Deidra Alexander Sorrell, Ed.D.


The purpose of this research was to examine the lived experiences of elementary school educators facing workplace bullying within the public school system settings. This qualitative inquiry used the hermeneutic phenomenological design. Constructivism served as the theoretical framework for this study because it allowed the participants and the researcher to collaboratively construct reality through the interpretation of data (Eichelberger, 1989). The advocacy/participatory worldview supported the researcher’s efforts to provide a voice to marginalized and disempowered individuals (Patton, 2002). The researcher interviewed six elementary school educators and three major themes emerged from the data. The themes included: (a) experiences with workplace bullying, (b) coping, and (c) environmental factors contributing to workplace bullying. All of the participants were female and over forty-years-old.  All of the participants experienced bullying after taking medical leave due to preexisting health issues, which caused more stress and anxiety. As a coping mechanism, all of the participants found the teachers union ineffective in solving their disputes. Lastly, the participants felt that nepotism and favoritism served as environmental factors contributing to the workplace bullying. This findings in this research presented recommendations for the counseling profession. The first recommendation is for counselors to improve their empathy toward victims of workplace bullying so clients feel validated in therapy. In addition, it is recommended that counselors receive training on the prevalence, symptomatology and procedures to help victims of workplace bullying. 


Workplace bullying is repeated verbal abuse, psychological abuse, or both within an organizational environment. This mistreatment is typically coworker to coworker, supervisor to subordinate, or group to individual (Cranshaw, 2009). This type of bullying is an interpersonal hostility that is deliberate, repeated, and severe enough to cause harm to the targeted person’s health or economic status (Namie & Namie, 2009).  Further, “workplace bullying is driven by the perpetrator’s need to control another individual, often undermining legitimate business interests in the process” (Namie & Namie, 2009, p. 1). Approximately 37 million or 27% of adult Americans reported direct experience with bullying or abusive behaviors at work. Those affected by workplace bullying (e.g. direct bullying and witnessing bullying), increases the number to 65.6 million, which is the equivalent of the combined population of 15 states (WBI, 2014). Because workplace bullying is legal, many targets of this abuse reluctantly resign, transfer offices, or end up being terminated (Namie & Namie, 2009). The actions just mentioned leave the problem of bullying unaddressed within the workplace (Namie & Namie, 2009).  

Problem Statement

Bullying in the workplace is considered “A severe and pervasive problem with devastating effects, both personally and professionally” (Carbo & Hughes, 2010, p. 387). With one in ten professionals suffering from workplace bullying (Onorato, 2013), workplace bullying is a serious modern problem that is often undetected and ignored in many organizations (Einarsen, 1999; LaVan & Martin, 2008). Workplace bullying research pioneer Heinz Leymann stated that negative behaviors are common and part of everyday life, but in workplace bullying, the behaviors are repeated and done deliberately to harm (Leymann, 1990). Mobbing, often used synonymously with workplace bullying, has a similar definition to workplace bullying, but involves the group/organization abuse of an individual or a group of individuals (Cranshaw, 2009). Leymann (1996) used the term workplace bullying and mobbing interchangeably, stating that mobbing is the European translation of workplace bullying. The terms “psychological harassment” or” terror” is also used in place of workplace bullying to differentiate it from childhood bullying. 

Workplace bullying has to be displayed in a systematic manner (Ocel & Aydin, 2012). Even though Leymann (1996) originally defined workplace bullying as taking place over a long period of time (e.g. 6 months), Ocel and Aydin (2012) specified that the bullying can take place over a period of time with no specific number of weeks or months. Einarsen et al., (2011) stated that workplace bullying must be intentional, which is different from an uncivil coworker who is merely arrogant, obnoxious, or unintentionally offensive. Vanderkerkhove and Commers (2013) added that workplace bullying must involve a power imbalance that is typically seen in downward mobbing. Downward mobbing, which is the most prevalent form of workplace bullying and an abuse of power, involves the bully as the supervisor/manager and the target as the subordinate.  Gök (2011) added that other forms of mobbing include upward mobbing, where employees harass, create obstacles, or undermine the efforts of a supervisor. Horizontal mobbing is typically colleague-to-colleague but involves a power imbalance between the two equal employees. The target of workplace bullying must view the behaviors as oppressive, unfair, and/or undermining for the behaviors to be considered workplace bullying (Ocel & Aydin, 2012). Lastly, Salin (2003) added that the behaviors of workplace bullying must create a hostile work environment.

Workplace bullying is considered a global phenomenon with more prevalence in the United States (Martin & LaVan, 2010). One reason this phenomenon is more prevalent in the United States workforce is the U.S.’s individualistic culture (Lutgen-Sandvik, Tracy, & Alberts, 2007). Research on culture and management conducted by Hofstede (1993) concluded that the United States’ culture prides the dimensions of power, individualism, masculinity, uncertainty avoidance, and long term versus short-term orientation in the workforce. With the dimension of power, there is a given inequality among people in the workforce. Individualism emphasizes that people work as individuals as opposed to groups. Within a masculine culture, qualities like assertiveness, power, and competition are valued. A workforce with uncertainty avoidance prefers structured over unstructured situations. Employees who emphasize long term versus short-term orientations tend to delay gratification in hopes of a larger reward in the future. European countries, especially Scandinavian countries, have cultures based on feminine characteristics (Lutgen-Sandvik et al., 2007). Asian and African cultures tend to have cultures that are more masculine, but grounded in tradition and social collectiveness instead of individualism (Hofstede, 1993).  Differences in cultures may explain some of the global disparities in the prevalence of workplace bullying.

Coupled with the American values of individualism, assertiveness, masculinity, and achievement, workplace bullying seems to thrive in the current state of downsizing, increased competition, and macho management (Martin & LaVan, 2010; McAvoy & Murtagh, 2003). Macho management is tough leadership that creates a toxic workplace (Rayner, Höel, & Cooper, 2002). However, macho management becomes workplace bullying when the agenda is to torment and harm the employee as opposed to merely promoting superior organizational performance (Onorato, 2013). Baillien and De Witte (2009) found that organizational change, role conflict, and job insecurity also fuel workplace bullying. Role conflict is characteristic of employees gaining contradictory messages regarding the scope and expectations of an individual’s role at work (Einarsen et al., 2011).  Organizational change can also create increased competition among employees based on fears of downsizing (Baillien & De Witte, 2009). Both role conflict and organizational change can cause job insecurity.

Background of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying is not a new phenomenon because throughout history people have had power over one another (Murphy, 2013). Bachrach and Baratz (1962) first explored the concept of power, authority, and influence within work organizations. Brodsky (1976) recognized that, aside from sexual harassment, a certain type of work harassment could repeatedly torment, wear down, intimidate, and frustrate a person. German Psychiatrist Heinz Leymann assigned the term workplace mobbing to psychological terrorization in the workplace in the 1980s (Leymann, 1990; Leymann, 1996). Leymann’s research acknowledged that psychological abuse in the workplace was an old concept that was never systematically described. In Leymann’s research, the psychological harassment at work typically starts with an initial critical incident (e.g. envy over wages) and progresses to stigmatization where the bully feels justified in punishing the other person (Leymann, 1990).  After the harassment takes place, the situation is typically reported to management where the investigator may be prejudiced against the victim. What Leymann found was that even though the victim is harassed (e.g. lied about), the manager may believe the lies and perpetuate the bullying by expelling (e.g. transferring, firing, or recommending resignation) the victim. 

Even though Leymann’s research provided insight into the details of abuse in the workplace, the topic of mobbing was not a priority in the United States (Bjorkqvist et al, 1994). In the United States, there was more interest in preventing sexual harassment than general work harassment. As a result, work harassment remained a typically European effort. However, in 1992, the European term workplace mobbing was later linked with the term workplace bullying by the American journalist Andrea Adams (Namie, 2003). In addition, social psychologists Gary and Ruth Namie introduced the term workplace bullying to the United States and advocated for the rights of American workers by establishing the Workplace Bullying & Trauma Institute in 2003.

A dysfunctional organizational structure is the perfect environment for workplace bullying (Einarsen et al., 2011). A dysfunctional organizational culture thrives on ineffective leadership, poor communication, little recognition of achievement, heavy workloads, and lack of manager support (Vanderkerkhove & Commers, 2003). Leymann (1996) added that examples of poorly organized institutions that report the most workplace bullying are hospitals, religious organizations, and schools. However, bullying can be anywhere and with anyone. Ortega, Hogh, Pejtersen, and Olsen (2009, found that unskilled workers had a higher prevalence of being bullied in the workplace than managers or supervisors. People who worked with things (e.g. manufacturing) in male dominated job environments, and people who worked with clients or patients in female dominated job environments, reported more workplace bullying than individuals working with customers did. Salin (2003) added that the increasing casualness and informality of the workplace are reasons for increasing workplace bullying. When organizations move away from what is considered professional behavior, when there is no policy for behavior, and when tough management is preferred, the result is an environment of workplace bullying. Onorato (2013) argued unethical issues in the current American society have influenced or “rubbed off” into the professional environment.  Einarsen et al. (2011) added that workplace bullying originates with scapegoating a professional or group of professionals. In predatory workplace bullying, a professional who is different from the majority (e.g. the first woman firefighter) might be scapegoated and victimized because they have caused changes in the organization. In dispute-related workplace bullying, the office politics or organizational climate may pit employees in certain job positions against others (e.g. younger teachers against older teachers).

Einarsen et al. (2011) stated that workplace bullies victimize others because of a pathological personality. Buckels, Jones, and Paulhus (2013) found that aggressive adults have psychopathologies similar to sadism, narcissism, and antisocial behavior. People who took pleasure in hurting others (e.g. sadists) or individuals who hurt others for personal gain (e.g. narcissists and anti-socials) are typically low in empathy and comfortable with victimizing others. Narcissists in particular typically lack empathy and have a grandiose sense of self-worth (Klein, 2009). Organizational leaders who are also narcissists may use their organizational power to abuse through relational aggression or indirect aggression (e.g. bullying). In addition, Salin (2003) stated that bullies often view targets as rivals or threats to the career. This rivalry may justify the act of bullying to get rid of the target. As stated earlier in this research, envy is typically an underpinning emotion in workplace bullying (Leymann, 1990). Therefore, toxic organizational structures, personality disorders, and emotions can all lead to bullying behaviors with managers and among colleagues. 

Examples of Workplace Bullying

Workplace bullying includes many hostile behaviors that are not limited to harsh criticism, setting impossible deadlines, withholding information, social isolation, spreading rumors, and attacks on physical or personal characteristics (Ocel & Audin, 2012). Meglich-Sespico, Faley, and Knapp (2007) added that the negative and unwanted acts of workplace bullying include ridiculing and humiliating, verbal threats, interfering with work talks, and even assigning demeaning work tasks. Leymann’s (1996) example of workplace mobbing, often used interchangeably with workplace bullying, includes ganging up on the target in staff meetings or in other areas in the work environment. Some targets of workplace bullying reported criticism about something as trivial as clothing, while other targets reported social exclusion and then criticism for not going to lunch with coworkers (LaVan & Martin, 2008). One female target of workplace bullying shared that in her male dominated workplace, she was subjected to sarcastic remarks and even referred to as a “butch” based on her choice of haircut (McKay & Frantzl, 2011). 

Cyberbullying is also on the rise as a form of workplace bullying (Privitera & Campbell, 2009). Cyberbullying as a form of workplace bullying that uses modern communication technology (e.g. cellular phones, computers, email, websites, and social media) to send derogatory or threatening messages. Cyberbullying is purposeful in the direct or indirect psychological harm of another individual. As a result, enduring workplace bullying makes the victim feel like he or she in in a battle (Tracy, Lutgen-Sandvik, & Alberts, 2006). The experience feels like torture or even a nightmare and the target feels likened to a child, prisoner, or even a slave, with the bully playing the role of the narcissistic dictator.

Rayner and Höel (1997) added that there are five categories of workplace bullying including threats to professional status, threats to personal standing, isolation, overwork, and destabilization. When professional status is threatened, the bully may belittle the opinion of the target in private or public settings to humiliate them (Quine, 1999). Threats to personal standing include name calling, insults, or teasing with the intention of psychologically harming the targeted employee. With isolation, the bully prevents the target from accessing training or other pertinent resources to be successful on the job. Overworking an employee includes placing impossible deadlines and undue pressure on the employee while unnecessarily interrupting the employee from achieving deadlines. With destabilization, the bully may fail to give credit to the employee or assign the employee meaningless tasks, thus indicating the removal of the employee’s job responsibility or title. As stated earlier, bullying behaviors may result in feelings of job insecurity and or role conflict as explained in the research by Baillien and De Witte (2009).

