Bullying is the use of intimidation, coercion, threats, or force to dominate others. Bullying behaviors are often habitual, creating a long-term problem for victims. There are several types of bullying, though there is not federal law specifically defining bullying behaviors. Some states do have anti-bullying laws. To explore this concept, consider the following bullying definition.

Definition of Bullying


  1. The act of forcing, coercing, intimidating, or threatening others for the purpose of dominating them.


1530-1540       Middle Dutch

What is Bullying

Bullying refers to a pattern of aggressive or unwanted behaviors engaged in to dominate others, or to gain a feeling of self-importance. Bullying is a problem that plagues every socio-economic group, boys and girls, men and women, employees, students, and others. Bullying includes such behaviors as making threats of physical or social harm, using coercion to abuse, excluding someone from a group, and attacking someone repeatedly, whether verbally or physically.

Bullies often engage in, and rationalize, damaging behavior for such perceived issues as differences in:

  • Social class
  • Appearance
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Gender or sexual orientation
  • Size or strength
  • Personality, behaviors, or body language

The aggressive, unwanted behaviors of a bully are different from normal conflict in that the aggressor’s motives lie in a perceived imbalance of power, and that the behaviors are repeated over time.

Types of Bullying

There are four primary types of bullying, some of which are more prevalent among children of various ages. While the following types of bullying are commonly associated with individual bullying, they are often used in collective bullying, known as “mobbing.” All types of bullying may include these circumstances:

  • Individual Bullying – bullying behaviors perpetrated by a single bully, against one or more individuals.
  • Collective Bullying – bullying perpetrated by more than one person, or by a group of people, against someone. This includes such behaviors as leaving someone out of group activities on purpose, embarrassing someone in public, and telling others not to be friends with someone.
  • Physical Bullying – behaviors that harm or injure someone’s body, or which damage someone’s possessions. These include hitting, shoving, tripping, fighting, stealing, spitting, and destroying or damaging property. In physical bullying, the bully uses his body to cause harm.
  • Verbal Bullying – bullying done by speaking, such as name-calling, threatening someone, spreading rumors, making inappropriate sexual comments, and taunting. In verbal bullying, the bully uses his voice to cause harm.
  • Relational Bullying – actions undertaken with the intent to harm someone’s social standing or reputation. Because of its prevalence among teens, relational bullying is often referred to as the “mean girl phenomenon.”
  • Cyberbullying – bullying perpetrated using a technological device or service. This includes the use of social networking sites, text messages, instant messaging, email, and cell phones. Cyberbullying has become a serious problem among school-age children, as it is a means of treating someone aggressively without the need to do it face-to-face.
  • Workplace Bullying – bullying behaviors against one or more individuals in the workplace.

Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying refers to a pattern of repeated hostile or bullying behaviors against an employee, or a group of employees. These actions are often intended to undermine, degrade, or intimidate the victim. Although bullying behaviors can be committed by anyone in the workplace, workplace bullying is often an abuse of power that creates feelings of powerlessness or vulnerability.

Workplace bullying includes such behaviors as physical, verbal, and psychological humiliation and abuse. Workplace bullies, often people in a position of authority, can be difficult to deal with, as they frequently engage in their behaviors while remaining technically within the employer’s established policies. Such persecution often affects more than the individual targeted by the actions, having the effect of lessening employee morale in general.

Example of Bullying in the Workplace

Mark and David worked in the same department of X company for three years before David was promoted to be a shift supervisor in their department. Soon after, David began making criticizing comments to Mark several times a day, most of which were simply degrading or belittling, rather than appropriate criticisms of Mark’s work performance. David’s hostile attitude soon spread to all of his interactions with Mark, and he always made his derogatory comments in the presence of others.

Finally, David realized that he had been purposely excluded from team lunch meetings, which David had rescheduled, but told Mark were cancelled. In this example of bullying, there was no threat or actual physical harm, but the constant verbal attacks, and negative comments on his employee record, made Mark hate coming to work. The stress gave Mark terrible headaches, made him nauseated, and raised his blood pressure.


The term “cyberbullying” refers to bullying behaviors accomplished by use of an electronic device, including cell phones, email, instant messaging, and social networking. Cyberbullying has become especially problematic in children and teens, as today’s electronic connectivity gives such bullies a platform from which to gain a large audience, and even additional participants in bullying. With immediate access to the judgements of others, it may be difficult to discern what is classified as bullying, and what is simply the negative opinion of another person.

Cyberbullying differs from a disagreement when it is intentional, recurring, and causes harm to the target (victim). The Cyberbullying Research Center (“CRC”) has defined the act in terms young people can understand, for the purposes of doing research:

“Cyberbullying is when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through e-mail or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like.”

