This information about bullying, prevent bullying and responding to bullying has been sourced
from the Bullying. No Way! site for Australian schools. For more detailed information visit
What is bullying?
Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal,
physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm.
It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.
Bullying has three main features:
- It involves a misuse of power in a relationship
- It is ongoing and repeated, and
- It involves behaviours that can cause harm.
Bullying occurs within interpersonal relationships, usually within a peer group.
Like all relationships, these can be complex and variable.
Within a group, individual students may take on different roles in bullying on different days,
in different circumstances or with different peers.
The roles within bullying are:
- as the person being bullied
- as the person bullying someone else
- as a person who witnesses bullying happening or knows about someone being bullied.
What forms can bullying take?
Bullying can happen in person or online, via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Bullying behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (for example, through sharing of digital records).
Bullying can include:
- Physical – hitting, tripping, damaging property
- Verbal – insults, teasing, intimidation
- Social – lying, spreading rumours, excluding, damaging someone’s social reputation
- Cyber – hurtful texts, posts, images or videos, imitating others online
Who is most at risk of being bullied?
Currently, 1 in 4 Australian students experience bullying at some time. Students who are at risk or more likely
to be bullied are also more likely to:
- feel disconnected from school and not like school
- lack quality friendships at school
- display high levels of emotionality that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience
- be less well accepted by peers, avoid conflict and be socially withdrawn
- have low self-esteem
- be relatively non-assertive
- be considered to be different in some way
What effects can bullying have?
Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. Effects can be physical, psychological, emotional and social.
What role can bystanders play in preventing bullying?
Most of the time bullying takes place with students (and others) present. People who witness bullying are called bystanders.
Bystanders can play a number of roles:
- assisting the students who are bullying and actively join in
- encouraging or showing approval to the students who are bullying
- doing nothing or being passive
- defending or supporting the student who is being bullied by intervening, getting teacher assistance or comforting them
It has been shown that the actions of a supportive bystander can stop an incident or help a student to recover from it. When bystanders defend or support a student who is being bullied, often the bullying stops quickly.
Bystanders who are passive (take no action) or behave in ways that give silent approval (watching, nodding, walking away) encourage the behaviour to continue.
What are some ways for school staff to assist students who are experiencing bullying?
If a student reports bullying:
- reassure them that you will try to help them
- avoid minimising the issue, or saying dismissive things that imply the issue is not important
- find a suitable place to talk, or make a time to discuss the problem privately
- ensure that your voice is calm and your body language is open as you listen
- listen without interrupting, using only encouraging questions or sounds to show you are listening
- only after you have heard their whole story should you ask specific questions if you need more details
If they haven’t already told you, ask the student when, how and where the bullying happens, including:
- what words have been said or written
- has anyone been physically hurt and how
- who is usually around
- who else have they told about this
- if it is happening online ask if there is any evidence of what has happened
- ask questions to help you distinguish between single incidents of conflict and an ongoing pattern of bullying
- write down the information, or ask an older student to write down the details themselves and
give it to you
- reassure the student it’s never okay to be bullied
- reassure the student it is not their fault that the other person is behaving in such a way
- praise the student for speaking out, acknowledging that talking about it takes lots of courage
- ask the student what they want you to do and whether they want you to do anything at this stage
- if they want your assistance to stop the bullying, tell them you will now start your school’s procedures
to investigate and respond to their report
- reassure them that the school takes this seriously and that you will get back to them as soon you can
- ask the student if they feel safe in the short term in case you need to take preventative safety measures.
How can schools respond to bullying?
Schools need to respond to bullying whether or not the individual shows serious or immediate harm.
Responding immediately and appropriately can stop bullying escalating or happening again.
The first response from a teacher or trusted adult at school can make a difference to the outcome for a student who is experiencing bullying. School staff need to respond supportively in a timely manner following school policy and behavior support procedures when responding to bullying. The school should have a whole-school focus on building positive relationships, fostering respect for diversity and reducing bullying in the school community through a range of activities that engage students, staff and families.