully peers based on the peer's physical weakness, short temper, friend group, and clothing. Bullying among girls, on the other hand, results from factors such as facial appearance, emotional factors, being overweight, and academic status. Both sexes tend to target people with speech impediments of some sort (such as stutter).
Bullies often come from families that use physical forms of discipline.
Bullying locations vary by context. Most bullying in elementary school happens in the playground. In middle school and high school, it occurs most in the hallways, which have little supervision. According to the U.S Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, more than 47% of kids reported getting bullied in hallways and stairway. Bus stops and bus rides to and from school tend to be hostile environments as well; children tend to view the driver as someone with no disciplinary authority.
Bullying may also follows people into adult life and university. Bullying can take over the lives of both lecturers and students, and can lead to supervisors putting pressure on students. Bullying can happen in any place at any time.
Victims of bullying typically are physically smaller, more sensitive, unhappy, cautious, anxious, quiet, and withdrawn. They are often described as passive or submissive. Possessing these qualities make these individuals vulnerable, as they are seen as being less likely to retaliate.
Signs that a child is being bullied include:
- Unexplainable injuries
- Showing anxiety and post-traumatic stress
- Lost or destroyed clothing
- Changes in eating habits
- Declining grades
- Continual school absences
- Suicidal tendencies
- Becoming overly apologetic
Signs that a child is bullying others include:
- Getting into physical or verbal fights
- Getting sent to the principal's office frequently
- Having friends who bully others
- Becoming increasingly aggressive in normal activities
Signs that a child has witnessed bullying include:
- Poor school behavior
- Emotional disturbance
- Post-traumatic stress
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Suicidal tendencies
McNamee and Mercurio state that there is a "bullying triangle", consisting of the person doing the bullying, the person getting bullied, and the bystander.
The US Department of Health and Human Services divides the people involved in bullying into several roles:
- Bully: student with social and/or physical power who repeatedly picks on another student or group of students with the intent to inflict harm or discomfort
- Victim: the target of the bullying
- Bystander: student who observes bullying; they may ignore it, encourage it, or defend the victim
- Student who assists: does not start the bullying, but helps and is encouraged by surrounding peers to do so. They may feel that their social status will be damaged if they are not involved.
- Student who reinforces: play a minor role in bullying, such as laughing at the bully's insults
- Outsider: not involved in the bullying but witnesses it
- Defendant: defends the victim or consoles them afterwards
In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso divides bullies into several types:
- The confident bully has a very high opinion of themselves and feels a sense of superiority over other students.
- The social bully uses rumors, gossip, and verbal taunts to insult others. Social bullies are typically female and possess low self-esteem, and therefore try to bring others down.
- The fully armored bully shows very little emotion and often bullies when no one will see or stop them.
- The hyperactive bully typically has problems with academics and social skills. This student will often bully someone, then place the blame on someone else.
- A bullied bully is usually someone who has been bullied in the past or is bullied by an older sibling.
- A "bunch of bullies" (more often referred to as a "gang of bullies") is a group of friends who gang up on others for fun or due to their desire for power.
Complex cultural dynamics
Parsons identifies school bullying cultures as typically having a web of dynamics which are much more complex than just considering bullying amongst students. These dynamics include:
- Some students bully other students; some of these student bullies are themselves bullied by other student bullies; some of these student bullies bully teachers.
- Some teachers bully students; some teacher bullies bully other teachers; some teacher bullies bully parents.
- Some office staff bully teachers, students and parents.
- Some principals bully teachers, office staff, students and parents.
- Some parents bully teachers, office staff, principals, and even their own children.
Researchers have identified many misconceptions regarding bullying:
- Bullying is a consequence of large class or school size.
- Bullying is a consequence of competition for grades and failure in school.
- Bullying is a consequence of poor self-esteem and insecurity.
- Bullying is just teasing.
- Some people deserve to be bullied.
- Only boys are bullies.
- Bullying is a normal part of growing up.
- Bullies will go away if ignored.
- The best way to deal with a bully is by fighting or trying to get even.
- People who are bullied will only hurt for a while before recovering.
- Bullying is thought of as a K-12 issue that ceases to exist once students enter college.
Studies have shown that bullying programs set up in schools with the help and engagements of staff and faculty have been shown to reduce peer victimization and bullying. Incidences of bullying are noticeably reduced when the students themselves disapprove of bullying.
Measures such as increasing awareness,[contradictory] instituting zero tolerance for fighting, or placing troubled students in the same group or classroom are actually ineffective in reducing bullying; methods that are effective include increasing empathy for victims; adopting a program that includes teachers, students, and parents; and having students lead anti-bullying efforts.[pages needed] Success is most associated with beginning interventions at an early age, constantly evaluating programs for effectiveness, and having some students simply take online classes to avoid bullies at school.
One possible prevention and intervention for bullying is "positive behavioral interventions and supports" (PBIS). This is defined as a "framework for enhancing adoption of a continuum of evidence based interventions to achieve academically and behaviorally important outcomes for all students. PBIS seeks to improve school climate, reduce discipline issues, and support academic achievement."
Legislation and court rulings
Main article: Anti-bullying legislation
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(September 2016)
Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides for an anti-bullying policy for all state schools to be made available to parents.
The victims of some school shootings have sued both the shooters' families and the schools. At one point only 23 states had Anti-Bullying laws. In 2015 Montana became the last state to have an anti-bullying law and at that point all 50 states had an anti-bullying law. These laws are not going to abolish bullying but it does bring attention to the behavior and it lets the aggressors know it will not be tolerated.
