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Bullying - What influences bullying?


  1. What is bullying?
  2. How common is bullying?
  3. Where does bullying occur?
  4. What influences bullying?

What influences bullying?

Not all students bully or are bullied in the same way. Consider the following information about how race/ethnicity, gender/sexual identity, and gender seem to influence bullying among young people.

How Does Bullying Differ Among Students?

Race and/or Ethnicity

There is very little information about racial/ethnic differences in bullying and victimization among young people. According to the NICHD survey, Hispanic youth reported bullying others only marginally more than white or black youth; however, black youth reported being bullied significantly more than white or Hispanic youth. In contrast, Graham and Juvonen (2002) found that African American students were more likely to be nominated as aggressive than Latino and multi-ethnic urban middle school students. In another study by Moran and colleagues (1993), Asian and white students aged 9 to 15 did not differ with respect to the frequency of bullying others or being bullied. However, the content of the bullying experience was different in that 50 percent of the bullied Asian children were called names because of their skin color while none of the white children experienced this form of bullying.

"Collectively, the relation between race/ethnicity and bullying is complex and is potentially influenced by the racial/ethnic composition of the classroom, school, or community (Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2001) (p. 372)." - Espelage and Swearer (2003)

Gender and/or Sexual Identity

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth are at particular risk for all forms of bullying. In 2001, the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network conducted the National School Climate Survey ? the only national survey to document the experiences of LGBT youth in U.S. high schools. A total of 904 LGBT youth from 48 states and the District of Columbia completed the survey. The vast majority of respondents (84.3%) reported that they frequently or often hear homophobic remarks (e.g., words such as " faggot," " dyke," or " queer" ). Many further reported experiencing some form of harassment or violence, which broke down in the following manner:

  • 83.2% reported being verbally harassed (e.g., name calling, threats) because of their sexual orientation
  • 65.4% reported being sexually harassed (e.g., being the target of suggestive comments, being touched inappropriately)
  • 74.2% of lesbian and bisexual young women reported being sexually harassed
  • 73.7% of transgender students reported being sexually harassed
  • 48.3% of LGBT students of color reported being verbally harassed because of both their sexual orientation and their race/ethnicity
  • 41.9% reported being physically harassed (e.g., shoved or pushed) because of their sexual orientation
  • 21.1% reported being physically assaulted (e.g., punched, kicked, injured with a weapon) because of their sexual orientation


Studies frequently reveal that boys bully and are bullied more often than girls. For example, according to the NICHD survey, 26 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls were moderate to frequent bullies. A similar pattern emerged with respect to victimization, with 21 percent of boys and 14 percent of girls reporting that they were moderate to frequent victims of bullies. These findings, however, may be due - at least in part - to the manner in which bullying is defined and/or identified by researchers. Bullying by girls tends to be more subtle and, as a result, more difficult to detect than bullying by boys. According to Olweus, boys are three to four times more likely than girls to use physical aggression when bullying others.

"Historically, many studies on aggression have excluded girls from the sample (Crick & Rose, 2001) and have defined aggression as overtly physical or verbal, but have failed to consider more subtle, covert forms." - Espelage and Swearer (2003)

While male bullies certainly use other tactics as well (e.g., verbal bullying, telling lies, and spreading rumors), the tendency toward physical aggression is a critical difference between boys and girls. Female bullies tend to engage in verbal bullying, such as direct teasing and indirect rumor-spreading, as well as social ostracism/isolation - but they rarely use physical tactics. Perhaps boys more than girls are able to label - and thus report - their experiences as bullying because of the direct and physical nature of the bullying incidents in which they are involved (both as bullies and as victims).

A Final Note About These Categories

Tensions related to race/ethnicity, gender, and gender/sexual identity among students often lead to a wide range of behaviors that can be classified as bullying. For example, in the 9th Biennial California Student Survey, conducted with 8,238 students in grades 7, 9, and 11, nearly one-fourth of the students reported having been bullied or harassed at school at least once because of their race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or disability status. Race/ethnicity was the most frequently cited reason for being victimized (14%).

Bullying is a highly sensitive issue to address in the school setting. It becomes even more challenging as you come to realize that it is connected to other sensitive issues associated with race/ethnicity, gender, and gender/sexual identity. In order to truly understand and address the problem of bullying among students, school personnel need to appreciate the interconnectedness of these important issues. For example, many state and federal laws prohibit discrimination and harassment based on these and other identity characteristics. When a bully targets a victim specifically because of race/ethnicity, gender, or gender/sexual identity, the assault may actually be considered a hate crime. Sidebar: Children with ADHD, ODD, and other behavioral disorders are particularly vulnerable to low self-esteem. They frequently experience school problems, have difficulty making friends, and lag behind their peers in psychosocial development. They are more likely than other children to bully and to be bullied. Parents of children with behavior problems experience highly elevated levels of child-rearing stress, and this may make it more difficult for them to respond to their children in positive, consistent, and supportive ways.

Source: Adapted from Exploring the Nature and Prevention of Bullying

Page last modified by Department of Education on January 25, 2010

Page last modified or reviewed by athealth on January 31, 2014

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