Targets of Workplace Bullying

As stated earlier, workplace bullying is legal because workplace bullying does not fit into the criteria of racial discrimination, gender discrimination, or sexual harassment (Namie & Namie, 2009). Sexual harassment differs from workplace bullying because it includes unwanted sexual attention (Rayner & Höel, 2002). Nevertheless, there are some gendered aspects of workplace bullying (Salin & Höel, 2013). The research on the gendered aspects of workplace bullying is contradictory, but provides insight into the complexity of this phenomenon. Rayner and Höel (2002) indicated that men and women reported victimization at the same rate. However, the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI; 2014) reported that 69% of bullies are men, while 31% of bullies are female.  However, when the bully is female, she chooses a female target 68% of the time. Male bullies choose female targets 57% of the time and male targets 43% of the time. The gender preferences speak to the power imbalance characteristic of workplace bullying (Namie & Namie, 2009). Given the statistics of male victims, female victims historically report bullying at a higher rate than male victims (WBI, 2014). There are also gendered differences in the way males and females are victimized. Men reported experiencing more peer harassment in the workplace, with women experiencing indirect or relational aggression (e.g. gossiping and slander; Crothers & Minutol, 2009). 

Workplace bullying is similar to workplace harassment as outlined in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects certain racial or cultural groups from harassment (Onorato, 2013). Muir and Blamires (2006) stated that ethnic minorities are twice as likely to experience workplace bullying than Caucasian employees. The WBI (2014) reported that Hispanic employees reported the highest prevalence of bullying (57%), with African-American (54%) and Asian (53%) workers ranking second and third. Caucasian workers reported workplace bullying 44% of the time based on the WBI’s 2014 survey. Ethnic minorities typically endure being ignored, given repeated reminders, and persistent criticism by managers at a higher rate than Caucasian targets. Moreover, Klein (2009) added that 39% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) professionals reported workplace abuse in the workplace. 

Modern workplace racism is more subtle and difficult to prove in comparison to workplace racism and harassment in the past (Fox & Stallworth, 2005). Racism and discrimination may take the form of a subtle microaggression (e.g. subtle humor, ostracism) or microinequity (e.g. inequitable treatment; Fox & Stallworth, 2005). In addition, this type of workplace bullying may occur within racial/ethnic groups as well. Discrimination within racial groups can be based on specific skin color or skin tone (e.g. colorism; Hall, 2010). More studies are needed due to the limited research on the incidence of workplace bullying among and within racial and ethnic groups (Fox & Stallworth, 2005).  

Leymann’s research stated that there is no specific personality type of a target of workplace bullying (Leymann, 1996). However, data from the WBI’s 2014 survey found that witnesses to workplace bullying described victims as compassionate and kind (WBI, 2014). Olewus (1993) added that similar to childhood bullying, workplace bullying targets tend to be provocative or submissive victims. Provocative victims are individuals with obnoxious personalities that stand out to the bully (Olewus, 1993). The submissive victim is an individual who is anxious, shy, or socially awkward who may appear weak to the bully. 

Further research adds that the victims of workplace bullying are typically new hires with a non-confrontational disposition (Namie & Namie, 2009). However, Einarsen and Skogstad (1996) stated that older workers have a higher rate of victimization than younger employees. Perhaps new hires are bullied, but these new hires are also older. Therefore, in the vulnerable state of being new to the organization, and possibly older, the bully tries to test the waters to see how the employee will respond to the mistreatment. 

Another way that individuals are vulnerable to workplace bullying is that the victim is in denial or does not know that they are being bullied (Samnani, 2013). Subtle forms of workplace bullying are often internalized by the individual and confused with environmental factors. Moreover, most victims of workplace bullying do not even report the issue (Namie & Namie, 2009). For targets who report workplace bullying to an internal source (e.g. human resources), the victim typically resigns, is terminated, or transferred from the job. Only in rare cases is the bully punished for his or her behavior.  

Workplace Bullying in Education

Academia was once considered a safe place to work; however, bullying and mobbing are part of the academic landscape (Klein, 2009). As stated earlier, workplace bullying is prevalent in organizations such as hospitals, religious organizations, and schools (Leymann, 1996). Thirty-one percent of educators in higher education reported being victims of workplace bullying from administration (McKay et al., 2008). However, research on workplace bullying in academia is lacking in comparison to the research conducted in other professional environments such as nursing and business (Keashly & Neuman, 2010). 

Workplace bullying in academia differs from workplace bullying in business 

based on the characteristics. Earlier research supported that general workplace bullying was characteristic of downward mobbing with managers and supervisors typically bullying subordinates (Vanderkerkhove & Commers, 2003). However, in higher education, the bullying has a horizontal methodology with more tenured colleagues bullying other colleagues (Klein, 2009). When the bullies in academia have tenure, the bullies have the job security and seniority to remain on the job longer, with little consequence (Klein, 2009). Unique from the traditional examples of workplace bullying, which include harsh criticism and social isolation (Ocel & Audin, 2012), bullying in academia undermines the educator’s access to success (Klein, 2009). In academia, the educator’s professional standing (e.g. tenure), authority, accomplishments, merit pay, and even resources (e.g. office space, classroom time) may be undermined when bullied. Klein (2009) also found that individuals vulnerable to workplace bullying in academia include professors with accents, individuals viewed as outspoken, professionals viewed as high achieving, or professors out of sync with the workplace culture. 

Purpose of the Study

There is a scarcity in the number of research studies done with regard to workplace bullying among public schools (e.g. kindergarten through 12th grade) or lower education staff members. Cemaloglu (2011) found that at least one third of educators reported stress and exhaustion in his or her work environment. Often times, the reported stressful work environment includes workplace bullying perpetrated by the leadership style of the principal. The type of bullying in lower education seems similar to the downward mobbing methodology in general workplace bullying. Blase et al. (2007) also found that 42% of American public school educators reported mistreatment and harm from principals, thus considering teaching a high-risk profession.  Blase and Blase (2006) found that principal mistreatment fit into three levels: indirect/moderate aggression, direct/escalating aggression, and direct/severely aggressive behaviors. In level one (indirect/moderately aggressive) behavior, the principal may show a lack of support of the teacher by discounting their thoughts and needs or withholding resources (e.g. professional development courses; Blase & Blase, 2006). In addition, level one principal’s may have favorite teachers that do unethical or unprofessional tasks (e.g. having an affair with a teacher or having a teacher repair the principal’s car during work hours). Level two principals seemed more severe, spying on teachers (e.g. listening on the intercom into classrooms), sabotaging teachers (e.g. telling other staff to not help the teacher), criticizing, stealing from the teacher, and making unrealistic demands. Level three principals were accused of blatantly lying about teachers, threatening, presenting explosive behavior (e.g. yelling), and providing unfair reprimands or evaluations of teachers. 

Some of the mistreatment by principals even spilled into the mistreatment of students by teachers feeling forced to apply punitive measures to misbehaving students (e.g. unfair suspensions or expulsions). In another example, teachers were forced to violate special education laws for disabled students (e.g. not complying with the child’s individual education plan; Blase & Blase, 2003). Blase and Blase (2006) provided the first empirical report on the actual experiences of abused teachers in public education. This study stated that there is a lack of research in this specific area of workplace bullying (e.g. lower education) and urged for more research to follow the given study (Blase et al., 2007). The purpose of this research was to gain an understanding into the lived experiences of elementary school level educators, who have endured bullying at work. In addition, this study examined the coping skills, and the professional climate with regard to workplace bullying. In order to examine these experiences, the researcher used Phenomenology as the research approach. 

Research Question and Research Design

The research question that guided this study was: What are the lived experiences of elementary level public school educators who have been bullied or experienced bullying at work? Phenomenology was an appropriate research design for the topic of workplace bullying because the goal of this research was to gain meaning and understanding from the participants’ perspectives of their lived experiences (Moustakas, 1994). Moreover, a phenomenological approach typically gains descriptions of experiences by facilitating in depth interviews with participants (Englander, 2012). For that reason, the phenomenological approach was appropriate for this topic because interviewing provided a voice for the participants in this study. Phenomenology seeks to understand the world through the daily experiences of others (Moerer-Urdahl & Creswell, 2004). Hermeneutic phenomenology, in particular, relies on rich detail and intentionality to gain a deeper understanding of what the individual has experienced. With the interview being the primary data-gathering tool used in hermeneutic phenomenology, information gathered is considered an exchange of views between the two people discussing a mutual theme of interest (Kvale, 1996). Through the rich details of the interviews with elementary school level educators, the researcher was able to hear the why and the how of the experience of workplace bullying (Moustakas, 1994), thus gaining greater understanding (Groenewald, 2004). Through phenomenological data analysis, the researcher was able to assign meaning to the descriptions of the experiences gained in the interviews. 


The researcher interviewed a total of six participants whose educational experience took place in a variety of states. The research location used in this study depended on the availability and location of the research participants. Most of the participants were in various states that were not close to the researcher. As stated earlier, phone interviews were conducted by calling the participants and using the Call Recorder application on the researcher’s cellular phone. One participant resided in the Washington DC metropolitan area. A face-to-face interview was scheduled with that participant. To ensure the confidentiality of that particular participant, the researcher interviewed the participant at the Bethesda Library in Bethesda, Maryland, in a reserved study room. 

Participant Selection

Participants were sought through an advertisement asking for research participants by way of the Workplace Bullying Institute (WBI) website. The Workplace Bullying Institute is an international organization that educates, provides guidance, and helps provide research into the phenomenon of workplace bullying. The organization was founded by Gary and Ruth Namie, who authored the text The Bully at Work (Namie, 2009). Participants also came through the National Association for the Prevention of Teacher Abuse (NAPTA) website. Similar to the WBI, NAPTA provides education and support to educators who have experienced bullying within their workplace. The researcher of this research contacted the founders of these organizations. The organizations posted the call for participants advertisement on their websites. Potential participants began contacting the researcher within 24 hours.


Participants for this study were sought through purposeful sampling. Purposeful sampling is a process where the researcher decides who should be a participant in a research study based on his or her characteristics or experiences (Patton, 2002). Since this research topic sought to gain an in depth understanding of the lived experiences of educators facing workplace bullying, the researcher utilized purposeful in selecting participants. Purposeful sampling was appropriate for this research because it ensured that there was representativeness in the sample (Maxwell, 2013). The researcher deliberately chose six educators who had actual experiences with workplace bullying at the elementary school level. To reduce limitations to this study, the researcher screened to ensure that the participants were knowledgeable about the actual definition of workplace bullying. By using purposeful sampling, and properly screening participants, the researcher gained a sample of educators that truly experienced workplace bullying. 

Data Collection

After gaining informed consent from the participants, the researcher collected data by interviewing participants. The interviews were lengthy (e.g. one hour or more) and required the researcher to establish a rapport with the participants (Moustakas, 1994). To gain rapport, Moustakas (1994) suggested that researchers consider the participants in research studies as “co-researchers” as opposed to merely participants. With this in mind, the researcher empowered participants by considering them equal partners in gathering data for this research. The researcher used a pre-interview meeting to prepare the participants for the interview. The pre-interview meeting ensured that the actual interview ran smoothly by creating a relaxing and trusting atmosphere beforehand. The researcher used the opportunity of the pre-interview to gain informed consent, explain the process, and explain confidentiality. Because some participants wanted to know what the interview questions would be before the interview, the researcher provided them. The pre-interview sessions were held by phone or by electronic mail. As a result, the participants seemed to find comfort in the transparency of the researcher.  

The actual interview included predeveloped questions about the participant/co-researcher’s experience with workplace bullying as an educator (Giorgi, 2009). Additional open-ended follow up questions were used to gain clarity and understanding. Giorgi (2009) suggested using a predeveloped question such as: “Please describe for me a situation in which you experienced a phenomenon” (p. 24)? The researcher began the interview by asking the participant to describe a situation in which he or she experienced workplace bullying. The researcher utilized hand coding to analyze the data. The researcher chose hand coding over computerized coding because there was no computer software that would do the type of data analysis needed for this phenomenological study (Groenewald, 2004). Phenomenological data analysis is personal and goes beyond the data to find meaning. 

Data Analysis

The first step in analyzing the data is organizing the large amount of data collected in the interviews (Moustakas, 1994). With the transcribed interview data, the researcher organized the data using the process of horizontalization. By looking at every horizon or statement relevant to the topic, the researcher organized the statements into meaning units (Moustakas, 1994). In order to determine meaning units, the researcher reduced the statements down into the meaning within the description (Giorgi, 2009). The researcher accomplished this by creating a large visual board and placing it on the wall. On the visual board, each participant had an area for the researcher to organize data. Each participant chose a color to replace their name for confidentiality and organizational purposes. Under each participant’s colorful name, his or her interview data was organized through horizontalization. 