In 2016, a legal precedent was set by a mother and her son, after the son was bullied at his public school. The mother and son won a court case against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, making this the first case in North America where a school board has been found negligent in a bullying case for failing to meet the standard of care (the "duty of care" that the school board owes to its students). A similar bullying case was won in Australia in 2013 (Oyston v. St. Patricks College).
- The Ministry of Education launched a serial of project. In 2006, they started the 'anti-bully plan'. In 2008, they launched the 'prevent bully video from public project', and also building multiple informants route, monitoring the school, in hope that it could improve the education quality.
Main article: School shootings
School bullying is associated with school shootings; the vast majority of students (87%) believe that shootings occur in direct retaliation to bullying. School shooters who left behind evidence that they were bullied include Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (perpetrators of the Columbine school shooting), Nathan Ferris, Edmar Aparecido Freitas, Brian Head, Seung-Hui Cho, Wellington Menezes Oliveira, Kimveer Gill, Karl Pierson, and Jeff Weise.[unreliable source?]
Events and organizations
Events and organizations which address bullying in schools include:
This section needs expansion. You can help by adding to it.(September 2016)
- Flashman in Tom Brown's Schooldays
- Too-Tall Grizzly and his gang in The Berenstain Bears franchise
- Henry Bowers, Victor Criss "Vic" Criss, Reginald "Belch" Huggins, Patrick Hockstetter, Peter Gordon, Steve "Moose" Sadler, and Gard Jagermeyer in Stephen King's novel It
- Clarence "Buddy" Repperton, Richard "Richie" Trelawney, Donald "Don" Vandenberg, and Peter "Moochie" Welch in Stephen King's novel Christine
- Nelson Muntz, Jimbo Jones, Dolph Starbeam, Kearney Zzyzwicz, and the "Weasels" in the animated sitcom The Simpsons
- Chris Hargensen and numerous other girls and students in Stephen King's novel Carrie
- Roger Klotz, William "Willie" White, Ned Cauphee, and Boomer Bledsoe in the animated television series Doug
- Flash Thompson and other jocks and popular students in the Spider-Man franchise
- Numerous mean kids in the movie Scarecrow
- Steve Jackson and his gang in the fantasy sci-fi film Explorers
- ^U.S. National Center for Education Statistics. Student Reports of Bullying: Results From the 2001 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey(PDF) (Report).
- ^ abBurger, Christoph; Strohmeier, Dagmar; Spröber, Nina; Bauman, Sheri; Rigby, Ken (2015). "How teachers respond to school bullying: An examination of self-reported intervention strategy use, moderator effects, and concurrent use of multiple strategies"(PDF). Teaching and Teacher Education. 51: 191–202. doi:10.1016/j.tate.2015.07.004.
- ^ abcdeGoldsmid, S.; Howie, P. (2014). "Bullying by definition: An examination of definitional components of bullying". Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. 19 (2): 210–225. doi:10.1080/13632752.2013.844414.
- ^ abcdefghijklmnoUNESCO (2017). School Violence and Bullying: Global Status Report(PDF). Paris, UNESCO. pp. 17, 29, 31. ISBN 978-92-3-100197-0.
- ^Meyer, Doug (2017). "The Disregarding of Heteronormativity: Emphasizing a Happy Queer Adulthood and Localizing Anti-Queer Violence to Adolescent Schools". Sexuality Research & Social Policy. 14 (3): 331. doi:10.1007/s13178-016-0272-7.
- ^Thornberg, Robert, and Sven Knutsen (2010). "Teenagers' Explanations of Bullying". Child & Youth Care Forum. 40 (3): 177. doi:10.1007/s10566-010-9129-z.
- ^School-related gender-based violence is preventing the achievement of quality education for all. UNESCO Policy Paper 17 (March 2015)
Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation only
Law that prohibits bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation only
Law that forbids school-based instruction of LGBT issues in a positive manner
Law that prohibits bullying in school but lists no categories of protection
No statewide law that specifically prohibits bullying in schools
Summary and Keywords
Bullying is a growing problem in sport and performance settings. Bullying falls under the umbrella of “athlete maltreatment,” which includes any form of harm and all relationships where harm could occur in sport and performance. Specifically, bullying is defined as repeated hostile and deliberate behavior from one person (the perpetrator) to another (the target) with the intent to harm or threaten harm to the target; it is marked by an imbalance of power. Often, after extreme bullying, the target feels terrorized.
Athlete maltreatment in sport and performance has been categorized into one of two forms: relational maltreatment and nonrelational maltreatment. Bullying is a relational problem. In particular, sport and performance bullying can occur from coach to player, parent to player, or player to player, and often takes the form of (1) making unreasonable performance demands of the target, (2) repeated threats to restrict or remove the target’s privileges or opportunities, (3) screaming or yelling directed at the target that is unwarranted, (4) repeated and continual criticism of the target’s abilities, (5) discounting or denying the target’s accomplishments, (6) blaming the target for his or her mistakes, (7) threats of and/or actual physical violence toward the target, and (8) social media or e-mail messages with threats or insults toward the target.
Sport and performance organizations should develop and implement antibullying policies. Six potential steps toward policy development and implementation include: (1) defining bullying behaviors, (2) referring to existing “best-practice” bullying policies, (3) specifically outlining the reporting of bullying incidents, (4) outlining clearly investigation and disciplinary actions to be taken, (5) outlining specific assistance for bullying targets, and (6) including prevention and training procedures. In the meantime, coaches as well as parents and players can recognize that they are role models for everyone with whom they come into contact in sport and performance settings. Coaches, parents, and players can also accept responsibility for creating a respectful and safe sport and performance environment, have a pre-season meeting to discuss antibullying policy, foster open and honest communication, accept critical feedback, not engage or allow bullying behavior themselves, create acceptable boundaries between themselves and others, and teach players to trust their instincts when things do not feel right. More advanced bullying prevention and training procedures can then take place.
