Bullying and Its Correlation with School Violence

Dr. George Froggé, Austin Peay State University

 

Abstract

This study examined bullying and its correlation with school violence.  Students at a mid-sized state university, in the southeast region of the United States, were surveyed to determine the different types of bullying they might have experienced:  face-to-face at school, by phone or text, and online through social media.  Consideration was given to the frequency of bullying type(s) and retaliatory incidents occurring because of a bullying offense.  The results indicated that face-to-face bullying at school was more prevalent than phone or text and social media bullying. Sixty-nine percent of the respondents reported knowing or witnessing a retaliatory incident due to a bullying offense.

Introduction

American schools are supposed to provide a warm, friendly, nurturing environment, so our children may learn and grow up to be responsible citizens.  Instead, some of our country’s schools have become scenes of death and destruction because of shooting incidents. School violence and safety has become an important educational issue and affects everyone in our country.  Prior research has pointed to the notion of bullying as a contributing factor for school violence (Burgess et al., 2006; Harter et al., 2003; Leary et al., 2003; Sandler & Alpert, 2000).

To assess the notion of bullying and its correlation with school violence, the researcher administered a survey to collect data from students taking courses at a mid-sized state university in Tennessee.  Referencing the survey, students were asked to self-report information on their own background; such as gender, current student classification, and their personal experiences with bullying.  Students also reported on the type of bullying, frequency, and if they knew the bully/offender. 

In this study, the researcher sought to determine which types of bullying were more prevalent: school locations, phone or text message, or social media.  Another factor examined the correlation between bullying and a retaliatory event due to the initial bullying incident. Furthermore, the significance of this study was to expand understanding in the existing literature about the impact of bullying and its correlation with school violence.

 

Literature Review

Bullying is not only a criminal justice issue, but also a sociological situation.  The definition of bullying varies, but one general agreement is that it is aggressive or threatening behavior enforced on another individual.  Olweus (1999) describes bullying as open and direct, aggressive behavior enforced on another person in the form of hitting, threatening, and even spreading lies or rumors about another.  In the past, a victim of bullying experienced this at or after school.  With today’s technology, bullies have various avenues to torture their victims.

One avenue is in the form of electronic cyberbullying.  Cyberbullies use electronics to threaten, harass, insult, demean, and intimidate a peer (Watts et al., 2017; Randa, 2013; Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007; Tokunaga, 2010).  This can be in the form of cell phones or social media outlets.  The availability of cell phone pictures have resulted in compromising pictures of non-suspecting individuals and spread from cell phone to cell phone and/or posted to social media outlets (Watts et al., 2017; Raskauskas & Stoltz, 2007).  Electronic bullying is never ending and the pictures or texts are on the internet forever. 

Prior research found that males reported more cyberbullying behaviors than females, but females were more frequently exposed to cyberbullying situations than males (Zalaquett & Chatters, 2014; Dilmac, 2009).  In comparison, MacDonald & Roberts-Pittman (2010) discovered bullying behaviors higher in males than females.  Male victims more often referred to bullying in the physical sense, where females more in verbal behaviors, like rumors or lies (MacDonald & Roberts-Pittman, 2010). Selkie Et al. (2015) noted that female victims of cyberbullying showed an emotional increase in depression and alcohol usage.   Another study examined the differences between empathy in relation to bullying and cyberbullying among gender and age.  Del Rey et al. (2016) discovered more empathy in females and older students; thus, lower bullying rates among those two groups.

Bullying and cyberbullying are not limited to K-12 students; prior research has examined cyberbullying among college students.  Some victims of cyberbullying in high school were more likely to become victims of the same violation in college (Selkie et al., 2015; Zalaquett & Chatters, 2014; Beran et al. 2012).  Francisco et al. (2015) examined education levels and noted that some respondents experienced and observed more cyberbullying in higher education than primary education.  Chapell et al. (2006) reported that some bullies who victimized their peers in elementary and high school, also continued that same pattern in college or a university.  Zalaquett & Chatters (2014) discovered cyberbullying among college students is an issue that affects a person’s psychological well-being and can cause some mental health issues with its victims.  This relentless form of teasing and humiliation has resulted in retaliatory incidents by bullying victims.  One well known case was witnessed in the Columbine shootings.