The information was then clustered into common categories or themes after removing all overlapping or repetitive statements (Moustakas, 1994). The clustered themes and meanings produced textural descriptions of the experience, with the result being the essence of the phenomenon of workplace bullying (Moustakas, 1994). Giorgi (2009) urged researchers to make this process fruitful. In other words, the process of transforming raw data should educate the world to the meaning of workplace bullying as well as the psychological implications of this problem (Giorgi, 2009). The researcher accomplished this by looking at the color coded meaning units on the large visual board. The researcher was able to organize the meaning units into various categories. The researcher noticed that some categories emerged from the data analysis process. The researcher found similarities in the participants’ demographics (e.g. age and race), experiences, health consequences, and coping mechanisms. This study involved six educators who had first-hand experiences with workplace bullying. The educators lived in various areas of the United States, Mexico, and Canada. Their certification and areas of expertise were diverse and ranged from classroom teacher to school counselor. All of the participants had experiences as elementary school level educators and 20 or more years of experience working in education. Because of their years of experience, many of them had experiences working in elementary schools and middle schools. Table 1 provides demographic information for each of the participants. Names were not used for the participants. The participants were identified as colors.

Table 1

Participant Demographic Information

ParticipantGenderRacial BackgroundAgeGeographical Location of SchoolRole in EducationCurrent Employment Status
CoralFemaleCaucasian 62New MexicoResource TeacherRetired 
RoseFemaleHispanic55CaliforniaFirst Grade TeacherRetired 
YellowFemaleCaucasian54GeorgiaSocial WorkerCurrently working
PurpleFemaleCaucasian55MarylandMusic TeacherRetired
Lime GreenFemaleCaucasian57FloridaCounselorCurrently Working
LavenderFemaleCaucasian46TennesseeGeneral Education and ELL teacherCurrently Working


All of the participants were female educators, with the majority of them being Caucasian. One participant identified herself as Hispanic. The mean age of the participants was 52 years old. The participants worked in a variety of states, however some of them moved out of the country after they left the field of education. Half of the participants retired from education. When interviewed, the participants shared that they retired early or felt forced out because of the bullying. The remainder of the participants still worked in the educational field, with two of them still working in the bullying environment. Only one participant described herself as being in a better working environment because of her transfer to another school.

The researcher began data analysis by organizing interview data gathered through the interview process. Moustakas (1994) stated that organization is the first step of data analysis. The process used for organizing the data was horizontalization. With horizontalization, the researcher read the transcribed interviews and found statements relevant to the topic (Moustakas, 1994). By gaining these relevant statements, the researcher was able to identify several meaning units for each participant. Each meaning unit was color coded to represent colors chosen as “pseudonyms” by the participants during the interview. For example, Participant #2 chose the color rose, so the meaning units associated with Participant #2 were colored rose. The horizontalization process was represented on a large visual data board, so each participant had a color-coded space for their meaning units.  

The Findings

After each meaning unit was color coded, they were clustered into common categories or themes (Moustakas, 1994). The categories were based on the research questions and categories that emerged from the research process. The initial categories in this research were: (a) lived experiences, (b) feelings, (c) coping, and (d) reasons (e.g. professional climate). The categories that emerged in the research were (a) health consequences, (b) implications for the counseling profession, and (c) the aftermath of workplace bullying. As stated above, on the visual data board, each participant had a color-coded space. In each space, the participant’s meaning unit was organized into the above categories. 

A textural narrative of one of the participant’s stories will be shared in the remainder of this manuscript. The interview question will be the heading for each topic. Based on the interview questions, the narrative will include each participant’s experience with workplace bullying. The narrative will also include how the participant coped with the bullying. In conjunction with the coping skills, the participant explained how she felt when bullied, what physical or emotional consequences she faced, and her experiences with counseling. The third question explored whether her professional climate affected the bullying. In answering the professional climate question, the participant provided detail into her perception of why the bullying took place and why she was targeted. 

Textural Narrative of Participant # 2: Rose

Rose was bullied for five years by her female principal. According to Rose, the principal was seen as a good person who would not bully others. Rose considered herself a hardworking teacher who did not want the bullying to occur. Before Rose was bullied, she observed other teachers bullied in the school. After observing the bullying, Rose was later picked on by her principal. Rose shared the specifics of how she felt targeted by her principal. 

I was told that my lesson plans were not right and not detailed enough. It took me three hours to do the work. The principal would come in to my classroom to see what I was doing and if my activities were commensurate with my lesson plan.  It was so stressful to write a lesson plan so detailed because I could not control what my kids would do. One time the principal asked me why I was not working with a specific reading group at a certain time (as stated on my lesson plan). It was picture day, which modified the times of the activities listed on my lesson plan. As a result, I was very nervous because I had to keep track of everything, even things that were not in my control. One day a parent wanted to talk to me. All I could think about was how I could fit that into my lesson plan schedule. On another day, a kid was crying during my lesson. All of those things pushed me off my rigid schedule. 

Rose stated that the principal was very demanding of her. When she asked other teachers about what was expected of them, they did not have the same demands as Rose. Rose felt picked on and singled out. Rose felt that she was treated differently no matter how hard she tried. Rose shared how she was highly educated and dually certified, but still treated negatively.

I am a certified counselor in addition to being a teacher. In a committee meeting we all volunteered to serve certain roles if there was a school emergency or school lock down. My colleagues were impressed with my expertise but the principal just glared at me. As a result, the principal assign me to serve in a counseling role on the committee. She gave the task to someone else and assigned me a trivial task. I felt disrespected and humiliated. 

Rose stated that she typically arrives to work very early. One day in particular she arrived to her classroom a few minutes late because she was assisting a parent. When she arrived at her door, she heard the principal apologizing to other parents about her unprofessionalism and unreliable behavior. When Rose was able to speak to the parents, they responded, “You are nothing like I thought.” According to Rose, this made her think that the principal spoke negatively her in the past. Rose shared other experiences with feeling that her efforts to be a good teacher were thwarted by the principal. 

The principal never acknowledged anything good that I did. I am an excellent and creative teacher. For example, I supported a student who was usually in the “red” based on his behavior. I was successful in helping him choose positive behaviors. He had problems in other people’s classes, but I had no problems from him. He had attention problems and was very hyperactive, yet I had tolerance for that type of behavior. I provided some accommodations to him by allowing him to research on the computer. He was very interested in polar bears so this kept his interest. While the student was on the computer, the principal looked in my room and gave me bad feedback for not including the student in the group. The principal stated that I allowed him to play on the computer. I told the principal that he was getting some accommodations, not playing. The principal said that he needed to sit with the others and to give him work that is more challenging. However, what he really needed was what I was providing for him. Putting him with the rest of the class did not work. The principal always sabotaged all of the good that I was trying to do. 

The principal would regularly walk through Rose’s classroom and send e-mails about mistakes in her room. For example, the principal stated that the classroom was messy because there were crayons left on the classroom floor. However, when the classroom was clean, the principal typically said nothing. Another e-mail stated that Rose should not have been showing movies in her classroom. However, according to Rose, the class was working on a particular lesson where the textbook suggested showing a movie clip. Rose stated that she was only showing part of the movie, not the whole movie. Besides, there was no school-wide policy against showing movies and other teachers showed movies in their classrooms. 

On another occasion, the principal changed a deadline for turning in test scores. Rose understood that the due date was on a Monday. However, on the Friday prior to the deadline, Rose was on a leave of absence. In Rose’s absence, the principal changed the deadline from Monday to that Friday. As a result, all of the teachers had to scramble to get their grades done. Rose stated that a co-worker called her and alerted her of the change in dates. Rose went in to work that evening, finished the work, and turned it in that evening. By that following Monday, the principal had the test scores and responded, “How did you get this done by the deadline”? Rose felt like the principal was trying to sabotage her. 

Rose explained that she did not complain about her mistreatment because she did not want the principal to know she was hurting her. Rose stated that the principal threatened to change her from a third grade teacher to a fifth grade teacher. At Rose’s school, every teacher dreaded teaching the fifth grade. By Rose’s last year of teaching, she felt physically and mentally weak after all of the bullying. However, Rose explained how she still tried to make social studies fun for her students. 

I setup a make believe town and gave each person a job. For example, my student named Marco was in charge of “Marco’s car lot”. The lesson was called “What’s in your Community”? The community had professional businesses, hospitals and even police services. The students learned geography, reading and math from this activity. Even the kids who struggled with English were able to lean from the visual maps and pictures. I took the large map of the community and placed it on the wall. All of the other teachers were impressed but the principal said nothing. For some reason, I was instructed by the principal to take my map down. The following Saturday, we had a meeting/training at school with an invited guest trainer. My map was down but the other teacher’s lessons were up. I felt that the principal tried to humiliate me because she took the guests to my classroom with nothing to show. I just sat there because there was nothing for me to present. The guests seemed to see that the principal was being a jerk to me. Other teachers said that it was unnecessary for the principal to show my classroom. The principal always found fault about trivial things with me. 

There were other examples of sabotage that included the principal using a camera to take photos of her daily written objectives. The principal used these photos to complain that Rose had objectives up too long. However, Rose felt that she needed to have an objective up until the students mastered them. Even though Rose tried to teach effectively, she continued to feel abused. Rose expressed why she felt that she was targeted. 

I think I was bullied because I spoke my mind at times. It got to the point where I was just waiting for the attack and the principal was waiting for me to fail. One time I received an anonymous letter stating that I was unprofessional, defensive, and had psychological problems. I suspect that the principal wrote it. 

Rose shared that it was clear that the principal did not like her when other co-workers noticed her mistreatment. 

Other teachers said they could tell that she hated me. She typically used coffee creamer in the staff refrigerator. The coffee creamer was something I purchased on one occasion. One day she asked who purchased the creamer. When someone said my name, she made a negative face and put it back.  I wondered why me? Do I turn people off?

Rose coped with her experiences by praying. Rose also coped by going to the teacher’s union to complain. The union representative met with the principal, but the principal denied the allegations of abuse. The abusive behaviors could not be proven. Rose tried to transfer schools, but since she had many years of experience and a high salary, no other schools would hire her. Rose felt like she was dying inside and always on edge. As a result, she used sick leave due to stress to stay home from work. Rose subsequently retired but found that the cost of living was too high in the United States. Since Rose is of Mexican heritage, she ended up moving to Mexico to reside. 

The professional climate included nepotism. Rose shared that the principal promoted a teacher to be the “lead teacher” simply because they were friends. However, Rose (the experienced teacher) was treated as if she was ineffective and needed help. In addition, Rose felt that the principal was told to bully her. According to Rose, the teacher’s union representative shared that teachers with high salaries are bullied so they will retire. Since Rose witnessed this harassment in the past and saw teachers get terminally ill from the abuse, she decided to retire early. 

Horizontalization Rose.

Horizontalization for Rose’s statements revealed that she first saw other teachers bullied and was doubtful until she became a target herself. Rose’s bullying included being singled out, or treated more harshly than the other teachers were treated. Rose felt that the principal was omitting pertinent information from her in an attempt for Rose to fail. Rose felt that she was sabotaged and embarrassed in front of other professionals to cause humiliation. Even though Rose worked hard to teach her students, she felt that the principal did not notice any of her positive skills. Rose felt that she was hated or marked and the goal was for her to fail professionally. Rose was subjected to inferior evaluation scores. At one point, Rose was accused of having psychological problems.

Rose did not know why the bullying was occurring. Rose assumed that her age (e.g. over 40) was a reason for the bullying. Rose also wondered if the bullying was for aesthetic reasons or because Rose was outspoken. Rose did not complain or ask what the issues were out of fear. However, Rose seemed to internalize her experiences by wondering if she had turned people off. 

Rose coped by relying on God. She sought assistance from the teacher’s union but found them ineffective. The union concluded that they could not prove that Rose was harassed by the principal. Rose left the situation by going out on sick leave and retiring.

Because Rose retired early, her retirement funds were not enough to support her in the United States. Rose moved to Mexico where the cost of living was lower. Rose reported that she feels better after leaving the school system, and may pursue a second career in education at a charter school. 

The goal of this research was to gain a deeper understanding of workplace bullying through the experiences of the six participants in this study. As the researcher came closer to understanding this phenomenon, several themes or reoccurring elements emerged from the participant’s accounts (Van Manen, 1990). The themes included: (a) experiences with workplace bullying, (b) coping, and (c) environmental factors contributing to workplace bullying. Table 3 provides a visual perspective of these themes and the salient themes that emerged from each participant.

Table 3

Thematic Analysis

RQ #1 What are the lived experiences of elementary level public school educators who have been bullied or experienced bullying at work?CoralRoseYellowPurpleLime-GreenLavender
Target was over forty-years-old, experienced educatorXXXXXX
Target was femaleXXXXXX
School had new Leadership

Target had new job location/roleX

Observed bullying first before becoming target
Unfair evaluation practices
Medical leave due to preexisting health issuesXXXXXX
Not knowing why the bullying was taking placeXXXX
Stress and AnxietyXX

RQ #2 How have public educators coped with workplace bullying?

Teachers Union not helpfulXXXXXX
Talking to others X
Sought outside supportXXXXXX
Coping by leavingXXXXX


Table 3.  Thematic Analysis (continued)

RQ #1 What are the lived experiences of elementary level public school educators who have been bullied or experienced bullying at work?CoralRoseYellowPurpleLime-GreenLavender

RQ #3 How has the public school climate contributed to workplace bullying?