Keywords: athlete maltreatment, coach education, homophobia, cyberbullying, socioecological model
Bullying is a growing problem both within and outside of sport and performance settings. Varying definitions and measurements contribute to a range of reported prevalence rates (Gladden, Vivolo-Kantor, Hamburger, & Lumpkin, 2014). However, recent U.S. statistics indicate that one out of every four children—from all races, classes, and ethnicities—is bullied (Stompoutbullying.org, 2016). Cyberbullying and child and teen bullying are also at their highest rate ever, with 43% of students reporting being bullied online (Stompoutbullying.org, 2016). In addition, 9 out of 10 Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) children were bullied or harassed over the last year and over a third of those were assaulted in school; this is because LGBT students are perceived to be “different” from other students (Stompoutbullying.org, 2016). This article summarizes current definitions of bullying, interpersonal violence, and athlete maltreatment and then presents research that highlights the damaging effects that bullying can have on performers. Finally, the article offers steps that sport and performance organizations and personnel can take to create inclusive sport climates and to end bullying.
What are Bullying, Interpersonal Violence, and Athlete Maltreatment?
Bullying can be defined as repeated hostile and deliberate behavior from one person (the perpetrator) to another (the target) with the intent to harm or threaten harm to the target (Beaumont Children’s Hospital, 2016). There are several forms of bullying, including physical (e.g., hitting, kicking), verbal (e.g., threats, derogatory language), and social (e.g., exclusion, rumors) (Steinfeldt, Vaughan, LaFollette, & Steinfeldt, 2012). Bullying can also include emotional abuse, which involves harmful behaviors that are noncontact (Stirling & Kerr, 2014); in addition, perpetrators will often use coercion, where the target feels pressured and intimidated to behave in a certain way because of the perpetrator’s threats (reachout.com, 2016). After extreme bullying, the target often feels terrorized (Swearer, Espelage, & Napolitano, 2009; see Table 1.
Table 1. Selected Types of Bullying
Type of Bullying
Note: Many types of bullying are overlapping and related.
Source: Adapted from Beaumont Children’s Hospital (2016), and Steinfeldt, Vaughan, LaFollette, and Steinfeldt (2012).
Bullying falls under the larger umbrella of interpersonal violence (reachout.com, 2016) and is marked by an imbalance of power. Interpersonal violence happens when one person deploys control and power over another via emotional, physical, or sexual actions or threats, isolation, economic control, or other coercive behavior (reachout.com, 2016). Bullying is just one type of interpersonal violence; other types include gang violence, youth violence, sexual violence, date/relationship violence, and abuse. Bullying behavior can also serve as a pathway to other forms of violence. For example, among middle school students, homophobic teasing increases the potential for subsequent sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence (Espelage, Basile, & Hamburger, 2012). Bullying can happen in multiple settings such as one’s home, school, neighborhood, workplace, on the Internet, or in sport. Bullying also falls under the umbrella of “athlete maltreatment” which includes any form of harm and all relationships where harm could occur in sport and performance (Sterling & Kerr, 2016). Athlete maltreatment in sport and performance has been categorized into one of two forms: relational maltreatment and nonrelational maltreatment (Sterling & Kerr, 2016). To be sure, bullying is a relational problem. In particular, sport and performance bullying can occur from coach to player, parent to player, player to player, or fan to player, either in person or via cyberbullying on social media outlets such as Snapchat, Facebook, or Twitter. Sport and performance bullying often takes the form of: (1) making unreasonable performance demands of the target, (2) repeated threats to restrict or remove the target’s privileges or opportunities, (3) screaming or yelling directed at the target that is unwarranted, (4) repeated and continual criticism of the target’s abilities, (5) discounting or denying the target’s accomplishments, (6) blaming the target for his/her mistakes, (7) threats of and/or actual physical violence toward the target, and (8) social media or e-mail messages with threats or insults toward the target (Beaumont Children’s Hospital, 2016).
Relational cyberbullying is also on the rise. According to the Cyber Bullying Research Center (http://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response.pdf, 2016a), this is because 95% of U.S. teens are online on their mobile devices, with roughly three quarters of them using the Internet. Johnson (2009) defined cyberbullying as “a means of indirect aggression in which peers use electronics to taunt, insult, threaten, harass, and/or intimidate a peer” (p. 1; see also Berger, 2007; Raskauskas & Stolz, 2007). It is called indirect or relational aggression due to the perpetrator’s purposeful action of inflicting harm on others via cyber manipulation through the use of aggressive, mean, or rude comments; spreading rumors; telling lies about; or teasing or making fun of others. It is basically relational aggression in the form of humiliating, repeated gossip via technology (e.g., picture or text messaging, instant messaging, web pages, etc.). Disturbing examples are online “slam books” and defaming websites (Johnson, 2009; Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007). Anonymity and the ability to torment someone 24/7 is at the heart of cyber (Johnson, 2009). In addition, owing to reduced accountability, perpetrators of cyberbullying often feel invincible; thus, there are great difficulties associated with trying to handling cyberbullying whenever victims are experiencing it.
What Does the Research Say about Bullying in Sport?
Whereas the phenomenon of bullying in schools has received extensive scholarly attention (e.g., Espelage, 2014; Swearer & Hymel, 2015; Thornberg, 2015), research on bullying within sport participation is still relatively scarce (Evans, Adler, MacDonald, & Cote, 2016). Given the common use of intimidation, aggression, and violence as strategies in sport (Anderson, 2010; Coakley, 2016; Jones, Potrac, Cushion, & Ronglan, 2011; Stirling & Kerr, 2007), bullying and emotional abuse can be particularly insidious (Stirling & Kerr, 2014). In particular, serious concerns have been raised about coaches targeting athletes (Stirling & Kerr, 2007, 2010, 2014); in fact, much of the existing literature suggests that adolescent athletes themselves rarely engage in bullying (Evans, Adler, MacDonald, & Cote, 2016; Steinfeldt, Vaughan, LaFollette, & Steinfeldt, 2012; Volk & Lagzdins, 2009). However, when athletes bully each other, it appears that they are influenced by gender norms and significant others (e.g., peers, coaches).
