What Is Bullying? Anti-Bullying Information For Parents

Bullying is a serious problem. However, apart from adopting an anti-bullying policy, you and your child can also turn to anti-bullying laws for help.

By Sushma Sosha Philip and Arun Sharma

What Is Bullying? Anti-Bullying Information For Parents

Almost all of us have probably experienced bullying, in some form or the other, at different times in our lives. And for most of us, trying to recall our first experience of bullying would take us back to childhood. Some of us may have been bullied in the park, some in the playground, some in the school and some while playing on the street outside our homes. For some, the bullying would have been so bad that they could still be carrying the scars of their trauma.

Yet, as parents, we fail to realise that our children could also be facing the same problem, or may experience bullying in the future. So, if your child is being bullied, or if you receive complaints that your child is bullying others, what would you do?

Civilised societies across the world are coming together to stop the menace of bullying. Anti-bullying legislations are being framed, adults and children are being sensitised on this issue and punishments are being meted out to perpetrators.

With the world adopting a zero-tolerance policy towards bullying, it is important for you to be aware of this issue and what you can do to protect/prevent your child from bullying.

What is bullying?

According to the official website of the United States government (stopbullying.gov), "Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time."

Most of us would agree with the above-mentioned definition of bullying. But is there something more to bullying as well.

Of course, there is. Bullying is intentional. It involves the intentional misuse of power to harm the victim through acts like hitting, making fun of, preventing from doing something, spreading rumours or embarrassing information, destroying peer relationships and so on.

Types of bullying

Bullying can happen anywhere — in schools and colleges, play-areas, malls, workplaces and also online. Depending on its nature, bullying can be categorised as:

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Social
  • Sexual
  • Prejudicial
  • Cyber

Let's try to understand these different types of bullying in a little more detail:

  • Physical bullying: This is the most common form of bullying. In physical bullying, the perpetrator, or the bully, uses physical strength to intimidate or hurt the victim. This type of bullying usually involves hitting, kicking, pushing, pinching, rude gestures, or stealing or damaging the victim's belongings.
  • Verbal bullying: This is another form of bullying which is quite common. In verbal bullying, the bully indulges in name calling, insulting, teasing, belittling and demeaning, body shaming, threatening, hurling racist or sexist insults, or verbal abuse.
  • Social bullying: This is also referred to as relational bullying. It is an indirect type of bullying. Social bullying involves ignoring or leaving the victim out of a group, embarrassing the victim in the public, spreading rumours to defame or destroy the victim's relationship with others, and telling others to not be friends with the victim.
  • Sexual bullying: This type of bullying involves passing vulgar sexual remarks, sexting, posting pornographic images or videos, inappropriate physical contact such as unwanted hugging, brushing, touching or pinching, forcing to be in a relationship, and pressuring to play games with sexual element such as taking clothes off or kissing.
  • Prejudicial bullying: When an individual is bullied because he is perceived as different from the others, it is called prejudicial bullying. An individual can face prejudicial bullying because of his race, religion, colour of skin, gender, disability or sexual orientation.
  • Cyberbullying: Using digital technology such as the computers, cell phones and the Internet to harass and threaten someone is called cyberbullying. It usually happens through texting, email and tweets, and posting images and videos. It is difficult to trace the individual indulging in cyberbullying without the use of technology.

Bullying in India and worldwide

Children studying in schools and colleges throughout the world report incidences of bullying. A UNESCO report titled, 'Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying' says that, "Almost one in three students (32%) has been bullied by their peers at school at least once in the last month… In Europe and North America, psychological bullying is the most common type of bullying. Cyberbullying affects as many as one in ten children." The report further states that, "Bullying prevalence has increased in almost one in five countries, and has remained unchanged in one in three countries."

Another study by Toseeb et al, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, says "…individuals with ASD were more likely to report being bullied by both siblings and peers in middle childhood."