With the Columbine shootings, media reports acknowledged that the shooters had been taunted and humiliated by other students; thus, posing the questioning of whether bullying is a common factor for school shootings (Walker et al., 2011; Burgess et al., 2006; Harter et al., 2003; Leary et al., 2003; Sandler & Alpert, 2000).  Also, victims of bullying are more likely than their non-bullied peers to bring weapons to school (Jennings et al., 2011; Carney & Merrell, 2001).  Each victim’s psyche is different and unique, but sometimes they bring a gun for retaliation or for personal protection. After the Columbine shootings, a key phrase to describe the incident became a rampage shooting. These students have been alienated by their peers, and or humiliated.  Larkin (2009) describes this type of shooter as someone who has a grudge to settle with peers, teachers, or administrators with bullets and bombs. Muschert (2007) states that rampage shooters act to acquire power and exact revenge on those they see who wronged them in some way.  Education is a key to reducing bullying incidents and numerous bullying programs have been created to assist.

Due to the wide-spread bullying incidents in our schools, administrators and faculty have a responsibility to protect the victims.  Most bullying intervention programs have the same common premises: 1) increase the awareness of bullying, 2) solicit active involvement from administrators, teachers, and parents, 3) develop clear policies against bullying, and 4) provide support and protections for the victims (Crothers & Kolbert, 2008; Olweus, 1997; Smith & Ananiadou, 2003; Smith et al., 2004; Vreeman & Carroll, 2007). Some students do not have a strong family support system at home and do not realize their bullying behaviors are not socially acceptable; thus, the need for education and intervention programs.

One positive intervention program is the concept of school-peer mentoring. King et al. (2002) discovered mentored students were less likely to participate in bullying activities compared to non-mentored students.  The research also revealed mentored students had increased self-esteem levels and improved relationships with peers, faculty, and family members (King et al., 2002).  Without an intervention plan, bullying has an effect on a victim’s academic success and can lead to thoughts of suicide or self-mutilation, like cutting.  Students who are constantly bullied are more likely to experience physical and mental health problems; therefore, they are also more likely to contemplate suicide (Walker et al., 2011; Rigby, 2001).  It is imperative that our schools leaders acknowledge this type of behavior should not occur and adopt a proactive response to combat any bullying incident. 

 

Methods and Results

To determine the notion of bullying and its correlation with school violence, the researcher administered a survey to collect data from students taking courses at a mid-sized state university in Tennessee.  Referencing the survey (Appendix A), students were asked to self-report information on their own background, such as gender, current student classification, and their personal experience with bullying.  Students also reported on the type of bullying, frequency, and if they knew the bully/offender. 

Based on the review of literature, the researcher established several hypotheses prior to administering the surveys:

Hypothesis 1:  Males, in contrast to females, were bullied more often at school compared to phone/text or social media outlets.

Hypothesis 2:  Males, in contrast to females, were more likely to witness or know of a retaliatory incident due to a bullying event.

Hypothesis 3:  Bullying at school was more frequent compared to phone/text or social media outlets.  

The survey was administered to a convenience sample of six classes during the spring 2018 semester term.  The survey associated with this research study was developed for online distribution and each course surveyed was in the Criminal Justice Program, from a mid-sized state university, in the southeast region of the United States.  Four of the classes sampled were on-ground or face-to-face instruction, and the remaining two classes were online instruction.  The total enrollment for these classes was 217 students.  A total of 72 surveys (N=72) were collected; thus, creating a response rate of 33%.        

Some observations based on the descriptive statistics include (see Table 1):

  • The majority of the respondents said they were bullied more at school (60%), compared to phone or text (19%) and social media (19%).
  • Nineteen percent of those bullied at school reported it occurred 10 times or more.
  • Sixty-nine percent of the respondents witnessed or knew of a retaliatory incident, due to a bullying situation.

Table 1

 

Total Sample

(N = 72)

 

N

% OF TOTAL SAMPLE

GENDER

 

 

Male

35

49%

Female

36

50%

STUDENT CLASSIFICATION

 

 

Freshman

7

9%

Sophomore

17

24%

Junior

20

28%

Senior

28

39%

BULLIED AT SCHOOL

 

 

Yes

  43

60%

No

  29

40%

BULLIEDTHROUGH TEXT OR PHONE PICTURE

 

 

Yes

14

19%

No

58

81%

BULLIED OVER THE INTERNET

 

 

Yes

14

19%

No

58

81%

WITNESSED OR KNEW OF A RETALITORY INCIDENT

 

 

Yes

50

69%

No

22

31%

*Note: One respondent skipped the question of gender.