Bullying by Athletes
In an exploratory survey study of 69 girls ages 12–15 years who were involved in Canadian club sports, Volk and Lagzdins (2009) found that the prevalence of bullying and victimization was two to three times higher than in a previous nationwide study on Canadian girls (e.g., in the previous season, 40% of the participants had been targets of bullying). Further, participants experienced bullying and victimization in school rather than in club sports. Volk and Lagzdins used Likert-type scale self-report questionnaires. Although this is a common method used in research examining bullying in school settings, the study’s population of “a medium-sized group of local, predominantly Caucasian, middle-class adolescent girls” imposed obvious limitations in terms of generalizability of the findings (p. 27). For subsequent studies, the researchers suggested the use of larger and more diverse sample sizes as well as studies on male populations. Evans, Adler, MacDonald, and Cote (2016) followed this recommendation.
In a broader study of bullying in Canadian team sports, Evans et al. (2016) surveyed 359 adolescent athletes (64% female, average age 14.5 years) and found that the prevalence of bullying was relatively low; 14% of participants reported that in the months before data collection they had been targeted in sport compared to 30%who reported being targeted in school. The finding that bullying occurred less often in sport than in school confirmed Volk and Lagzdins’ (2009) earlier study. For their research, Evans et al. adapted the Health Behaviors in School-aged Children (HBSC) survey to develop the Bullying in Sport Questionnaire (BSQ). Although this approach allowed for comparison of results from studies on school populations, the authors noted that “bullying in sport may also involve distinct behaviors compared with school” and called for the development of a sport-specific instrument (p. 302).
The experiences of eight young Canadian Aboriginal women in team sports was the subject of a study by Kentel and McHugh (2015) that revealed sport-specific bullying behaviors. The qualitative approach allowed the researches to understand meanings and definitions of bullying in sport from the adolescents’ perspective. As a rationale for their study, Kentel and McHugh noted that women and Aboriginal teenagers might be especially vulnerable to bullying. In addition, sport had previously been promoted as a means of mitigating social issues among Canadian Aboriginal youth. The researchers identified five main themes from the interviews: “(1) mean mugging, (2) sport specific, (3) happens all the time, (4) team bonding to address bullying, and (5) prevention through active coaches” (p. 370). The participants described a number of behaviors intended to make another person (teammate or opponent) feel worse about herself, which they called “mean mugging.” These behaviors ranged from gestures to taking pictures and sharing them online without permission. In the context of sport, specific behaviors included excluding someone from game play (e.g., by not passing the ball), gossiping about someone’s performance, and yelling at her in front of others. The participants felt that such behaviors were not unique to their team but were, in fact, common in sports; many stated that it “happens all the time” (p. 372). As potential remedies, the young women suggested the use of team-bonding activities to address bullying, which might increase empathy. They also stated that active coaching might prevent bullying by fostering open communication both among players and between coaches and players. Given that Kentel and McHugh’s study was delimited to female participants, examining gender differences in sport-specific bullying remains an important next step in the research process.
However, gender dynamics of sport bullying are complex. For example, when asked about their perceived relationships with others, male targets of bullying reported weaker peer connections, while male perpetrators reported weaker connections with coaches (Evans, Adler, MacDonald, & Cote, 2016). Steinfeldt, Vaughan, LaFollette, and Steinfeldt (2012) examined the role of masculinity and its relationship with moral atmosphere and bullying beliefs/behaviors among high school football players. Studying a population of 206 athletes, the researchers found that—contrary to popular depictions of football players as bullies—relatively few of the participants self-reported engaging in physical bullying (often, 1%; or always, 3%), relational cyberbullying (often, 2%; or always, 2%), or verbal bullying via physical threat (often, 2%; always, 2%). Homophobic social bullying was the most frequently self-reported behavior (often, 6%; always, 5%). Steinfeldt et al. used quantitative measures to assess the meanings of adolescent masculinity, moral functioning, moral atmosphere, and social desirability. Structural equation modeling indicated that social norms and moral atmosphere (e.g., peer influence, influential male figure) significantly predicted bullying. Specifically, the strongest predictor for bullying behavior “was the perception of whether the most influential male in a player’s life would approve of the bullying behavior” (p. 340). Overall, the lower the perceived moral atmosphere and the higher the conformity to hegemonic masculinity norms, the more likely a player was to perceive bullying as acceptable (Steinfeldt et al., 2012). The authors concluded that bullying prevention efforts should address the construction of masculine norms and include outreach to influential males (e.g., coaches, fathers, and brothers). They also suggested that high school football players could use their social status among peers to contribute to a school culture that rejects bullying. Therefore, future studies using qualitative interviewing in addition to detailed measurement tools to examine various types of bullying might shed additional light on the role of gender in sport-related bullying.