Professional climate of nepotism and favoritismXXX

Table 3 revealed a representation of the major themes as well as the themes that emerged from the raw data presented. The major themes in this research study revealed the phenomenon of workplace bullying for elementary school level educators. Even though fifteen salient themes emerged from this study, these themes are under three major themes. 


Bullied educators are typically smart, hardworking, honest, creative, and successful professionals who are near the retirement age. However, the bullying is not really about them. The bullying is about the climate that they work in. Based on the findings, all of the participants were in professional climates that found value in the turnover of teachers. The school districts that employed the participants used in the sample seemed to want to hire younger and lower salaried professionals. The participants used in the sample had years of experience and a history of good evaluations. Because of their past success, they could not be fired based on ineffective practices. Moreover, the participants in the sample were near retirement age, but did not want to retire yet. These participants were bullied in an attempt to make them leave. 

The bullying ranged in behaviors from giving unfair evaluations to pitting students and other teachers against the educator. However, what was common to all of the bullying practices was the intent to wear down the victim psychologically, enough to get them to leave. Even though the participants found ways to cope, half of them eventually left due to the bullying. This research revealed bleak meanings for those considering long careers in the field of education. According to this research, the current climate in the field of education uses bullying as a way to remove seasoned educators from their jobs. 

The findings of this research study can add to the body of research on workplace bullying. However, this study seemed to explore a small facet of a very large phenomenon. Phenomenological research studies focus on the lived experience of a phenomenon in the voice of the participant (Cho & Trent, 2006). Therefore, to understand the experience of workplace bullying, this researcher suggests more qualitative studies. 

Future studies should explore the implications of race and diversity with regard to workplace bullying in education. As stated earlier, the researcher had a difficult time gaining a racially diverse sample in the primary group of participants. The majority of participants in this research were Caucasian, with one identifying as Hispanic. In the American society, there are some advantages to being white or perceived as white (McIntosh, 1988). Multicultural expert Peggy McIntosh (1988) shared that her experience with white privilege was like wearing an invisible backpack that afforded her fairness and equality in a racially unequal society. Oppression is typically not based on race when one has this backpack (McIntosh, 1988). Therefore, racial disparities were not assumed by the participants in this study. When the world is viewed through the lens of having advantages, individuals tend to stand up and fight for themselves when treated unfairly (Vasquez, 2001). 

On the other hand, African Americans and other members of “visibly racial ethnic minority groups” may feel that they are already subordinate or on the bottom of a caste system (Pope-Davis & Coleman, 1997). Because of this, they may internalize racism and other forms of unfair treatment and use other coping mechanisms such as prayer instead of standing up for themselves. In addition, the internalization of racism and other forms of mistreatment may lead to cardiovascular issues such as high blood pressure (Cooper, Thayer, & Waldstein, 2014). 

Future studies should also explore why administrators (e.g. principals) bully teachers. Blase and Blase (2003) reported that principals have unique challenges and pressures including long hours with low compensation. In addition to inadequate budgets, school reform, and accountability practices, many principals face anxiety and frustration (Blase & Blase, 2003). Perhaps, some of these administrators are experiencing mistreatment, which is spilling over into their management. Some of the research participants felt that the principals were new and forced to bully. Others felt that the principals were forcing the teachers to retire because they were over 40 and made a high salary. Future studies should gain insight into the stories and experiences of principals from a bullying perspective. 


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How Much Do Parents Know About Bullying?

Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Stephanie Riggi

Saranda Shabaj

Manhattan College


A significant amount of research has been conducted on bullying; however, there exists a dearth of research on parents and bullying.  Parents play a paramount role in a child’s development. Since bullying has become increasingly prevalent over the last decade, it is extremely important that parent be well prepared to help their children who may be affected by bullying as either bullies, victims, or witnesses. The purpose of this study was to examine parents’ views and knowledge of bullying, including cyberbullying and social media usage.  Participants completed questionnaires assessing their views and knowledge about bullying and its impact on children. The results demonstrate that most parents are aware bullying is a prevalent issue in today’s society. Additionally, the findings suggest that parents need to be more aware of the specific ways that bullying may be affecting their children. Furthermore, results demonstrate that parents who are knowledgeable about the prevalence of cyberbullying are more likely to talk to their children about internet safety and are more familiar with the social media sites their children use. The results provide some preliminary findings that are helpful in beginning to understand more about parents and how knowledgeable they are about bullying, its prevalence in society, and its impact on children.

Keywords: bullying, parents, social media

How Much Do Parents Know About Bullying?

A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself (Olweus, 1993).  The goal of bullying is to gain power over and dominate other individuals. There are four forms of bullying: physical (including hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing, stealing, and destruction of property), verbal (such as taunting, malicious teasing, name calling, and making threats),  psychological/relational (including spreading rumors, manipulating social relationships, exclusion from a peer group, extortion, and intimidation) and cyber-bullying ( using the Internet, cell phones, social media or other technology to spread rumors, intimidate, threaten or humiliate) (Cohn and Canter, 2003). An imbalance of power, whether real or imagined, is a key component of bullying. Bullies engage in hurtful behavior against those who cannot defend themselves because of size, strength, psychological resilience, physical or mental limitation, or social status (Olweus, 1993).

Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators.  According to the Department of Education, 1 out of 3 students is bullied at school daily; 160,000 students are absent from school daily due to the fear of being bullied.  It is estimated that 13 million American children are teased, taunted and physically assaulted by their peers, making bullying the most common form of violence our nation’s youth experienced in 2012. Schools are no longer the safe haven that they used to be.  

Parents play a key role in bully prevention. In order for parents to be effective in this capacity, they must be knowledgeable and well informed about bullying.  If parents are not well informed they may not correctly identify certain behaviors as bullying, falsely thinking that what they are witnessing is just “kids being kids’.  Despite research such as that conducted by Wolke, Copeland, Angold & Costello, (2013) which suggests that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood that persist into adulthood, some parents may still underestimate the impact of bullying believing that bullying is just a part of normal childhood or that it will make their child tougher in the long run.   Furthermore, Tfofi & Farrington’s (2011) report on bullying notes that only about 20 to 30% of students who are bullied notify adults about the bullying making it very probable that parents may not be aware of their child’s involvement in bullying, either as a witness, victim, or bully.  

Even when parents are aware that their child has experienced bullying, they may not be well prepared to effectively help.  A survey conducted by Sherer and Nickerson (2010) revealed that practicing school psychologists perceived parental involvement in bullying prevention and intervention to be relatively ineffective.  The authors further noted that increasing the efficacy of parent involvement was listed as an area in need of improvement by school psychologists who participated in the study.  

A significant amount of research has been conducted on bullying; however, there exists a dearth of research on parents and bullying.  Parents play a paramount role in a child’s development. Since bullying has become increasingly prevalent over the last decade, it is extremely important that parent be well prepared to help their children who may be affected by bullying as either bullies, victims, or witnesses. The purpose of this study was to examine parents’ views and knowledge of bullying, including how they would help a child who was being bullied.   In addition, cultural differences between parents of Korean, Hispanic, and American ethnicity were examined.  



      The study included 58 participants (16 Male & 42 Female) with a mean age of 39.7 years (SD= 7.1). All participants were elementary school parents recruited from the Lindbergh Elementary School in Palisades Park, New Jersey where the median children per household was 2.0. The majority of participants (20) were Hispanic, (18) White, (3) African American, and (17) were Other. The survey was distributed to parents of children in 3rd through 7th grade. Only 19 parents had ever participated in a bully prevention program. ‘


A survey, Parents’ Attitudes About Bullying, created for this study by the primary author, an applied developmental psychologist who has over 20 years working with children and adolescents, along with an advanced Psychology student was used for the study.     The survey consisting of 15 questions answered on a Likert Scale (1=Strongly Disagree 4=Strongly Agree) and three open-ended questions relating to social media and impacts of bullying were used in the study. Sample Likert Scale questions included “I am familiar with the social media sites my child(ren) use.”, and ” I think cyber-bullying is easy to stop, just have kids turn off their social media “, “I think cyber- bullying may have a more negative impact than physical bullying” and  

“I am aware that bullying may lead to suicide “.   Open ended questions included: “How do you think bullying affects children?”. “What do you consider to be bullying?” and “What would you do if your child(ren) told you he/she was being bullied?”   

A socio-biographic form was also used to obtain information regarding participants’ ethnicity, age, and number of children.   The socio-biographic form along with the survey were translated to Spanish and Korean for participants who were more comfortable in those languages. 


IRB approval was obtained for this study. Prior to completion of the survey, all participants signed a consent form in either English, Spanish, or Korean. Surveys were distributed to the participants in the same language as their consent form. The majority of the participants completed the survey at the end of a parent meeting at the school; participants took about 15 minutes to complete the survey.  Some parents chose to complete the survey at home and returned it to the school on the following day.   Upon completion of the surveys, participants were given debriefing forms and their names were entered into a raffle for a $25-dollar gift card.


Internet Safety

58.6 % of the parents agreed or strongly agreed that parents should monitor their children’s social media activity.   79.4% agreed or strongly agreed that they have spoken to their children about internet safety; and 74.2% agreed or strongly agreed that they are familiar with the social media sites their children use.

Awareness of Bullying and its Impact

A large percentage of the parents (81%) think cyberbullying is a prevalent issue in today’s society.  A smaller percentage (41.4%) do not think their children worry about bullying and 65.5% do not think their child has witnessed bullying.  In addition, 46.5% disagree or strongly disagree that cyberbullying may have a more negative impact than physical bullying. 69.0% agreed or strongly agreed that bullying may lead to suicide. 

Bullying Intervention with their Children

A small percentage (32.8%) of the parents have attended a bullying prevention program and 72.4 % of the parents reported that they have spoken to their children about bullying.  In addition, 82.2% believe that their child would feel comfortable talking to them if they were being bullied and 69.0 % strongly agree or agree that they would know if their child was being bullied.


Awareness of Bullying and its Impact

The results provide some preliminary findings that are helpful in beginning to understand more about parents and how knowledgeable they are about bullying, its prevalence in society, and its impact on children.  The results demonstrate that most parents are aware bullying is a prevalent issue in today’s society. Nonetheless, only 41% believe their children worry about bullying and 66% do not think their child has witnessed bullying in school.  These findings suggest that parents needed to be more aware of the specific ways that bullying may be affecting their children. Only 33% of the participants have attended a bully prevention or education program which suggests that schools and community centers should make such programs more available to parents.

Internet Safety

The results also demonstrate that parents are taking an active role in teaching their children internet safety, becoming familiar with the social media sites their children use, and monitoring their children’s social media activity.  These findings suggest that parents are taking a proactive role in what may be an essential bully prevention approach. 

The results also demonstrate that parents who are knowledgeable about the prevalence of cyberbullying are more likely to talk to their children about internet safety.  In addition, they are more familiar with the social media sites their children use. This further demonstrates the need for more parent education programs focusing on bullying.  The more informed parents are, the more likely they are to engage in proactive efforts toward protecting their children against bullying.  

Cultural Differences:

Due most likely to the limited sample size, cultural differences were not obtained.  This deserves further research attention.


Parents play a key role in bully prevention.  It is imperative that parents be knowledgeable about bullying and its impact on children as this will put them in a better position to help their children deal with this prevalent issue.  This study suggests that while parents are somewhat knowledgeable about bullying they may not have a realistic impression of how bulling may specifically be impacting their children.


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Ttofi, M.M. & Farrington, D.P. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: a systematic and meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology,7(1), 27-5.

Wolke D.1., Copeland, W.E., Angold A. & Costello, E.J. (2013). Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes. Psychological Science, 24(10), 1958-1970.

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Youth Soccer Players’ Views About Bullying and Hazing

Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Lorenzo Froehle


Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators.  Hazing is a form of bullying which is quite common in sports.  80 percent of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes say they have experienced some form of hazing throughout their college athletic career.  Although many young children participate in team sports, sports bullying and hazing, especially among young athletes, have not received much research attention.  The goal of this study was to survey youth soccer players to learn about their attitudes about sports bullying and hazing. Youth soccer players completed a survey assessing their attitudes about sports bullying and hazing.  The results suggest that the young athletes are well informed about the negative effects of bullying and hazing; however, the results also indicate that the young athletes also hold some unhealthy attitudes about sports hazing and bullying.  Specifically, some of the young athletes believe that new members of a sports team should undergo an initiation and that as long as no one gets hurt a little hazing is okay. Results also indicate that many youth athletes believe that athletes go along with hazing for fear of being isolated by the team.  Correlations between the different attitudes and the belief that hazing is part of the sorts culture were examined and implications for parents and coaches were discussed.

Keywords: sports, bullying, hazing, youth athletes, soccer

Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators.   A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons in which he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself (Olweus, 1993).  Hazing involves any activity expected of someone joining a group. Hazing generally involves intentionally produced mental or physical discomfort, embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. Hazing is a form of bullying which is quite common in sports.

