The common perception of bullying veers towards physical aggression: boys pushing each other around, getting into physical fights that may even involve punching, a young kid pulling on a young girl’s braids. This is called physical bullying. But bullying takes many forms, most of them far less obvious than physical bullying. Here we will review five types of bullying that take place in schools.
Physical bullying is the easiest to detect as it occurs when a bully used physical actions to gain power or control over their victim. In schools, physical bullies often are bigger and stronger than their victims and they use this to exert power and gain benefits. For example, a bully may push a victim to the ground in order to get their lunch or they might hit or shake a victim to get an item that the victim is carrying, such as “cool” jacket or a “cool” pair of shoes. Historically, physical bullying has garnered more attention from school officials, but we now know that other, subtler forms of bullying exist and tend to have longer lasting and stronger psychological consequences during the victim’s development and into their adult life.
Relational Aggression or Social Bullying
A much more difficult type of bullying to detect, social bullying (also called relational aggression) is more often observed in teenagers, and is predominant in teenage girls. Succinctly, the social bully tries to hurt a peer or sabotage their social standing through tactics such as psychological manipulation, spreading rumors, breaking things said in confidence, playing mean or nasty jokes meant to embarrass or humiliate the victim or encourage their peers to ostracize and exclude their victim. A social bully tends to have a goal: to increase their own popularity or social standing by making sure that other peers know they have the power to control another person’s social standing.
Verbal bullying, while not as easy to detect as physical bullying, is less subtle than relational aggression. Nevertheless, verbal bullying usually happens when adults are not around, so detecting it can be hard. Verbal bullies may engage in name-calling, verbal abuse, teasing, insults, attacks toward a peer’s status as a minority (racial slurs, homophobic slurs, insults towards a teen’s emerging identity as part of a sexual minority, transphobic slurs, etc.)
One of the most insidious and harmful forms of bullying, sexual bullying happens when a bully continuously attacks their target with the intention of harming them sexually. Girls are more often the target of sexual bullying, which is perpetrated equally by other boys and other girls. Examples of sexual bullying include sexual name-calling, vulgar gestures or phrases, inappropriate touching, sexual propositioning, exposing the victim forcefully to pornographic material, crude and malicious comments about the victim’s body, or slut shaming.
Nowadays it’s important to take into account sexting as it can easily lead to sexual bullying. A common example is the use of a photo sent in privacy to a boyfriend or girlfriend, who after breaking up shows the photograph to peers or publishes it online. This results in the victim –regardless of biological sex– becoming a target of mass sexual bullying. Some students can even take this as in invitation to proposition or sexually assault the victim.
With the example given above we can start to see the expansion of cyberbullying and it’s incredible potential to harm others. Cyberbullying is defined as using the internet as a means to harass, embarrass o threaten the victim (sometimes to the point of death threats or direct cyber-threats to that person’s physical wellbeing). Cyberbullies often don’t have the courage to say things face to face and the anonymity made possible by the internet gives them the courage to engage in abusive and harmful tactics. Cyberbullying can be one of the most damaging forms of bullying because the victim cannot escape it, feeling threatened even in the safety of their own homes.