Bullying by Coaches
Whereas the prevalence of adolescent athlete bullying seems relatively low, abusive behavior by coaches appears to be a more pervasive problem. The power differential between coaches and athletes is likely to contribute to such a phenomenon. Studying emotional abuse in coach–athlete relationships based on semistructured interviews with 18 retired athletes, Stirling and Kerr (2014) found that emotional abuse is closely related to philosophies of athlete development. Based on the participants’ experiences, the researchers developed a developmental model. For example, following an introductory stage and the athlete-building commitment to the sport, coaches initially became emotionally abusive after the athlete reached a more competitive level and did not live up to the coach’s expectations. The experiences included “degrading comments, personal criticisms, threats, acts of humiliation, belittlement, and the silent treatment” (Stirling & Kerr, 2014, p. 123). The coach typically used these strategies in front of an audience of teammates, coaches, and/or parents, which added to the athlete’s humiliation and was meant to send a message to bystanders. The public performance of such bullying also differentiates it from sexual abuse, which occurs in secrecy. For most of the participants in the study, early experiences of coaching emotional abuse escalated into repeated occurrences with increased frequency and intensity. As Stirling and Kerr (2014) summarized:
A number of factors sustaining the emotionally abusive relations during this period of time were reported by the athletes, including the perceived necessity of the harmful coaching behaviors for athletic success, perceived benevolence of the coach, continued exposure to other athletes’ emotionally abusive experiences, a lack of intervention from third-party observers, and culturally accepted violence in the sport environment.
The majority of those interviewed reported emotional abuse by a number of coaches throughout their athletic careers. Yet, postretirement, several of the participants did not hold a grudge against their former coaches and felt that the coaches acted in the best interest of the athletes. As a former female artistic gymnast noted, “To them it was just their job” (as quoted in Stirling & Kerr, 2014, p. 126).
Seeking to understand bullying behavior from the perspective of coaches, Stirling (2013) interviewed nine Canadian coaches (seven male, two female), five of whom shared that they had been emotionally abusive to athletes in the past either verbally (e.g., using demeaning comments) or nonverbally (e.g., dragging a player of the court, throwing equipment). When asked about the reasoning for the potentially harmful behavior, the coaches referenced both expressive (“spur of the moment” frustration) and instrumental (“athletes need to be accountable”) reasons (p. 629). The participants further rationalized that these coaching practices were “normal,” as they tended to be accepted by peers and athletes alike. The coaches also noted that they had been exposed to similar strategies in the past by their own coaches and colleagues.
Another theme from the interviews was the self-perceived “benevolence of the coach” (Stirling, 2013, p. 629) as coaches described themselves as caring for athletes as performers and persons. Many saw themselves in the role of a parent or mentor. This sense of care for the athletes—particularly when focusing on performance—and the closeness of the relationship contributed to the intensity of potentially harmful coaching behaviors. At the time of the study, all participants said they no longer used the described coaching strategies. As reasons for the change, coaches referenced a range of motivations and experiences from self-reflection about athlete well-being and effective coaching; these included becoming more aware of the harm inflicted and becoming more mature. Two of the participants also mentioned formal and informal coaching education as impetus for the development in their coaching style. At a practical level, these findings underscored the need to guide coaches in ongoing critical self-reflection and continued professional development, including a focus on emotional control (expressive), positive coaching strategies (instrumental), and systematic mentoring (modeling) (Stirling, 2013).
A Framework for Understanding Bullying in Sport
The previous discussion of existing research demonstrates that bullying in sport is a serious and complex phenomenon. Common elements between accounts of athletes and coaches include the normalization of abusive behavior in sport as well as the role of modeling and social learning. Thus, both macrolevel societal influences and microlevel interactions contribute to the behavior. Therefore, understanding these dynamics requires a comprehensive theoretical framework.
The Social Ecological Framework
Applying Bronfenbrenner’s (1977) ecological theory of human development to bullying, a social ecological approach “focuses on understanding how individual characteristics of children interact with environmental contexts or systems to promote or prevent victimization and perpetration” (Espelage, 2014, pp. 257–258). In recent years, the framework has widely been used to examine bullying, ranging from school settings (e.g., Espelage, 2014; Swearer & Hymel, 2015; Thornberg, 2015) to cyberspace (Cross et al., 2015). Using a social ecological framework to study sport-related bullying has great promise for both researchers and practitioners (Stirling & Kerr, 2014).
The social ecological framework is based on five environmental systems and their interactions. Researchers applying this framework have considered a number of microsystems whose interaction is described as the mesosystem (Espelage, 2014). At the microlevel, systems like peers, family, community, and educational institutions directly influence an individual’s development and behavior. Individual sociodemographic characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity) are also part of the microsystem. In addition to the micro-and mesosystem, the framework includes three more layers. According to (Espelage, 2014), “the exosystem is the social context with which the child does not have direct contact, but which affects him or her indirectly through the microsystem” (p. 258). The macrosystem refers to the broader cultural environment surrounding an individual, including a culture’s ideological, value, and belief systems. Finally, the chronosystem “includes consistency or change (e.g., historical or life events) of the individual and the environment over the life course” (p. 258). Analyzing the dynamics within and between the micro-, meso-, exo-, macro-, and chronosystems is a hallmark of the social-ecological framework.
The Social Ecological Framework Applied to Bullying in Sport
Etrapolating the work of Espelage (2014) to sport structures and settings, an example of a mesosystem is the interaction between family and sport (e.g., parental involvement a child’s sports club) or the interaction between athletic administrators and coaches. An example of the exosystem is coaches’ perceptions of the club’s environment and professional development opportunities regarding bullying and violence in sport. Although athletes do not have direct contact with such training for coaches (microsystem), the coaches’ perception of them indirectly influences athletes (exosystem). As part of the macrosystem, athletes, coaches, and parents are influenced by broader cultural factors, including hegemonic ideologies about gender, sexuality, or race that tend to marginalize other power minorities in sport. Finally, changes over time in coaching personnel (e.g., hiring, firing, retirement) and team structure (e.g., players leaving or joining a team) are part of the chronosystem, as well as sociohistorical events like Title IX in the United States (see Espelage, 2014).