At the college level, 80 percent of National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) athletes say they have experienced some form of hazing throughout their college athletic career. 42 percent report a history of also being hazed in high school.  According to ESPN, the majority of hazing incidents go unreported. Many athletes still hold the belief that hazing is a rite of passage and part of being on a team. Some athletes even believe that hazing improves team spirit.  

Mendez-Baldwin, Fontaine & Consiglio (2017) examined high school male athletes’ views on sports hazing and bullying. A significant number of the athletes in this study believed that sports bullying and hazing can have a negative impact on a team and individual team members but as long a no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay.  Mendez-Baldwin & DeLaurentis (2018) found that Division 1 college athletes held similar views regarding sports bullying and hazing. These two studies demonstrate that both high school and college athletes hold mixed views about sports hazing- believing that hazing can negatively impact athletes but at the same time thinking that hazing is acceptable as long as no one gets hurt.  

Sports bullying and hazing, especially among young athletes, have not received as much research attention.  Many young children participate in team sports, with some playing more than one sport at a time. Youth athletes risk physical and emotional injury due to sports bullying and hazing. For example, an individual who is bullied by his or her teammates is likely to suffer from a decrease in confidence. This loss of confidence can lead to decreased performance in their perspective sport, as well as in their everyday life. An individual who experiences sports bullying and hazing may also push themselves too far physically for a fear of continued bullying or hazing. This can have severe effects on an athlete’s overall health and wellbeing. 

In order to address this issue, this line of research deserves more attention. The goal of this study was to survey youth soccer players to learn about their attitudes about sports bullying and hazing.  Furthermore, relationships between different attitudes and views on sports, bullying and hazing were examined. The overall goal was to gain a deeper understanding of bullying and hazing within the culture of sports.   There has been a dearth of studies that have examined sports bullying and hazing in the younger cohort of athletes. The researchers sought to gain findings that would be beneficial in promoting greater education and awareness of this topic among youth athletes, coaches, and parents.



69 youth soccer players from Cook Inlet Soccer Club in Anchorage, Alaska.  The participants mean age was 13.1 years (SD=2.16). 30 of the participants were male and 38 were female (1 did not report their gender).  The majority of the participants (60.9%) attended middle school. The participants have played soccer for an average of 7.5 years (SD=3.1) and the majority (72.5%) play at least one other sport besides soccer.  Cook Inlet Soccer Club requires its youth soccer players sign a Code of Conduct forbidding hazing.


A 25 item questionnaire, Attitudes toward Sports Bullying and Hazing, was used.  The questionnaire is a modified version of the survey used by Mendez-Baldwin & Fontaine (2017) and Mendez-Baldwin & DeLaurentis (2018) in their studies examining attitudes toward bullying and sports hazing in high school and college students, respectively.  The content of the survey remained the same, however the language was modified for literacy level and age-appropriateness. The questionnaire included 5 point-Likert Scale items assessing athletes’ attitudes about sports, bullying. and hazing. Sample questions include: “sports hazing and bullying are different“,  “as long as no one gets hurt, a little harmless hazing is fine” and “I have been negatively affected by hazing”.  

A socio-biographic questionnaire was also used to gather information on the participants age, gender, years playing soccer, and other sports played.  Due to the minor status of the participants, the socio-biographic questionnaire did not ask questions regarding ethnicity and socioeconomic status. 


IRB approval from Manhattan College was obtained for this study. The director of the soccer club assisted with recruitment of participants.  Parental informed consent and child assent were obtained for all participants younger than 18 years. The participants completed the questionnaires either before or after practice.  It took about 20 minutes to complete the questionnaire. Debriefing forms were distributed after the questionnaires were completed. Participants and their parents were urged to contact their family physician or other health provider in case they were feeling any stress or emotional upset as a result of completing the questionnaire. Coaches were also advised to remain vigilant for any signs of emotional stress or upset among the Ps and to report such incidents to the child’s parent or guardian immediately.  


Personal experiences 

17.3% of the participants reported being hazed and 11.6% reported being negatively affected by hazing. 11.5% of the participants reported that they have participated in hazing.

Views about sports bullying and hazing 

Among the participants, 87% believed that hazing is a form of bullying and 78.2% believe that hazing can cause serious mental, physical, and emotional damage to an athlete. 60.9 % of the participants believe most athletes go along with hazing for fear of being isolated by their teammates. In addition, 18.8% believe that hazing is a part of sports culture.

Impact on the team

The results also show that 76.8% of the participants believe that hazing has a negative impact on a team but 23.1% believe that as long as no one gets hurt, a little hazing is okay.  Furthermore, 39.1% believe that new team members should undergo an initiation. 76.8 % do not believe that hazing improves team spirit and cohesiveness.  

Views about intervention

The majority of the participants (68.1%) believe team captains should be responsible for making sure hazing and bullying do not occur.  In regards to coaches, 29.1% of the participants think that coaches ignore bullying. 79.7% would intervene if they witnessed a teammate being hazed and 37.6% believe athletes should be required to take an anti-bullying and anti-hazing program. 


Correlations were performed to assess the relationship between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and various other attitudes and behaviors related to sports hazing and bullying. A significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that fear of hazing motivates an athlete to work harder was obtained (r =.28;p<.05) indicating that those who believed that hazing is a part of the sports culture were more likely to believe that fear of hazing motivates an athlete. A significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that hazing is a rite of passage was also obtained (r =.24;p<.05) indicating that those who believed that hazing is a part of sports culture were more likely to believe that hazing is a rite of passage. 

Results also revealed a significant correlation (r=.25;p<.05) between believing that hazing is a part of the sports culture and believing that new team members should have to undergo an initiation. Lastly, there was a significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of sports culture and the belief that as long as no one gets hurt a little hazing is OK (r =.40;p<.01) indicating a strong positive relationship between these two attitudes. 

A significant correlation between the belief that hazing is a part of the sports culture and participation in hazing (r=.39;p<.01) was obtained indicating that those who believed that sports hazing was a part of the sports culture were more likely to have participated in hazing. 


The purpose of this study was to learn about youth soccer players’ attitudes about sports bullying and hazing.  The results demonstrate that the majority of the youth athletes believe that sports hazing is a form of bullying. In addition, they believe that sports hazing can have a negative impact on both individual athletes and the team. Furthermore, the majority of the young athletes would intervene to help a teammate if they were being hazed.   These are very healthy attitudes for young athletes to maintain.

While these results suggest that the young athletes are well informed about the negative effects of bullying and hazing; other findings from this study seem to indicate that the young athletes also hold some unhealthy attitudes about sports hazing and bullying.  Specifically, over 30% of the participants believe that new members of a sports team should undergo an initiation and over 20% believe that as long as no one gets hurt a little hazing is okay. This in conjunction with the fact that over 60% believe that athletes go along with hazing for fear of being isolated by the team could lead to a situation where a young athlete who is faced with the pressure of being accepted by his/her teammates may engage in sports bullying/hazing.  During adolescence, the desire to fit in with a group or team is quite prevalent and typical. This strong desire to fit in may be strong enough to drive an athlete to engage in inappropriate behavior such as bullying or hazing. This tendency may be stronger among the newer members of the team, those with lower self-esteem, or those who have witnessed bullying in other domains. 

The results also demonstrate a significant relationship between believing that hazing is a part of the sports culture and participation in hazing as well as believing that as long as no one gets hurt a little hazing is okay and that new team members should undergo an initiation. Coaches and parents should be aware of this and make efforts to communicate to young athletes that hazing should not be accepted as part of the sports culture. Another important point to consider in the prevention of bullying and hazing is implementing education and awareness measure earlier in life. Often times, young athletes are not given adequate information on the negative mental and physical impacts of bullying and hazing until they enter high school athletics. However, by this time it may be too late. By educating these young athletes on the negative effects earlier in -elementary or middle school, there may be a decrease of sports bullying and hazing as well as less acceptance of the belief that hazing is a natural part of the sports culture. 

Although this study only examined soccer players and the sample size was not very large, the findings represent a first step toward understanding sports hazing and bullying among young athletes.  This line of research requires more attention especially in light of the fact that sports have become very common in childhood. According to their website, Cook Inlet Soccer Club serves over 2,500 athletes per year in Alaska alone. This growing number alone shows the importance of future research in this topic.


Mendez-Baldwin, M.M. (2018) & DeLaurentis, B. (2018). College athletes’ views about sports bullying and hazing. Journal of Bullying and Social Aggression. Volume 1, No 1. 

Mendez-Baldwin, M.M., Fontaine, A. & Consiglio,  J. (2017). An examination of high school 

athletes’ attitudes about bullying and hazing.  Journal of  Bullying and Social Aggression

Volume 2, No  2. (


Olweus , D. 1993). Bullying at school: what we know and what we can do. Oxford, UK; 

Cambridge, USA :Blackwell. 

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Sleep Deprivation as a Function of Bully-Induced Conflict: Interruptions of College Students’ Peaceful Sleep

Elena V. Chudnovskaya, Ph.D.

Diane M. Millette, Ed.D.

Michael J. Beatty, Ph.D.


Bullying creates stress from conflict in interpersonal relationships, and has a negative impact on the mental and physiological health of victims, including depression and anxiety. However, little attention has been focused on the impact of bullying on the physical health of victims. The purpose of this study was to examine whether bullying had a negative impact on victims’ quality of sleep, since lack of sleep can cause diseases, depression, and even suicidal tendency. Participants of this study included 418 undergraduate students at a southeastern university in the United States. Confirmatory Factor Analysis (CFA) was conducted in order to evaluate how types of traditional bullying associated with sleep disturbance. The results indicated that interpersonal conflict associated with traditional bullying in the form of verbal and social victimization correlated with the sleep quality of victims. Implications of this study are discussed, along with limitations and suggestions for future research.