In India too, there is a sizeable population of children who have been victims of bullying. Patel et al in their study, 'Bullying In Urban Schools', published in the journal of Indian Pediatrics say, "We found 29.7% students being victimized by bullying. Girls who are victims reported higher experience of emotional and sensitive forms of bullying whereas boys who are victims reported higher experience of physical and verbal means of bullying."

Bullying can affect everyone, irrespective of their age. Here are some of the headlines published in leading Indian newspapers and websites which tell us how harmful bullying can be:

  • Boy 'bullied' to death — The Telegraph — 7 May 2016 — In this case, a 14-year-old victim of bullying committed suicide by leaping from the 10th floor of the apartment he lived in.
  • MBBS Student Commits Suicide in Kerala, Facebook Post Hints at Cyber Bullying — India.com — 16 Nov 2017 — It is suspected that this 23-year-old ended his life due to cyberbullying.
  • The bullying that led this doctor to take her own life — BBC.com — 29 May 2019 — A 26-year-old medic was driven to commit suicide because of bullying by her colleagues.

Read also: Is Your Teen Being Bullied By His Teacher? 

What causes a child to become a bully?

Most children know the difference between good and bad behaviour, yet some of them turn into a bully. Let's look at some of the reasons that makes a child indulge in bullying:

  • Anonymity (facilitated through mediums such as the Internet)
  • Bystanders or onlookers who disapprove but do little to intervene when the child indulges in bullying
  • A high-pressure or stressful environment, which increases self-comparison, anger and jealousy
  • A culture which endorses bullying or approves such behaviour (for example, cultures where male domination of females is romanticised or ingrained)
  • Feeling of entitlement and being all powerful
  • Lacking the ability to empathise with others
  • Lacking the social skills to problem-solve and get along with others

How bullying affects a child

Bullying affects both the victim and the perpetrator. The study by Wolke and Lereya, 'Long-term effects of bullying', published in the journal, Archives of Disease in Childhood (2015), found that victims of bullying are more likely to:

  • Suffer from health issues such as colds, headaches, stomach aches and sleeping issues
  • Take up smoking
  • Internalise problems
  • Suffer from anxiety disorder or depression
  • Experience hallucinations or delusions
  • Indulge in self-harm or think about suicide
  • Show poor academic performance

The same study also outlined how being a bully affects a child. The study found that bullies were more likely to:

  • Indulge in aggression, impulsivity, violence and criminal activities
  • Use illicit drugs, tobacco and alcohol
  • Show poor academic performance
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Be unemployed or have difficulty keeping a job in the future
  • Be abusive towards their spouses, friends and children

How to prevent bullying

It can be difficult for any parent to accept the fact that their child is being bullied or is the bully. However, once parents come to know about the problem, they should take steps to prevent the situation from worsening.

If your child tells you that she is being bullied at school, reassure her that you will come up with a solution to her problem. You can teach her how to cope with the problem and discuss the situation with your child's schoolteacher or principal.

Also read: Bullying Prevention Tips For Principals, Teachers And Parents

However, if you find that it is your child who is the bully, then try to understand why she is indulging in such behaviour. Some of the questions you should ponder over are — Is my child unaware of how her behaviour affects others? Does she think that it is 'cool' to be overbearing? Is she doing it to avoid being bullied herself?

Also read: My Child Is A Bully: What Should I Do? 

Antibullying laws in India

The increasing incidences of bullying have prompted governments worldwide to come up with legislations to tackle the menace. In India, the Hon’ble Supreme Court constituted a committee under Dr R K Raghavan to come up with recommendations to control ragging and bullying in schools and colleges. The Raghavan Committee Report was released in 2007. It is interesting to know that this report categorised ragging as an abuse of human rights. Following this report, various laws and regulations were framed to curb this menace.

1. Bullying in school

1.1 Anti-bullying committees: The Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) ordered the setting up of Anti-bullying Committees in 2015, by issuing guidelines for prevention of bullying and ragging in schools. Various methods to deal with this menace have been suggested, including warnings, suspension and, in extreme cases, rustication/expulsion of bullies. This circular suggests that anti-bullying committees be set up in schools.