Based on their research on former athletes, Stirling and Kerr (2014) proposed “an ecological transactional model of vulnerability to emotional abuse in the coach–athlete relationship” (p. 128). This model differentiated between ontological development, microsystem, exosystem, and macrosystem. The first element focused on the ontological development of the coach (intrarelational). Here, factors included (1) “unrealistic performance expectations,” (2) “poor anger management skills,” and (3) an “athlete development philosophy congruent with the use of corporal punishment” (p. 129). The last-named factor referred to the notion that both athletes and coaches might regard such coaching philosophy as an accepted and expected part of being a “good” coach.
The microsystem of the coach–athlete relationship included interrelational factors such as “significant time spent together,” “authority of the coach,” and “athlete’s trust in coach” (Stirling & Kerr, 2014, p. 129). Receiving occasional praise also added to the perceived benevolence of the coach. Aspects of the exosytem provided a broader social context that made the coach–athlete relationship more vulnerable to emotional abuse. These included “separation from family and peers,” “successful reputation of the coach,” and “lack of reporting measures/consequences” (p. 129). Participants also noted that, often, parents relinquished control to the coaches and, at times, failed to intervene even when told about the coach’s actions. These failures to act on the part of significant others added to the perceived legitimacy of the abusive behaviors.
The macrosystem included broader cultural beliefs and values contributing to the maltreatment. They consisted of “culturally accepted violence and aggression,” “media messages condoning abusive coaching practices,” and “performance-based values” (p. 129).
Overconformity and Bullying
Overconformity to dominant norms of the sport ethic (Coakley, 2016; Hughes & Coakley, 1991) can be part of a macrosystem that contributes to bullying. According to Coakley (2016), these norms include (a) unwavering dedication to the sports, (b) striving for distinction, (c) accepting risks and pain, and (d) overcoming obstacles in the pursuit of goals. When athletes and coaches overconform to those norms, they might be more prone to condone or support hazing and bullying behaviors (Coakley, 2016). In the case of hazing, a number of studies (e.g., Waldron & Kowalski, 2009; Waldron, Lynn, & Krane, 2011) have revealed evidence of hazing in sport rooted in deviant overconformity to team norms and the sport ethic.
Hazing can be defined as “a secret, private, interpersonal process that reaffirms a hierarchical status difference between incoming and existing group members” (Coakley, 2016, p. 119) and that “humiliates, degrades, abuses, or endangers, regardless of a person’s willingness to participate” (Hoover, 1999, p. 8). In Waldron and Kowalski’s (2009) study, many athletes saw their participation in hazing as a means to preserve the cultural norms of sport (e.g., dedication to the team, accepting pain). Athletes who accept the norms of the sport ethic without critical thinking often do not classify hazing as deviant; instead, they see it as an expected part of team socialization. Some athletes in the study, however, began to exhibit ambiguous feelings toward hazing by questioning the effectiveness of the practice as a tool to build team cohesion (Waldron & Kowalski, 2009). However, although there are commonalities between hazing and bullying, there are important differences. For example, hazing typically stops once incoming individuals are initiated into the group, whereas bullying is an ongoing process. Further, although both processes are acts of power and reassert social hierarchy, hazing is aimed at eventually integrating individuals into a group while the purpose of bullying is to exclude targets from a group (Hernandez, 2015).
Examining overconformity to the sport ethic as part of the macrosystem of bullying has significant potential. For researchers, it opens new pathways to examining the behaviors of athletes, coaches, parents, and administrators. Addressing practitioners, Waldron and Kowalski (2009) concluded that “coaches, sport psychology consultants, and team leaders must create an environment where hazing behaviors are not acceptable and help athletes become empowered to speak out against hazing” (p. 300). The authors specifically suggested that sport psychology consultants could facilitate positive teambuilding activities and team discussions, reward players who take a stance against hazing, and help athletes develop identities beyond athletics. They could also employ similar strategies to help all stakeholders think critically about the sport ethic to ultimately combat bullying as well as hazing.
Homophobic Bullying in Sport
As part of the macrosystem of sport, homophobia also contributes to the maltreatment of straight and LGBT individuals (Anderson, 2010; Griffin, 1998). Brackenridge, Rivers, Gough, and Llewellyn (2007) were among the first to overtly link homophobic bullying to sexual violence and abuse in sport, even though homophobia research began in the 1990s (e.g., see Griffin, 1998). According to Brackenridge et al., sport is a major location for homophobic bullying. This type of sport bullying has severe personal and social consequences to those who experience it. Drawing upon Rivers’s (1997) paradigm, Brackenridge et al. (2007) set their discussion within a framework where sexual identities are viewed as “socially constructed, multiple and malleable, built upon the needs and understandings of the individual set with a cultural framework” (p. 122). Further, as they wrote: “Homophobic bullying is often found in environments where there is a failure to respond to attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours that denigrate or otherwise pathologise non-heterosexuals” (p. 123). Therefore, it is important to investigate homophobia as a social practice (Brackenridge et al., 2007).
While it is challenging to come up with a single definition of homophobic bullying, Brackenridge et al. (2007) use the UK children’s charity Kidscape’s (Kidscape.org.uk, 2004) definition as “any hostile or offensive action against lesbians, gay males or bisexuals or those perceived to be lesbian, gay, or bisexual” (p. 123). In addition, Brackenridge et al. suggest that three fundamental criteria must be met in order to determine what constitutes bullying (as well as victimization and harassment): (1) it has to be repeated; (2) it has to be deliberate; and (3) it has to be with the intention of harming its target (see p. 125). This can include joking about one’s sexual orientation, name-calling (e.g., queer, fag), caricaturing one’s social/sexual/physical features, psychological harassment, looking or staring, stealing one’s possessions, or using actual physical threats or violence (Brackenridge et al., 2007). It is also important to recognize that in order to understand the homophobic bully and his or her motivations, it is equally as important to understand “the cultural climate that is intolerant of sexual diversity” (p. 126).
