Effective, just and humane responses
to the causes and consequences of crime

Bullying: What it is and isn’t

Ask ten different people what they think bullying is, and you may get ten different answers, even though there may be some substantial agreement about what bullying looks like. A study conducted in Taiwan shows that perceived prevalence of bullying among the study participants was consistent, regardless of whether bullying was defined or not.

Everyone – teachers, parents, and children – knows what bullying looks like. Coming up with a precise definition can be difficult, but it is nonetheless important, because it shapes the actions taken to address it.

For instance, according to the American anti-bullying site stopbullying.gov, there are a number of types of aggressive behaviour that can be incorrectly associated with bullying, such as early childhood aggressive behaviour, harassment, and hazing.

So how does one come up with a definition of bullying?

Adopt an Existing Definition

Existing definitions are a good starting point for schools. An existing definition may even be adopted verbatim, as long as the original source is credited. For instance, a PDF on the Government of Alberta’s anti-bullying website has two definitions of bullying from a credited source: a detailed one meant for adults, and one laid out in simple language for children.

Customize Your Definition

You can also craft an agreed-upon definition within your school, based on existing definitions.

The John Howard Society of Alberta has a collection of documents in its educational module on the topic of bullying. One of them, “Bullying: Building a Definition“, should be useful in helping teachers and students to come to a better understanding of what bullying is, including defining it. It contains a guide for facilitating a discussion, helps students build a bullying definition, and further develops their understanding of bullying by analyzing case studies. There is also an activity involving finding examples of bullying in literature.

When everyone at the school understands what bullying is by agreeing on a definition, then the real work can begin towards reducing and perhaps even eliminating bullying altogether.