Bullying still too narrowly defined by some teachers

A minority of teachers may still have an overly-narrow conception of what constitutes bullying, according to Paul Naylor and colleagues. They asked 225 teachers and 1,820 pupils (aged between 11 and 14) from 51 schools to write down what ‘they think bullying is’. Despite the fact the participating schools all had high-profile anti-bullying policies, 33 per cent of pupils and 10 per cent of teachers restricted their definition to direct physical or verbal abuse, failing to mention issues surrounding social exclusion, power imbalance, the bully’s intention to cause hurt, or whether the bullying was repetitive.

“The finding that even in the schools involved in this study where anti-bullying policies and practices are so high profile there are still many teachers who are working with very limited conceptions of bullying is cause for concern” the researchers said. “It may be that researchers have so far not been very successful in communicating their ideas about bullying to teachers”.

Girl pupils were twice as likely as boys to mention social exclusion in their definitions of bullying. Older pupils too tended to have a more sophisticated conceptualisation of what bullying is. Overall though, the pupils tended to give narrower definitions of bullying than teachers, and they were particularly less likely to mention the effect of bullying on the victim, all of which led the researchers to conclude that many children may not realise they are being bullied. “Adults who work with child targets of bullying should listen not only to the child’s allegations of the bully’s behaviour, but also to the effects that it has on him or her” the researchers said.

Naylor, P., Cowie, H., Cossin, F., de Bettencourt, R. & Lemme, F. (2006). Teachers’ and pupils’ definitions of bullying. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 553-576.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.

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