In higher education, Gough (2002) has elaborated on the relationship between homophobic bullying and forms of hegemonic masculinity. In particular, Gough explored the discursive reproduction of homophobia and heterosexual masculinity. Of interest is whether this relationship holds true in the U.S. collegiate sport context. Oswalt and Vargas (2012) surveyed 289 Southern U.S. Division I collegiate coaches regarding their attitudes toward gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals (52.4% male, 47.6% female; in addition, 73.6% of the sample coached female athletes). As Oswalt and Vargas suggested, coaches are crucial to investigate at this elite level because they play a “pivotal role in the climate of the team by determining whether prejudice and discrimination will be promoted, tolerated, or prohibited” (p. 120). Coaches were surveyed about their attitudes towards GLB individuals and their levels of heterosexism via three online scales: the Attitudes towards Lesbians and Gay Men-Short (ATLG-S; Herek, 1988), the Heterosexism Scale (Park, 2001), and the Attitudes Regarding Bisexuality Scale (ARBS; Mohr & Rochlen, 1999), as well as six demographic questions. All three instruments contained a five-point Likert scale ranging from one (strongly disagree) to five (strongly agree); this means that coaches who held more negative attitudes toward GLB individuals and higher levels of heterosexism would most likely report lower scores. Results indicated that Division I coaches from the Southern United States had moderately positive attitudes toward GLB people and low levels of sexism; however, there was at least one homophobic coach who sent the researchers an e-mail stating: “I think being a homo is wrong. There is your survey” (p. 126). Of significance was the fact that gender of the coach and gender of the team coached significantly correlated with all of the scales with the exception of ARBS stability; that is, male coaches tended to report more negative behaviors and sexual prejudice toward GLB individuals than female coaches. In addition, mean scores for the ARBS-stability scale, which measures whether one thinks that bisexuality is a unique and stable sexual identity, were lower than the other scale findings. The authors concluded that this finding was not surprising, since many people think that bisexuality is an experimental or transition phase between being heterosexual and homosexual.
There were several limitations to Oswalt and Vargas’s study: they did not assess the coaches’ own sexual orientations; the survey instruments focused on general sexual orientation, and coaches were not asked to link these general survey items to their perceptions of the sexual orientations of their own players; and there was a low overall response rate (11.31%). These limitations are important to address in future research. However, in terms of practical applications, Oswalt and Vargas echoed and promoted Barber and Krane’s (2007) three reasons for why it is important to create a GLB-inclusive sporting environment: (1) it creates a climate where all are valued; (2) it creates an environment where youth sport participants can improve their health through physical activity; and (3) inclusive sport climates improve performance.
However, the dominant cultural climate of sport is both gender- and homo-negative (Brackenridge et al., 2007). As Brackenridge et al. (2007) noted, while there is a fair amount of sport homophobia research to date, it is “not directed specifically at homophobic bullying and its effects upon participation” (p. 132). The research that does exist points to the finding that homophobic bullying impacts males’ and females’ sport participation but in unique and distinctive ways (Brackenridge et al., 2007). More research needs to be conducted to determine how gender- and homo-negative attitudes, as well as homophobic bullying in sporting climates, impact individual performers.
What Can Sport Constituents Do to Develop and Implement Inclusive Sport Climates?
As a first step toward creating inclusive sporting climates, sport and performance organizations should develop and implement antibullying policies. There are six potential steps toward policy development and implementation: (1) defining bullying behaviors, (2) referring to existing “best-practice” bullying policies, (3) specifically outlining the reporting of bullying incidents, (4) outlining clearly investigation and disciplinary actions to be taken, (5) outlining specific assistance for bullying targets, and (6) including prevention and training procedures (Beaumont Children’s Hospital, 2016).
For example, organizational leaders can start by referring to other “best-practices” bullying policies and models. Kidscape.org.uk (2004) offers an online checklist for professionals who are attempting to write an antibullying policy for their group. The checklist includes the following items:
In addition, the Cyber Bullying Research Center (http://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response.pdf, 2016) provides specific suggestions and fact sheets on how educators can promote a positive school climate. The steps include promoting awareness of all forms of bullying; cultivating open lines of communication; learning all students’ names; developing stakeholder relationships; and setting up anonymous reporting (http://cyberbullying.org/developing-a-positive-school-climate-to-prevent-bullying-and-cyberbullying, 2016b). The Cyber Bullying Research Center also describes behaviors to watch for that might indicate that youths are being cyber bullied: (1) they stop using their devices; (2) they seem jumpy or nervous around devices; (3) they appear reluctant to go to school or to be outside; (4) their mood is one of frustration, depression, or anger after using social media; (5) they withdraw from activities; and (6) they avoid talking about what they are doing online. On the other hand, young people may be perpetrating cyberbullying if (1) they hide their devices or switch screens quickly; (2) they use devices 24/7; (3) they become upset when told they can’t use devices; (4) they avoid talking about what they are doing on their devices; and/or (5) they have multiple online accounts (http://cyberbullying.org/Cyberbullying-Identification-Prevention-Response.pdf, 2016a).
In the meantime, coaches as well as parents and players can recognize that they are role models for everyone with whom they come into contact in sport and performance settings. Coaches, parents, and players can also accept responsibility for creating a respectful and safe sport and performance environment, have a pre-season meeting to discuss antibullying policy, foster open and honest communication, accept critical feedback, not engage or allow bullying behavior themselves, create acceptable boundaries between themselves and others, and teach players to trust their instincts when things do not feel right. More advanced bullying prevention and training procedures can then take place (Beaumont Children’s Hospital, 2016; Sterling & Kerr, 2016; stompoutbullying.org, 2016).