Actions constituting cyberbullying often include making hurtful comments, spreading rumors, making inappropriate sexual or provocative comments, insulting the victim with racial slurs or comments about gender identity, and posting pictures or videos on social media, or circulating them by other electronic means. It is important to understand that one incident of any of these behaviors does not necessarily constitute cyberbullying. Rather, this type of bullying requires a pattern of repeated behaviors.

Example of Cyberbullying

Mary Kate is a 10th grade student at Central High. She maintains an A average in all of her classes, and tutors other students in French. Lisa doesn’t like Mary Kate for some reason, and says terrible things about her within her group of friends. One day Mary Kate drops an armful of books and, when she bent to pick them up, her skirt slid up revealing bright yellow panties. At least two nearby teens, including Lisa, are quick to snap photos of the incident.

By the end of the day those photos had been shared by text message and Twitter with nearly every student in school. Kids were giving Mary Kate stares, sneers, and even thumbs up. When she returned home, Mary Kate saw the photos on Facebook, and that there were nearly 1,000 comments on them. This incident launches an avalanche of bullying, with many other students, some of which attend other schools, making fun of Mary Kate every day. In this example of bullying, the repeated nature of making comments and posting photos defines the behavior of cyberbullying.

Consequences of Cyberbullying

The use of cell phones and social media make bullying someone easier, as the bully doesn’t even need to face his or her victim. In fact, cyberbullying can be done through an anonymous account, with a fictional name. This gives a further sense of power to someone engaged in an act that was designed to increase his or her sense of power and control in the first place.

Cyberbullying is not a victimless or inconsequential act, as kids who are bullied in such a manner are more likely than other kids to:

  • Be victimized by in-person bullying
  • Skip school, or be unwilling to attend school
  • Get bad grades
  • Have low self-esteem
  • Use alcohol and drugs
  • Have serious health problems

Because cyberbullying rapidly grows to include many people engaging in the act, rather than just the original bully, the effect on the victim is multiplied exponentially. These kids often suffer severe depression, and many eventually consider, or even go through with, committing suicide. The CRC offers information and resources on this very serious issue for parents, teens, and educators on their website.

Bullying Statistics

  • About 22% of students reports being bullied
  • 64% of children surveyed had been bullied, but not reported it
  • Students reported bullying based on looks (55%), body shape (37.5), and race (16%)
  • 90% of teens who have been cyberbullied reported having been bullied in person
  • 82% of LGBTQ students report being bullied based on their sexual orientation

Bullying Example Shows Need for Change

In 2006, Megan Meier was looking forward to her 14th birthday, planning a party with all of her friends. She had been communicating online with a boy named Josh, who flirted with her, talked her into showing her breasts, then turned on her, taunting her about her looks. Three weeks before her birthday, Megan committed suicide.

It was later discovered that Josh wasn’t even real, but a fictional character created by Megan’s former best friend’s mother, 49-year old Lori Drew. Having created a MySpace profile under the made-up boy’s name, Drew was the one who had flirted with 13-year old Megan. She said she was trying to discover what Megan was telling other kids about her daughter. Prosecutors claimed that Drew knew Megan was under a doctor’s care for depression, and that she struggled with self-esteem issues. This gave her the ammunition she needed to probe and humiliate the girl.

Drew’s daughter and one of her employees joined in, logging into the fake MySpace account to send jeering messages to Megan. Just before Megan hanged herself in her bedroom closet, “Josh” had told her in a MySpace message, “[people] think your nice cause you put on an act,” [sic] and “the world would be better off without you.”

Federal prosecutors charged Drew with several crimes, including conspiracy and “accessing protected computers without authorization,” which basically amounted to violation of MySpace terms of service. According to a business associate, Drew felt that she couldn’t be blamed for Megan’s death, because she was suicidal anyway. Drew’s attorney presented an ex-employee, Ashley Grills, who said she had been the one who sent the final ill-fated message.

Although prosecutors had recommended the maximum sentence, which was only three years in jail, and a fine of $300,000, the jury found Drew guilty of only three misdemeanors, which did not include imprisonment. The judge, however, overturned the jury’s verdict, issuing a “directed verdict,” saying that a conviction on violation of a website’s terms of service would set a dangerous precedent, one which would basically leave it up to website owners to decide what is a crime. In this bullying example, the directed acquittal meant that Lori Drew was cleared of all charges, and faced no penalty.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Directed Verdict – An order to the jury, from the presiding judge, to return a particular verdict.
  • Precedent – A legal decision or ruling that serves as an authoritative pattern for future similar cases.

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