1.2 Counsellors: The circular suggests that counsellors be engaged in schools where students have complained of bullying. If you receive complaints about your child being bullied or hear about instances of bullying in his school, you can propose that the school engage a trained counsellor to deal with the issues.

1.3 PTA meetings: It is important to note that the circular recognises the importance of family background and the influence of parents in cases of bullying. If your child has complained of bullying in school or you have received complaints about your child indulging in bullying, it is important that you speak to the teachers and parents of other children as a first step. This may make all the difference in your child’s school life and future.

2. Ragging in college

2.1 UGC circular: An anti-ragging notification was issued by the UGC in 2009 to address the brutal ragging faced by college students. The notification exhaustively defines ragging and calls for setting up Anti-ragging squads and engaging trained counsellors among other measures. Since this notification, ragging in colleges is better regulated; however, it is yet to come to an end.

2.2 Relevant sections of the IPC: Most college students engaged in ragging juniors are over the age of 18. This means they are considered adults by the law, capable of committing criminal acts. Hence, they can be booked under various sections of the Indian Penal Code, depending on the result of their bullying. Some of the sections they may be found guilty under are Ss. 506 (Punishment for criminal intimidation), Ss. 323 – 326 (causing hurt and grievous hurt and the punishments for the same) and so on. In cases resulting in the death of the victim of bullying or ragging, the sections of the IPC dealing with culpable homicide (S. 304) and abetment of suicide (S. 306) may apply.

3. Laws against cyberbullying

Technological advancements, though beneficial for the most part, have also increased the reach of bullies to a great extent. Earlier, children escaped from the clutches of bullies once the school day was over; however, nowadays, bullying continues on social networking sites. This means that there is no respite for many children. The following laws are directed against cyberbullies:

3.1 Cyberbullying among school children: The CBSE circular also recognises cyberbullying as a form of bullying in schools and the methods mentioned in the circular to curb bullying also apply to cyberbullying.

3.2 IPC: S. 506 and S. 507 of the IPC which deal with criminal intimidation may be applicable to cyberbullies, depending on whether the bully is acting anonymously or not. S. 499 of the IPC which defines defamation may also be used if the cyberbully threatens to publish false information about the victim that may affect his/her reputation. An amendment to the IPC has included stalking, sexual harassment and harassment in general through electronic means in Ss. 354 A and D of the IPC. This may also apply to cyberbullies.

3.3 IT Act: S. 66 E of the IT Act dealing with punishing violation of privacy may be applied to cases of cyberbullying where the bully threatens to publish private communication or pictures sent to him by the victim.

3.4 The ReThink App: This is an app developed by an American-Indian teenager in an effort to curb cyberbullying. In many cases, children or adolescents unthinkingly send out hurtful and bullying messages to their peers. This app recognises certain word patterns and prompts the user to rethink sending out the message. Its introduction has shown a drop in the number of cyberbullying cases. It may be a good idea to install this app in your children’s electronic devices so that they are prompted to watch their words.

While instances of bullying and ragging-related casualties continue to take place, it is important for you, as parents, to keep in mind these laws and regulations that come to your aid in case your child faces bullying or ragging in school or college. It is also recommended that you observe your child to see if she is showing any signs of either being a victim of bullying or a tendency to bully. If you notice in time, you can take appropriate action without having to resort to a legal recourse.

About the expert:

Written by Sushma Sosha Philip, LLM on 25 January 2018; updated on 19 September 2019 

Ms Philip is a lawyer with experience in corporate law and IPR. Having obtained her Advanced LLM degree in International Civil and Commercial Law from the University of Leiden, she is a junior associate with a leading law firm in India.

About the author:

Co-authored by Arun Sharma

The author was associated with the healthcare industry before becoming a full-time writer and editor. A doting father to two preteens, he believes in experiential learning for his children. Also, he loves mountain trekking and nature trips.

Disclaimer: The article contains only general information about the laws. No part of this article constitutes legal advice of any sort and it cannot be relied on for any legal purpose.

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