Finally, it is important to recognize that when we are talking about player-to-player bullying, players may not often fit very neatly into the roles of “perpetrator/bully” and “target/victim.” In fact, as Swearer, Espelage, and Napolitano (2009) suggest:
it is commonplace for students to move along the roles of bully, victim, bully-victim, and bystander. We do not want to perpetuate the stereotype that some students should be labeled as ‘bullies’ and some as ‘victims’. We feel that this communicates that these behaviors are unchangeable and these terms oversimplify the complexity of the bullying dynamic. Therefore, we use the term bullying/victimization … and … bully/victim to talk about the students who both bully others and who are victimized themselves.
Swearer, Espelage, and Napolitano (2009) also use a four-square model by The Respect for All Project (Groundspark.org, 2016) to demonstrate how students move back and forth between bullying behavior, being an ally, being a target, and being a bystander. The good news is that because these roles are not fixed in personality traits, they can be learned and unlearned with appropriate training and education (see Table 2).
Table 2. What You Can Do: Selected Prevention and Intervention Measures
Source: Adapted from Beaumont Children’s Hospital (2016), and Fisher and Dzikus (2010).
Sport Psychology Consultants and Bullying
In terms of how sport psychology researchers and consultants can help decrease sport bullying, they can take a look at research conducted in the newly created field of cultural sport psychology (CSP; e.g., see Fisher, Roper, & Butryn, 2009; Ryba, Schinke, & Tenenbaum, 2010; Schinke & Hanrahan, 2009). Twelve general principles guide CSP researchers: (1) they are informed by theory; (2) they include an examination of power; (3) they focus on social justice; (4) they critically reflect on the identities of their participants; (5) they take sport seriously as a way to understand society; (6) they scrutinize issues of diversity and social difference; (7) they draw from a range of disciplines to explore how society works; (8) they understand that research is flexible and ever changing; (9) they are praxis-driven (e.g., they inextricably intertwine theory and practice); (10) they recognize that research is specific to particular locations and projects; (11) they never advocate for one person or one text as “the” canon; and (12) their work is always open to contestation (Wright, 2000). In North America, CSP scholars have explored who has power in certain sport contexts, how that power is negotiated and maintained, and what we can do to create social justice and change in particular performance contexts. In addition, CSP scholars have emphasized feminist, multicultural, queer, postmodern, and poststructuralist theoretical orientations in their work (Wright, 2000).
For example, emphasizing power and power dynamics, Fisher and Dzikus (2010) discussed the role of sport psychology consultants (SPCs) regarding bullying and hazing in sport teams; this article serves as an update of that chapter. In addition, Fisher, Butryn, and Roper (2003) have pointed out that SPCs should regard social identities such as class, ethnicity, gender, race, and sexuality “not as simple categories, but as relations of power, as spaces where individuals negotiate for greater agency within the existing power structure” (p. 396). Given the role of power in abusive relationships between athletes, coaches, and parents, understanding power dynamics is of vital importance for SPCs whose work places them in a unique position to both observe and prevent maltreatment. SPCs often work with athletes and coaches one on one and can closely see interactions between athletes, coaches, and parents. In terms of prevention and intervention of maltreatment, this places SPCs in a distinct position (Fasting, Brackenridge, & Walseth, 2007; Leahy, 2008; Stirling & Kerr, 2010). As Stirling and Kerr (2010) noted, given the development of trust and rapport, SPCs might become a first point of contact when athletes disclose experiences of abuse; Stirling and Kerr (2010) surveyed 75 SPCs and found that 46.7% believed they had been in a consulting situation with an athlete who had been emotionally abused by a coach or parent.
Fisher and Dzikus (2010) also stated that many national and international professional organizations have ethical codes that stress the responsibilities of all members to guard the welfare of athletes. The International Society of Sport Psychology, for example, charges its members to “develop means by which athletes are protected against psychological and moral damage” (para. 3). Depending on their training, many SPCs will not be qualified to provide abuse counseling. The ethics code of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (n.d.), for example, emphasizes that its members “recognize the boundaries of their professional competencies and the limitations of their expertise” (para. 8). It is, however, the responsibility of many, if not all, SPCs to know how to identify and report abuse and how to refer individuals to qualified professionals for further help (Stirling & Kerr, 2010). Further, SPCs can use their professional expertise in helping sports organizations develop ethical guidelines, policies, and practices; SPCs could also facilitate educational efforts regarding maltreatment in sports and performance settings, including bullying (Stirling & Kerr, 2010).
Fisher and Dzikus (2010), however, warned that SPCs can also become part of the problem when they fail to report bullying and turn into bystanders. Given existing power structures, whistleblowers might perceive risks to speaking out (e.g., loss of job), but the consequences for not acting can be even more devastating to victims. For example, in the context of sexual abuse, Leahy (2015) defined the bystander effect as “a situation in which the victim perceives that others know about or suspected the . . . abuse but did nothing about it” (p. 120). For sexually abused athletes, the bystander effect has been found to add to long-term trauma (Leahy, 2015). Related to bullying, bystander apathy also victimizes targets and supports bullying behavior in classrooms (Kärnä, Voeten, Poskiparta, & Salmivalli, 2010). Further, confirming social learning theory (Bandura, 1977), bystander behavior that is perceived to reinforce or defend bullying behavior has been shown to significantly influence the frequency of bullying (Salmivalli, Voeten, & Poskiparta, 2011).