Keywords: traditional bullying, physical health, sleep disturbance

Adolescents often experience bullying at schools. The rates of bullying in the United States have increased with the number of students that report being victimized doubling from 2001 to 2011 (Davis, Stafford, & Pullig, 2014). According to the U.S. National Center for Education Statistics (2013), 5,386,000 students (22%) ages 12 through 18 reported being bullied at school, and 1,713,000 students (7%) indicated being bullied online (as cited in Robers, Zhang, Morgan, & Musu-Gillette, 2015). Bullying can harm youths to an extent where they see death as the only way to escape their pain, and some victims commit suicide or demonstrate an intention towards suicide (Hazelden Foundation, 2007; Mueller, James, Abrutyn, & Levin, 2015): “Eight out of every 100,000 teenagers committed suicide in 2000 as a result of bullying” (U.S. National Institute of Mental Health, 2000, as cited in Hashem, 2015, p. 117).
Bullying is a serious problem at an individual, social, and organizational level (Craig & Pepler, 2007; Koo, 2007; Roscigno et al., 2009). This antisocial behavior is usually an issue associated with K-12 grade levels, which is considered not to exist once students enter college (Krasselt, 2014). However, this is a misconception since bullying can occur in almost any environmental setting, including elementary and high schools, post-secondary schools, and professional organizations (Lutgen-Sandvik & McDermott, 2011; Misawa, 2015; Olweus, 1995). According to a 2010 U.S. Workplace Bullying Survey, 35% of the U.S. workforce (estimated 53.5 million Americans) reported being bullied at work (Workplace Bullying Institute, 2010). Bullying generates harmful organizational outcomes by creating a hostile environment in the workplace, where frequent interpersonal conflicts and violence cause decreased productivity, as well as increase staff turnover and job stress (Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003; Misawa, 2015).
Consequences of bullying can have a negative impact not only on victims and their families, but also on organizations and communities causing significant financial and social costs to the general public (Kemp-Graham & Hendricks, 2015). The nature of bullying is rooted in anti-social and rule-breaking behaviors, and there is a strong correlation between bullying in early adolescence and later criminality (Olweus, 2011). On the individual level, bullying has a negative impact on psychological health of the victims, and can cause stress, depression, and anxiety. Although, there are many studies addressing the correlation between bullying and victims’ psychology, little attention has focused on the influence of bullying on physical health. A few studies demonstrate that bullying can weaken the victims’ physical health, causing an increased risk of infectious disease, asthma, ulcers, and strokes (Schat et al., 2005). As a result, poor health conditions cause increased absences and poor academic performance in schools, and decreased productivity in the workplace.
Scholars in areas such as sociology, psychology, and business also examined this phenomenon to understand various tools that could be utilized to eliminate bullying and prevent its negative consequences (e.g., Jamal et al. 2015; Pilch & Turska, 2015; Samnani, Boekhorst, & Harrison, 2016). Bullying is recognized as a communication phenomenon through interaction between the parties involved in bullying (Tracy et al., 2005), including verbal and nonverbal bullying. Therefore, exploring the process of bullying and its mechanism is important from a communication research lens to find ways to prevent its potential destructive consequences on interpersonal relationships. Previous communication research focused primarily on negative interactions in bullying, including conflict experiences in families and organizations (e.g. Clair, 1993; Matsunaga, 2009; Tracy et al., 2005). The overall goal of this current study is examining the impact of bullying as a communication phenomenon on physical health of the victims.
The effects of bullying are damaging to individuals in various contexts, including academic settings. Keashly (2015) noted, “25-35 percent of faculty have been targets of workplace bullying with 40-50 percent reporting they have witnessed someone else being bullied” (p. 24). In the past, scholars paid little attention to this issue and its consequences in university settings. The present student is a step towards filling this gap by examining the prevalence of bullying in universities. In addition, this study aims to evaluate the impact of bullying on victims’ physical health. Although there are many studies indicating that bullying has a negative correlation with the psychological and mental health of victims (Trépanier, Fernet, & Austin, 2013; Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk, 2015), insufficient research addresses the influence of bullying on physical health. One of the important elements of physical health is sleep (Hongyun et al., 2017; Yilmaz, Tanrikulu, & Dikmen, 2017). Lack of sleep can have a negative impact on social interactions and cause diseases, including memory loss, slow response, and irritability, which can influence development of depression and suicidal tendency. Sleep problems are also associated with poor academic performance and work related accidents. Since few studies address bullying as a stressor causing sleep disturbance, this research will examine the impact that bullying has on the victim’s physical health and quality of sleep.
History of Bullying
Bullying has always been a part of social life (Koo, 2007; Olweus, 1995; Roscigno, Lopez, & Hodson, 2009). Bullying attracted public attention when The Times published a story about a soldier’s death as a result of bullying in 1862. The Times was the first to address the critical issues of bullying and the serious consequences that can follow such behavior (Koo, 2007). This story may have shocked many people since society did not consider the behaviors that caused this death to be harmful, therefore, accepted bullying as a normal behavior. As bullying became more prevalent, this problem began to draw attention, and the public wanted to know more about this phenomenon. Another tragic incident was the death of a twelve-year old boy in King’s School in the U.K. in 1885. This schoolboy died from bullying behaviors by an older group (Koo, 2007). At that time, no punishment was given to the boys involved since bullying was considered a misadventure, and acceptable among young males as a normal part of school life (Koo, 2007).
The next wave of interest regarding peer bullying was in Scandinavia during the 1960s and 1970s (Olweus, 2013). These studies included diverse populations, although they mostly focused on bullying in schools (Koo, 2007; Olweus, 1995, 2011). Anti-bullying research in Scandinavian countries lead to the development of national campaigns to prevent bullying, which were successfully implemented in Norway and Sweden. Later Finland, United Kingdom, Ireland and Japan developed similar interventions (Smith & Brain, 2000). In the late 1990s, anti-bullying initiatives and campaigns were implemented in other European countries (i.e., Ireland, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, Switzerland), as well as in Australia and New Zealand (Smith & Brain, 2000). In the United States, the bullying problem attracted increased interest of scholars and policy makers after several school shootings, e.g., Amish Schoolhouse in 2006, Columbine High School in 1999. Victimization of students being bullied was connected to these shocking events (Duplechain & Morris, 2014; Olweus & Limber, 2010). Tragic situations such as these also contributed to the development of state laws addressing bullying in schools (Smith & Brain, 2000).
Bulling: Demonstration of Social Agression
Process of Bullying
Definitions of bullying typically identify the following criteria: (1) Aggressive behavior with intention to do harm; (2) imbalance of power; and (3) process carried out repeatedly over time (Houbre, Tarquinio, Thuillier, & Hergott, 2006; Olweus, 1995; Pörhölä, Karhunen, & Rainivaara, 2006). Researchers identified main parties and roles involved in the bullying process, including the “bully or perpetrator,” “target or victim,” “bully-victim,” and “bystander” (Houbre et al., 2006; Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Olweus, 1995).
Bullies or perpetrators. Bullies use a higher level of power compared to their victims, which is intended to insult or attack the victims (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Bullies engage in a conscious hostility toward the victims, and communicate behavior through verbal and non-verbal aggression (i.e., physical and relational) (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Typical bullies often demonstrate an aggressive reaction pattern combined with physical strength (Olweus, 1995). Bullies are often highly emotional, hot tempered, and hyperactive (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015).
Targets or victims.

Victims are individuals who are attacked or insulted by bullies (Olweus, 1995). Victims usually experience fear and a feeling of helplessness (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005; Olweus (1995), as well as being cautious, sensitive, and quiet (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Victims are often more anxious, depressed and insecure than others in general, and tend to have a negative view of themselves and low self-esteem (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015). Victim-boys are often physically weaker than other boys at school, and are usually viewed as insecure individuals unwilling to resist aggression by bullies (Olweus, 1995). Bullying during childhood could have long term dangerous consequences for victims, “leave scars on their minds” (Olweus, 1995, p. 197), and are more likely to experience higher levels of depression and lower levels of self-esteem when older than non-victimized peers.

Bully-victims assume the roles of both bully and victim during different bullying situations (Craig et. al, 2009). Previous research indicated that bully-victims usually bully others more often than pure bullies (e.g., only a bully) and were victimized more frequently than pure victims (e.g., only a victim) (Yang & Salmivalli, 2013). When victimized by more powerful peers, bully-victims may turn to others whom they perceive to be weaker victims for bullying perpetration. It is possible that deficits in self-regulation and aggressive impulsive behaviors of bully-victims allow their peers and teachers to think that peer rejection and maltreatment is “deserved,” thereby reducing the empathy felt towards them (Yang & Salmivalli, 2015).

Bystanders are those who witness or are aware of the bullying behavior, but do nothing to prevent violence against the victim as most bystanders are afraid of becoming the next victim (Hutchinson, 2012). Bystanders simply stand-by and witness how a bully mistreats or insults the victim, which communicates approval for inappropriate behavior of the bully. This silent approval empowers the bully and undermines the victim’s power (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). In most cases, bystanders do not like to be involved in a bullying situation as they dislike the bully’s behavior (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005), which causes bystanders to experience symptoms of psychological distress (Nielsen & Einarsen, 2013).
Traditional Bullying
Bullies use verbal and nonverbal behaviors during the bullying process (Tracy et al., 2005), and communicate their aggressiveness to the victims directly and indirectly. Researchers recognize traditional bullying, which occur through personal interactions, and cyberbullying, or misbehavior through technology (e.g., email, instant messaging, and websites). Traditional bullying includes verbal, physical, and social misbehavior.
Verbal bullying.

Verbal bullying is found in “70 percent of all reported incidents of bullying” (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005, p. 6), which includes withholding information, humiliating, ridiculing, starting rumors, gossiping, insulting, offensive remarks, shouting at, teasing, sarcasm, persisting criticism, and threating violence (Ockerman et al., 2014). Other strategies used by bullies are name calling, taunting, belittling, and teasing, as well as using racist, sexist, and ageist slurs (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005).
Physical bullying.

Although physical bullying is the most visible form, it is less common, representing approximately 30% of bullying interactions (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). This type of bullying includes biting, choking, scratching, spitting, tickling, and destroying property of the victim (Heeman, 2007). Other strategies are “crashing into a student on purpose as she/he walked by,” “getting into a physical fight with a student because a bully does not like him/her,” “slapping or punching a student,” and “throwing something at a student to hit him/her” (Hamburger, Basile, & Vivolo, 2011, p. 44).
Social bullying.

Social or relational bullying is also referred to as relational aggression (Liepe-Levinson & Levinson, 2005). Relational bullying diminishes the target’s self-esteem and includes ignoring, isolating, excluding, taunting, gossiping, writing negative notes, and spreading rumors. Social bullying includes stares, rolling eyes, sighs, frowns, and sneers (Heeman, 2007). Strategies used by bullies during the process of relational bullying are “letting students out of activities or games on purpose,” “getting other students to ignore the victim,” and “getting other students to start rumors about the victim” (Hamburger et al., 2011, p. 44).
Bullying in Different Contexts
Bullying in Primary and Secondary Schools

Bullying is one of the most serious issues in primary and secondary schools (Allen, 2010; Annerbäck, Sahlqvist, & Wingren, 2014; Cemaloglu, 2011; Cowan, 2012; Shetgiri et al., 2015). Educators, psychiatrists, and mental health professionals address this issue worldwide due to its negative consequences on social life and well-being of the victims. In the U.S., approximately three million students were bullied each year resulting in as many as 160,000 students skipping school for fear of being victimized (American Public Health Association, n.d., as cited in Yu-Ying & Jiun-Hau, 2015). The occurrence of different types of bullying among 6th to 12th grade students in 2005-2006 was estimated as follows: 21% physical bullying, 53% verbal bullying, 51% social bullying, and 14% cyber bullying (Shetgiri, 2013). Given the increase of social media, it would be expected that cyber bullying has also increased among students. In addition to widely spread victimization among peers at schools, bullying could be expressed as top-down (teacher-student) and bottom-up processes (student-teacher). Twemlow and Fonagy (2005) define a bullying teacher as “one who uses his or her power to punish, manipulate, or disparage a student beyond what would be a reasonable disciplinary procedure” (p. 2387). Researchers previously stated about half of the students were bullied by teachers in schools (Allen, 2010; Twemlow, Fonagy, Sacco, & Brethour, 2006). On the other hand, Terry (1998) reported high school teachers often become victims of students’ misbehavior as well.
Bullying in Universities
Although there are many studies focusing on bullying in primary and secondary schools, this issue also occurs in universities among faculty-to-student, student-to-faculty, student-to-student, and faculty-to-faculty (Luparell, 2007; Marchiondo, Marchiondo, & Lasiter, 2010; Mott, 2014; Raineri, Frear, & Edmonds, 2011). In a 2011 study conducted at the University of Indiana, 22% of college students reported being victims of cyberbullying, and 15% reported traditional bullying (Krasselt, 2014). Mott (2014) examined victimization of undergraduate nursing students in the United States, who often reported cases of bullying by faculty members in nursing education (e.g., belittling, targeting, and being unresponsive or unreceptive to students’ needs, questions, and unprofessionalism). Clarke, Kane, Rajacich, and Lafreniere (2012) studied bullying in clinical nursing education among Canadian undergraduate nursing students. Their findings indicated that nursing students experienced and witnessed different frequencies of bullying behaviors most notably by clinical instructors and staff nurses.
Bullying in the Workplace
Workplace bullying is sometimes called “mobbing” (e.g. Ertureten, Cemalcilar, & Aycan, 2013; Ozturk, Sokmen, Yilmaz, & Cilingir, 2008) that builds upon a combination of behaviors by workers occurring in various forms, such as harassment, emotional abuse, and incivility (Einarsen, 1999). Workplace bullying could be executed by supervisors towards subordinates, among subordinates, and subordinates toward supervisors (Salin, 2003; Vandekerckhove & Commers, 2003). The mostly widespread form of workplace bullying in the U.S. and Europe is bullying by a supervisor against a subordinate, or top-down bullying (Vandekerckhove & Commers, 2003). Workplace bullying can be a result of various social and individual factors, including strong interpersonal conflict (e.g., conflict-related bullying), authoritative abuse (Pilch & Turska, 2015), low salaries, stressful work environment, and professional jealousy (Wright & Hill, 2015). The level of bullying in a workplace depends on the kind of organization, and can range from 30% to 50% (Cox, 1991; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003, 2007; Lutgen-Sandvik & Tracy, 2012; Spratlen, 1995; Van Fleet & Van Fleet, 2012). Workplace bullying presents significant costs for employers, including employees refocusing energy from productivity to self-protection, replacing absent victims, processing formal complaints, and damage a company’s image (Bartlett & Bartlett, 2011; Moayed, Daraiseh, Shell, & Salem, 2006; Namie, 2007; Lutgen-Sandvik, 2003; Rogers & Kelloway, 1997). Workplace bullying also contributes to financial damages in various countries. In the United States, “the annual approximate total organizational monetary loss due to bullying of the LGBT sector is $35 trillion” (Hollis & McCalla, 2013, p.10). Australia workplace bullying cost between $6 billion and $36 billion every year (Productivity Commission, 2010, as cited in Skinner et al., 2015).
Bullying and Victims’ Health
Impact of Bullying on Psychological Health