Hypothesis Tests

Hypothesis 1:  The researcher predicted that males, in contrast to females, were bullied more often at school compared to phone/text or social media outlets.  A chi-square test of independence was performed to examine the relationship between gender and bullying type (see Table 2).  The relationship between these variables was not statistically significant (p = 0.263671).   The results revealed males and females both were bullied more often at school than by phone/text or social media outlets.

Table 2

 

School

Phone

Online

Total

Male

21

3

7

31

Female

20

9

7

36

Total

41

12

14

67

     

p= 0.263671

 

Hypothesis 2:  The researcher predicted that males, in contrast to females, were more likely to witness or know of a retaliatory incident due to a bullying event.  The survey results yielded that 69 % of the respondents knew or witnessed some type of retaliation because of a bullying incident. A chi-square test of independence was performed to examine the relationship between gender and knowledge of a retaliatory incident (see Table 3).  The relationship between these variables was not statistically significant: (p = .854686), as males and females were equally likely to have witnessed or known about a retaliatory incident. 

 

Table 3

 

Retaliation

None

Total

Male

25

10

35

Female

25

11

36

Total

50

21

71

   

p= 0.854686

 

Hypothesis 3:  The researcher predicted that bullying at school was more frequent compared to phone/text or social media outlets.   A chi-square test of independence was performed to examine the relationship between bullying type and prevalence (see Table 4).  The prevalence of bullying was higher at school, but the relationship between bullying location and frequency of bullying was not statistically significant (p = 0.396196).  Although statistically insignificant, the respondents did report being bullied more frequently at school than by phone or text and social media.

 

Table 4

 

1-2

3 - 4

5 - 6

7 -9

10 or More

Total

School

3

14

9

3

14

43

Phone

3

2

6

1

2

14

Online

3

4

3

0

4

14

Total

9

20

18

4

20

71

         

p= 0.396196

 

Limitations

One limitation of this study was the sample size.  The students surveyed were selected via a convenience sample and administered in a limited number of classes.  The sample came from one department, within the university, and data were collected during one academic semester.  Another limitation pertained to the quantitative research design.  This design gave the researcher informative numerical data about bullying types and frequency, but lacked the depth a mixed-methods type research would reveal.  An additional limitation was related to the make-up of the sample.  Finally, the surveys were anonymous and none of the reported data could be verified.

 

Discussion 

In this study, no significant differences were found between bullying type, gender, and frequency.  However, it is notable that 69 % of the total survey respondents did know of or witness some type of retaliation due to a bullying incident.  McGee & Debernado (1999) noted this type of reaction is associated with rampage shootings, motivated by the offender’s revenge toward a specific group of people or place.  Also, 60% of the respondents reported being bullied at school; furthermore, 19% of those bullied said it happened 10 times or more.  Prior research supports this statement, because bullying incidents frequently take place in some type of school setting and have negative psychological effects on student academic success (Espelage & Swearer, 2010; Hong & Espelage, 2012; Peguero, 2012).

This study provided insight about bullying and retaliatory events. The results of the present study provide researchers with new information that can be incorporated into the existing knowledge about bullying and its correlation with school violence.  The research could offer pragmatic relevance for school administrators and faculty about the serious and sometimes fatal issues relating to bullying incidents.  Many schools are taking a more proactive response by implementing bullying programs and educating the students on this serious topic.  New school bullying policies are being adopted and harsher penalties are being implemented for bullying suspects.

 

Recommendations for Future Research

The main limitation of this study involved the sample size.  Future researchers interested in this topic could overcome the current study’s limitations by expanding the sample to a larger size and survey students taking a more diverse array of courses. The students sampled were selected via a convenience sample.  All students surveyed were taking courses in only one department at the university.  A more representative sample could have been attained by surveying students enrolled in different departments throughout the university.  The researcher also administered the survey during one academic semester.  Insight into these surveyed areas will help future researchers construct a more complete view of bullying and its correlation to school violence.

