The last decade has witnessed a boom in the literature on bullying and victimization, as well as the impact of bystanders on continuing or disrupting the cycle of aggression (Camodeca & Goossens, 2005; Espelage & Swearer, 2003; Fraser et al., 2005).

As a result, the corresponding increase in media attention dedicated to the topic has caused concerned parties to pathologize single instances of standard aggression as bullying, thus applying the term too broadly.

In her New York Times Op-Ed on the topic, Emily Bazelon (2013) laments the unintended side effects of this heightened coverage. Rather than raising public awareness to educate school administrators and improve classroom climates nationwide, Bazelon claims, interpreting every aggressive act as bullying makes “the real but limited problem seem impossible to solve.”

When described as a verbally or physically aggressive “repeated behavior…that occurs over time” in a relationship based on “an imbalance of strength and power,” bullying covers a broad range of hostile actions (Espelage & Swearer, 2003, p. 366).

Can bullying be universally considered as consistent and targeted aggressive acts with the intent to harm another person? Certainly. Yet this single definition is far from useful in identifying all forms of bullying across the lifespan. Contextually-specific delineations of the term are necessary to build and carry out interventions that effectively combat bullying behavior.

If you are a parent or educator trying to accurately detect bullying, you can start by observing whether three common characteristics are present.

To be defined as bullying, a hostile behavior must be:

    • Repeated over time
    • Directed at a targeted individual or group
    • Involve an uneven distribution of power (Olweus, 1997)

Referring to these three hallmarks of bullying can help you hone your detection skills. When a child perceives or experiences aggression, it is vital to acknowledge his or her concerns in a responsive and constructive manner. Yet determining whether the act is ongoing or an isolated incident will allow you to best meet the needs of your child.

Do you have concerns about bullying or any other issues? At Georgetown Psychology Associates, we offer a broad range of services aimed to support you and your family.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment with a therapist or evaluator. We look forward to providing you with individualized and high-quality care.