Many researchers agree that bullying can lead to significant psychological, physical, and emotional consequences in victims, which results in anger, frustration, depression, and decreased confidence (Hase, Goldberg, Smith, Stuck, & Campain, 2015; Liu & Graves, 2011; Mott, 2014; Owusu et al., 2011; Rodwell & Demir, 2012; Trépanier et al., 2013; Zou, Andersen, & Blosnich, 2013). Owusu et al. (2011) examined the impact of bullying on the physiological health of senior high school students in Ghana, West Africa, and analyzed data from a 2008 Ghana Global School-based Student Health Survey. The study revealed that about 40% of the total 7,137 participants were victimized by bullying and were more likely to experience psychological health issues compared with those who has not been bullied. The reported health issues included signs of depression, suicide ideation, and sleep disorder. Menesini, Modena, and Tani (2009) conducted research among 1,278 students enrolled in 13 secondary schools in Italy. Almost half of the participants reported being involved in the bullying process, including 140 victims and 81 bully/victims. The results of this study indicated that victims and bully/victims experienced higher degrees of anxiety, depression, and withdrawal in comparison with the other groups. In the U.S., Greenleaf, Petrie, and Martin (2014) examined the impact of weight-based teasing on adolescents’ psychological well-being among middle school students from the six middle schools in a central southern state. Out of 1,419 participants, approximately 17% reported being teased because they were overweight. The findings demonstrated that victims experienced higher levels of depression and lower degrees of self-esteem, physical self-concept, and physical activity self-efficacy.
Bullying has a negative impact on psychological health among adults as well, and can cause depression, loneliness, insomnia, nervous symptoms, melancholy, apathy, lack of concentration and sociophobia (Ekici & Beder, 2014; Einarsen, 1999; Iyer-Eimerbrink, Scielzo, & Jensen-Campbell, 2015; Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk 2015; Wang, Iannotti, & Luk, 2012). Negative health outcomes are associated with increased absenteeism, staff turnover, burnout, lower job satisfaction and decreased morale. Because of high levels of stress and decreased levels of self-confidence, victims often use sick leave and worker’s compensation to deal with stress, or quit jobs, and in some extreme cases commit suicide (Cemaloglu, 2011). Trépanier et al. (2013) conducted research investigating how exposure to workplace bullying undermines psychological health among 1,179 nurses, and found that being a victim of bullying had a negative impact reporting higher burnout and lower work engagement. Dehue, Bolman, Völlink, and Pouwelse (2012) examined the mental and physical health consequences of bullying in the workplace among 361 employees, and confirmed victimization was negatively associated with participants’ well-being and health, especially depressive symptoms. Similarly, Ekici and Beder (2014) examined workplace bullying and its effects on performance and depression at a university hospital in Turkey. Researchers found that psychological violence at work was associated with depression of physicians and nurses. In Norway, Einarsen and Nielsen (2015) analyzed the impact of bullying on a sample of 1,613 employees over a five-year time lag. The findings indicated that bullying can cause long-term symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Impact of Bullying on Physical Health
Although several studies revealed that bullying has a negative impact on mental and psychological well-being of victims, some evidence indicated that bullying positively correlates with physical health. This can be explained by the fact that stressful life experiences have a negative impact on psychological functioning resulting in a wide range of physical diseases and symptoms (Schat, Kelloway, & Desmarais, 2005). Stressful situations can negatively influence psychological welfare of victims and weaken their immune system, causing an increase of susceptibility to various diseases (Schat et al., 2005). For example, work-related stress is associated with increased risk of infectious disease, asthma, ulcers, and strokes as a result of the suppressed immune functioning (Schat et al., 2005).
Studies providing evidence of bullying associated with negative physical health outcomes mostly concentrate on victims at school and in the workplace. Baldry (2004) conducted research among 661 adolescents from ten different middle schools in Rome. Findings indicated that bullying was associated with mental and physical health of these students resulting in long lasting negative effects. Dehue et al. (2012) examined influence of bullying on the mental and physical health among 361 employees in the Netherlands. Researchers found that victims of frequent bullying reported more health issues (e.g., depressive symptoms, headaches, palpitations, and back pain), than non- or rarely victimized employees. Overall, negative health outcomes are associated with increased absenteeism, burnout, lower job satisfaction and lower morale, as well as organization-related effects damaging productivity and reputation (Verkuil, Atasayi, & Molendijk, 2015).
Little attention has been paid to the impact of bullying as one of the main reasons of stress on physical health of victims among undergraduate students. A study by Politis and colleagues (2014) provided a sample of 2,427 adolescents aged 16 to 18 years old in Greece to investigate the association between bullying and subjective health complaints. Researchers found that victims of bullying were more likely to report backache, dizziness, and fatigue. In the U.S., Woodford, Kulick, and Atteberry (2015) conducted research among undergraduates and graduate students in a Midwest university. The results revealed that interpersonal heterosexist discrimination can cause negative health outcomes among minority students associated with symptoms of depression and anxiety, and negative outcomes for physical health, such as headaches and sleeping problems.
Sleep Disturbance
Sleep is an essential element of our life and one of the basic human needs that is directly related to health and quality of life, as well as influences our social and cultural interactions (Hongyun et al., 2017; Yilmaz et al., 2017). High quality of sleep is an important element in clinics and related research, associated with feeling energetic and fit. Low quality of sleep is an indicator of a wide range of medical diseases. Nowadays, difficulties with sleep is a prevalent complaint among the general population in Western countries, with rates of self-reported insomnia ranging between 10 and 48% (Hongyun et al., 2017).There is strong relationship between physical and psychological wellness and sleep (Hongyun et al., 2017; Lee, Wuertz, Rogers, & Chen, 2013; Takeuchi, Nakao, & Yano, 2007; Yilmaz et al., 2017). Long-term sleep problems could cause thought retardation, memory loss, slow response, low spirit, and irritability. It can influence development of depression and suicidal tendency. In the workplace, chronic sleep issues are associated with greater work absenteeism and work related accidents or injuries (Hongyun et al., 2017). An important factor found to cause sleep disturbance was occupational stress. Lee, Wuertz, Rogers, and Chen (2013) conducted research among 676 professionals in South Africa, including architects, engineers, surveyors, and project and construction managers. They found physiological effects of workplace stress include disturbances of sleep patterns, difficulty in concentrating and relaxing after hours (Lee et al., 2013). Takeuchi et al. (2007) conducted a 20-year study among workers, and reported that sleep disturbance and fatigue were important factors causing a long-term depressive state. Sleep disturbances were also common among college students, which could be associated with stress derived from academic challenges and daily life (Lee et al., 2013). Magee et al. (2015) examined the relationship between workplace bullying and sleep quality among Australian employees. The findings revealed association of bullying with the poor sleep quality. Hansen et al. (2016) conducted a study among public and private sector employees, and found support that workplace bullying is related to development of some sleep problems (i.e., problems staying awake and lack of restful sleep). Zhou et al. (2015) conducted research among high school students in six cities in China and found being involved in bullying behaviors was related to increased risks of poor sleep quality. However, there are not many studies addressing influence of bullying on the quality of sleep for students in U.S. universities.
Research Questions
Numerous studies indicated that bullying has a negative correlation with physiological and mental health of the victims (Trépanier et al., 2013; Verkuil et al., 2015), specifically in a university environment. When studies were conducted, it was seldom clear what specific type of bullying had a negative impact on the victim’s health. The current research examined how different forms of bullying influenced the physical health of victims in an academic setting using a communication lens, and examined the influence of traditional bullying on quality of sleep among undergraduate students.
Rather than advancing a scientific theory of bullying, this project should be viewed as an initial exploration to an applied problem, namely the linkage between various types of bullying and victims’ health outcomes. Except for physical, violent manifestation of traditional bullying types such as verbal and social bullying have relied on subjective reactions to socially inappropriate behavior. This study seeks to determine whether the non-physical forms of bullying have quantifiable physical effects on victims. Based on the previous review of literature, the following research questions were proposed:
RQ1: What type of traditional bullying occurs among undergraduate students?
RQ2: Do non-physical forms of traditional bullying have a negative impact on sleep
quality of the victims of bullying?