 

Conclusion

This study examined which types of bullying were more prevalent: school locations, phone or text message, or social media.  Another analysis focused on bullying and a retaliatory event due to the initial bullying incident. With the advance in technology, bullying has become more frequent and easier to occur.  The anonymous use of the internet gives the bully the power and intimidation factor, with limited fear of being caught.  This constant attack on its victims has led to isolation and sometimes suicide attempts or the actual completion.  Key factors for reducing bullying incidents are education and creating a culture that shows this type of behavior is socially unacceptable.

It is the school leader’s responsibility to ensure the safety of all students, faculty, and school staff.  Together, we need to watch for warning signs and express any concerns we might have, while keeping the lines of communication open. Students need to be included in the process and bring concerns to the guidance counselors and principals about bullying incidents or threats of violence made by any student.  These warning signs should not be ignored and should be reported as soon as possible.  There should also be training for the faculty, staff, and students about these situations and everyone should know where to go for reporting purposes.  School violence also affects everyone in the community. When cases of bullying spark school shooting incidents, it is not only the bullies and victims who are affected, but the school and their community (Elinoff et al., 2004).

 

References

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Burgess, A., Garbarino, C., & Carlson, M. (2006). Pathological teasing and bullying turned deadly:  Shooters and suicide.  Victims & Offenders, 1, 1-13.

Carney, A. G. & Merrell, K. W. (2001).  Bullying in schools: Perspectives on understanding and preventing an internal problem. School Psychology International, 22, 364-382.

Chappell, M. S., Hasselman, S. L., Kitchin, T., Lomon, S. N., MacLver, K. W., & Sarullo, P. L. (2006). Bullying in elementary school, high school, and university.  Adolescent, 41(164), 633-648.

Crothers, L. M. & Kolbert, J. B. (2008).  Tackling a problematic behavior management issue: Teacher’s intervention in childhood bullying problems.  Intervention in School & Clinic, 43(3), 132-139.

Del Ray, R., Lazuras, L., Casas, J. A., Barkoukis, V., Ortega-Ruiz, R., & Tsorbatzoudis, H. (2016). Does empathy predict (cyber) bullying perpetration, and how do age, gender, and nationality affect this relationship?  Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 275-281.

Dilmac, B. (2009). Psychological needs as a predictor of cyberbullying: A preliminary report on college students.  Educational Sciences: Theory and Practice, 9(3), 1307-1325.

Elinoff, M. J., Chafouleas, S. M., & Sassu, K. A. (2004). Bullying: Considerations for defining and intervening in school setting. Psychology in the Schools, 41(8), 887-897.

Espelage, D. L. & Swearer, S. M. (2010). Bullying in North American schools.  New York, NY: Routledge Press.

Francisco, S. M., Veiga-Simao, A. M., Ferreira, P. C., & Dores-Martins, M. J. (2015).  Cyberbullying: The hidden side of college students. Computers in Human Behavior, 43, 167-182.

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Appendix A:  Bullying Experiences Questionnaire

Background

  1. Select your gender:

Male ____                                   Female ____

  1. How would you describe your ethnic background?

Black or African American _______

White or Caucasian ______

Asian or Pacific Islander ______

Hispanic ______

American Indian or Native American _______

Other _______

  1. What state did you graduate from high school?

TN ____                            KY ______                         Other ______

  1. What is your current student classification?

Freshman ____ Sophomore ____ Junior ____ Senior ____ Graduate Student ____

Personal Experiences

For the questionnaire purposes, bullying is any form of teasing, physically hitting or fighting, threats, or starting malicious rumors about someone.

Have you ever been bullied?

Yes _____                             No ______

Bullying at school

During your school years, were you ever bullied at school?

Yes ____            No _____

Did you know the bully?

Yes _____              No ____

How many times did it occur?

0                 1-2              3-4            5-6           7-9         10 or more

Did you physically witness or know of a retaliatory incident at school or off school grounds due to a bullying situation?

Yes ____                         No______

Bullying by text or phone picture

During your school years, were you ever bullied through text or phone picture?

Yes ____            No _____

Did you know the bully?

Yes _____              No ____

How many times did it occur?

0                 1-2              3-4            5-6           7-9         10 or more

Bullying over the internet

During your school years, were you ever bullied over the internet?

Yes ____            No _____

Did you know the bully? 

Yes _____              No ____

How many times did it occur?

0                 1-2              3-4            5-6           7-9         10 or more

   

 

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