This study measured the impact of traditional bullying on a victim’s health. Specific examination included forms of traditional bullying (verbal and social) to determine the influence of bullying on quality of sleep for victims.
Participants included 418 undergraduate students, including females (n=284, 68%) and males (n=134, 32%) at a southeastern university in the U.S. Student ages ranged from 18 to 29 (M =20.50, SD = 1.84). Participants were Caucasian 51.8%, Hispanic 23, 4%, Asian 9.3%, African American 8.4%, and Other 7.2% that represented seniors 29.1%, juniors 28.4%, sophomores 22.4% and freshman 8.1%. Participants responded during class to a questionnaire containing demographics and self-report items, which focused on two instruments addressing the following areas: Traditional bullying victimization and physical health outcomes (sleep disturbance).
The following instruments were utilized for this study: (1) Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target measuring victimization by traditional bullying; and (2) Sleep Disturbance subscale from Physical Health Questionnaire measuring physical health outcomes (sleep) of bulling victims (see below for details on instruments).
Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target (APRI-T).Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument-Target (APRI-T) is a part of Adolescent Peer Relations Instrument Bully/Target developed by Parada (2000) and utilized by Hamburger et al. (2011). APRI-T consists of 18 items to measure victimization by traditional bullying (e.g., verbal, physical, and social). Target factor items were preceded by the sentence “In the past year at this school …” The second part of the sentence in the items reflects victimization by three types of bullying: Verbal, physical and social victimization. Verbal victimization is presented by six items: #1, #4, #7, #11, #13, and #18. Examples of items “I was teased by students saying things to me,” and “A student made rude remarks at me.” Social victimization is presented by six items, including items #3, #6, #9, #12, #14, and #17. Examples of items included: “A student wouldn’t be friends with me because other people didn’t like me” and “A student ignored me when they were with their friends.” Physical victimization is presented by six items: #2, #5, #8, #10, #15, and #16. Examples of questions included: “I was pushed or shoved” and “I was hit or kicked hard.” Students were asked to indicate how often they experienced a series of bullying behaviors on a 7-point bipolar scale anchored from “never” at one end and “every day” at the other. The scale was tested by Parada (2000) with reliabilities for the total victimization instrument .95; and subscale scores (verbal, physical, and social victimization) ranging from .83 to 92 (as cited in Hamburger et al., 2011). The reliability subscale scores in this study were as follows: verbal victimization .86, social victimization .82, and physical victimization .81.
Sleep Disturbance. In order to assess student’s physical health, the Spence, Helmreich, and Fred’s (1987) scale revised by Schat, Kelloway, and Desmarais (2005), Physical Health Questionnaire (PHQ), was used in this study. The modified PHQ consists of 14 items and four subscales measuring: sleep disturbance, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, and respiratory infections. For the purpose of this study, sleep disturbance subscale was used to examine impact of bullying on the victims’ quality of sleep. Sleep disturbance subscale items are (1) “How often have you had difficulty getting to sleep at night?” (2) “How often have you woken up during the night?” (3) “How often have you had nightmares or disturbing dreams?” and (4) “How often has your sleep been peaceful and undisturbed?” (Reverse score Item #4.) Reliabilities of the PHQ subscale items were above .70 (Schat et al., 2005). In the present study, students were asked to indicate how often they experienced health issues on a 7-point bipolar scale anchored from “never” at one end and “every day” at the other. The reliability score for sleep disturbance subscale in this study was .67.
This research examined bullying at universities and its effect on physical health of the victims. The study specifically focused on evaluating the impact of traditional bullying on quality of the victims’ sleep utilizing a quantitative approach based on a questionnaire designed for this project.
RQ1: What type of traditional bullying occurs among undergraduate students?
Descriptive statistics demonstrate all types of examined bullying existing among the participants. To address the question “Please indicate how often a student (students) at this school has done the following things [types of bullying] to you since you have been at this school this year,” the answers were measured on the scale from 1 (“Never”) to 7 (“Every day”). The maximum scores (Max) indicate that at least some students experience all types of bullying, with some reporting verbal victimization, physical victimization, social victimization, almost every day. Verbal victimization (Max = 6.33, M=1.45, SD = .77), physical victimization (Max = 5.33, M=1.11, SD =.38), and social victimization (Max = 6.17, M=1.41, SD = .69). Approximately 68.5% experienced traditional bullying. The widely used types of bullying reported by the victims were verbal bullying (56.6%) and social bullying (53.7%); approximately 23% of the participants experienced physical bullying. Due to the fact that the majority of the participants experienced verbal and social bullying, further step was to examine whether these types of bullying influence the victims’ physical health, in particular, the quality of sleep.
RQ2: Do non-physical forms of traditional bullying have a negative impact on sleep quality of the victims of bullying?
In the literature, verbal bullying and social bullying are treated as separate components of bullying. However, to date, evidence supporting the treatment of the measures as separate factors has not been produced. As a starting point, we submitted data from the measures to confirmatory factor analysis (CFA), specifying the six verbal bullying items as indicators of one latent factor and the six social bullying items as indicators of a second latent factor. Although the fit indices indicated reasonable overall fit for a two factor model, RMSEA = .02, CI = .00-.04, SRMR = .04, CFI=.99, TLI = .98, and the factor loadings were acceptable ranging from .80 to .60 (standardized), the interactor correlation, r = .85, exceeded the generally acceptable parameter value, indicating that the distinction between the two factors was artificial. A follow-up model specifying all twelve bullying items as one factor resulted in equally good fit, RMSEA = .03, SRMR = .04, CFI = .95, TLI = .94, factor loading ranging from .59 to . 73, as well as a more parsimonious model of the data.
Upon determination that the twelve bullying items measured one factor, a structural equation model specifying the twelve bullying items as indicators of the bullying latent factors, and the four sleep items as indicators of the sleep disturbance latent factor indicated good overall fit, RMSEA = .04, SRMR = .04, CFI = .95, TLI = .94; with factor loadings for sleep disturbance items ranging from .78 to .38, and a significant correlation, r =.30, p<.05 between bullying and sleep disturbance it indicates a positive answer to research question two. An inspection of modification indices for the unique variances for bullying and sleep disturbance indicated that the error terms for both variables were not significantly correlated. Therefore, the correlation between bullying and sleep disturbance is not likely due to an outside latent variable. Consequently, it is likely that the relationship between bullying and sleep disturbance is a causal one.
Bullying is an intentional act of harm expressed in various ways and often repeated over a certain period of time. It occurs in multiple contexts, including primary and secondary schools, universities, and organizations. This is a serious problem that has attracted public attention for over a century because of its negative affect on both victims and bystanders, as well as an impact on workplace environment, productivity, and profit (Craig & Pepler, 2007; Koo, 2007; Misawa, 2015; Roscigno et al., 2009). Bullying continues to be an issue since it demonstrates anti-social and inappropriate behaviors where victims of bullying have been exposed to experiencing physical and psychological harm.
Results of the present study indicated that a majority of undergraduate participants (68.5%) experienced various types of traditional bullying (verbal, social, and physical), with prevailing rates of verbal (56.6%), and social (53.7%) as indicated by the victims. Students who experienced verbal bullying reported being teased or ridiculed by other students, and bullies making rude remarks to them. Bullies also targeted victims by making jokes about them, negative comments about their looks, and calling them nasty names. As a part of social bullying, victims experienced situations where students would not be friends since they were not liked by others. Some students reported being ignored when bullies were with other friends, or friends turned against victims. Social bullying also included bullies starting rumors about victims, or victims being excluded from invitations to social activities when other students did not like the victims.
While previous research indicates negative effects of bullying, little attention has been given to the relationship of bullying and physical health of the victims, especially its impact on sleep among undergraduate students. Findings of the present study revealed that verbal and social bullying as a communication phenomenon in interpersonal interactions have a negative impact on victims’ physical health such as quality of sleep. Victims reported having difficulty sleeping at night, and experiencing disturbed sleep by waking up multiple times during the night. Sleep is an essential requirement of a person’s health and well-being, and the results of being bullied indicated a negative influence on the quality of sleep. Consequently, prevention of bullying should be considered a priority for universities in order to provide a healthier and less stressful environment.
Implications of Study
The results of this study have significant implications at universities. Providing information about negative health consequences is an important tool to extend awareness of this destructive phenomenon. Traditional bullying typically creates interpersonal problems, as well as negatively influencing a victim’s health. These problems could lead to repeated absences at school, and be negatively associated with academic performance. However, it is possible school counselors are not aware of how serious bullying issues are in their schools, or the availability of bullying prevention and intervention programs (Richardson, 2015).
The university administration should consider development of specific bullying prevention programs (Hertz et al., 2015; Squires st al., 2013) that would be more proactive in deterring bullying on campus (Wajngurt, 2018). It would be beneficial for these programs to include information about various types of bullying, and its negative consequences on the well-being of victims. Students should be informed regarding support systems and resources on campus (e.g., counseling centers and health treatments) to address this problem in order to find an effective solution. Reasons for bullying should be thoroughly evaluated in order to establish a healthier and productive school environment. Bullying prevention programs could be developed based on earlier implemented campaigns. One intervention campaign against bullying was developed in 1983 in Norway using the Olweus Self-Report Questionnaire, and resulted in a decrease of an estimated 50% of bullying (Smith & Brain, 2000). Another effective monitored intervention was conducted in Sheffield, England, from 1991 to 1994. The participating schools observed a decrease in bullying, especially those that developed anti-bullying policies, and programs working with individuals and groups. Other intervention campaigns included anti-bullying programs in Toronto, Canada; Flanders region of Belgium; and Schleswig-Holstein in Germany. All of these campaigns utilized the anti-bullying program developed in 1983 by Olweus (as cited in Smith & Brain, 2000). According to Jones and Augustine (2015), effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools depends on involvement of the community to address this problem (i.e., faculty, staff, students, parents, and administrators). Programs should focus on teaching children and adults to be empathetic towards others. Another way to increase effectiveness of anti-bullying programs is “to prepare and promote the professional skills of teachers and school counselors to deal effectively with behavioral problems of students” (Vahedi, Fathi Azar, & Golparvar, 2016, p. 68). Wajngurt (2018) recommends educating faculty and staff about the existence of different forms of bullying through conferences and/or special events. Another way to prevent negative consequences of bullying is to create a help desk or anonymous email address for students who have been bullied. Counseling departments should periodically review anti-bullying interventions and promote awareness of health risks associated with bullying and offer professional help and support to the victims (Wajngurt, 2018). It is also important that anti-bullying policies and procedures are adopted in organizations (Francis, 2015). In order to prevent bullying and harassment, employers, managers and employees should be trained to recognize assertiveness and aggression, as well as implementing conflict resolution strategies (Etienne, 2014). Spreading awareness of bullying, as well as development of prevention programs, is important for maintaining a healthy atmosphere in any environment.
Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
One limitation of the present study was the impact of bullying on victims’ physical health evaluated based on self-report surveys. Self-report tools reflect victims’ perception and may not provide an accurate assessment of their situation. Students may report being bullied because of low self-esteem, therefore, assuming that any negative communication or situation is bullying. Some individuals who perceive themselves as victims or become targets of bullying might be predisposed to psychological or emotional orientations towards bullying. Other students may not accept the fact that they were targets of bullying and may not report victimization because of embarrassment. Some students may not trust that their identity will be protected, and choose not to reveal information about being victimized for fear of being punished or bullied. Future research should utilize qualitative methods (e.g., interviews or focus groups) that would provide greater depth regarding our understanding of bullying issues. In addition, analyzing the bullying and victimization process from a cross-cultural perspective would highlight issues in diverse schools, communities, and organizations that could be addressed in anti-bullying programs. Moreover, due to rapidly developing technology, bullies now target victims using cell phones and social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter). This new area of bullying was recognized in the literature as “cyberbullying,” and included text bullying (e.g., text messages, e-mails) and visual bullying (e.g., sending offensive videos or images). Wajngurt (2018) reports cyberbullying is becoming an increasing issue in higher education, and recommends college and university administrators develop policies and guidelines to address this situation on campus and at home. Consequently, future research should focus on analyzing cyberbullying and its effects on the physical health of the victims.
Bullying is an extremely serious issue in our world today. Accordingly, it has become an important area to study in the field of communication in order to better understand this destructive phenomenon. The National Communication Association (NCA, 2018) has given special attention to this social problem by initiating the NCA Anti-Bullying Project to develop an overall greater awareness and sensitivity to bullying that occurs on a daily basis (National Communication Association, 2018). This campaign highlights issues related to school and workplace bullying, social aggression, harassment, stalking, and role of bystanders in the bullying process. Multiple resources are provided in an attempt to ensure easy access of data and current research, as well as exchanging ideas about the prevention of bullying. The NCA Anti-bullying Resource Bank includes pedagogical resources, conference papers, and workshops addressing topics such as: Integrating Classroom Bullying into Instructional Practice, Awareness of Cyberbullying, and Strategies for Empowering Bystanders.

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About Authors
Elena V. Chudnovskaya, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Communication Studies
Western Illinois University
Macob, IL 61455
(309) 298-2370

Diane M. Millette, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Communication Studies
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33146
(305) 284-2340

Michael J. Beatty, Ph.D.
Professor of Communication Studies
University of Miami
Coral Gables, FL 33146
(305) 284-3769

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Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences

Martha Mendez-Baldwin

Manhattan College

Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences


The primary focus of this study was to examine college students’ views about bullying and to learn about their previous experiences with bullying.  Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. They complete a survey assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying and responses to a hypothetical bullying scenario.  Participants who reported being bullying in school completed an additional 10 questions assessing their experience. The results demonstrate that college students were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years with a fairly large percentage reporting that the early experience of bullying still affects them today.  The majority of college students believe that the prevalence of bullying has increased and also believe it is taken more seriously by parents today. Lastly, participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies.

Keywords: bullying, college students, views, experiences, implications

Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences

Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011) between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school.  While there is growing awareness of bullying, it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. Bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying. Some effects may last into adulthood.

Adams & Lawrence (2011) examined whether those bullied in schools continued to show the effects of being bullied after they enrolled in an institution of higher education.   Participants included 269 undergraduate students at a Midwestern state college. Participants completed a 20 item self-report questionnaire that contained questions about their experiences with bullying in junior high school, high school and college.  Adams & Lawrence’s study suggests that students who are bullied in high school and/or junior high school continue to be victimized. Participants reported being called names (verbal bullying) being excluded from class activities (relational bullying) and being physically abused (physical bullying) in college. In addition, those who had had been bullied in junior high or high school reported feelings of continued loneliness and isolation.  They also reported that they do not know how to fight back when individuals say hurtful things to them. These findings as well as the findings from their previous studies (2006; 2008) support the belief that the effects of bullying are long lasting.

A study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello, (2013) suggests that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood that persist into adulthood.  For this study, a sample of 1420 participants from 11 counties in Western North Carolina were categorized as either a bully, a victim, both a bully and a victim, or not exposed to bullying at all. The participants were assessed four times between the ages of 9 and 16 and three times during young adulthood (ages 19 through 26) for the following psychiatric conditions: depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, and suicidality (including recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt).  Victims were 4.3 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder during adulthood. Bullies who were also victims were 14.5 times more likely to develop a panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to develop depression. Bullies who were not victims were 4.1 times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder.

Despite studies that demonstrate the impact of bullying, some myths about bullying still exists.  One myth about bullying is that “bullying is not serious; it’s just kids being kids”. Another is that “bullying is a normal part of childhood”.  ( More empirical evidence is needed in order to dispel such myths.

It is imperative that all children, parents, educators, and coaches understand that these myths are false. The purpose of this study was to learn about college students’ experiences with bullying in order to understand the long term impact of prior experiences with bullying on college students and dispel the myths about bullying not being serious.   The study also examined college students’ attitudes and perceptions regarding the prevalence, causes, and impact of bullying today. Lastly, the study used hypothetical vignette to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied. Additionally, it was the researcher’s hope that the findings from this study would enable educators preparing college students who aspire to work with youth in the future to be better prepared to handle issues of bullying.



Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. Participants were recruited from undergraduate Psychology courses; participation was voluntary.  The participants ranged in age from 18-30 years. The mean age of the participants was 19.72 years (SD= 1.54). 35.2% of participants were male and 64.8 % were female. Participants represented 22 different majors with the most common being Psychology (25%), Education (19.4%), and Engineering majors (11.1%).  The ethnic background of the participants was 65.7 % Caucasian, 16.7 % Hispanic, 4.6 % African-American and 13% Other.


Participants completed a consent form as well as a 31 item survey, created by the researcher for the purposes of this study.   The survey contained three sections. Section A contained 20 statements assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying. Sample questions in Section A included: “social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today” and “adults take bullying more seriously today”.  Section B contained an open ended question posing a hypothetical scenario in which a younger sibling is being bullied; participants were asked how they would handle the situation and what advice they would give in that situation. Section C was solely for participants who personally experienced bullying during elementary or high school.  It included 10 statements assessing their experiences. Sample questions in Section C included: “I had the support of an adult when I was bullied” and “I think I was bullied because I different”. Sections A and C utilized a 4 point Likert scale in which participants rated the extent to which they agree or disagree (1= strongly disagree, 4= strongly agree) with the statements presented.


IRB approval was obtained for this study. Prior to completion of the survey, all participants signed a consent form. Participants completed the survey at the beginning of their class.  Participants took about 15 minutes to complete the survey. Upon completion of the surveys, participants were given debriefing forms. Participants were encouraged to visit the Counseling Center at the college if they experienced any emotional upset as a result of completing the bullying survey.


Experiences with Bullying:

Participants’ experiences with bullying were assessed by the survey.  Results indicate that 62.9% of the participants experienced bullying during middle or high school and 93% knew someone who had been bullied.  A little more than half of the participants (51.50 %) reported having the support of an adult at the time they were bullied and 54.41% believe that they were bullied because they were different.  Results also indicate that 67.60 % either agree or strongly agree that the experience of being bullied negatively affected, with 30.9 % reporting that their school performance was negatively impacted because of bullying. Furthermore, 39.70 % reported that the experience of being bullied still affects them today.  

Attitudes about Bullying Today:

Participants’ attitudes about bullying today were assessed by the survey.  65% agree or strongly agree that bullying is more prevalent today and 100% of the participants believe that social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today and.  In addition, 73.1% believe that adults take bullying more seriously today.


Hypothetical Vignette:

The responses to the hypothetical vignette were coded to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied.  The three most frequently reported strategies were talk to the child (68.5%), report the bullying to the teacher/school (50.9%), and tell the child’s parent (28.7%).  The least frequently reported strategies were: tell the child to fight the bully (2.7%), teach the child to fight (3.7%) and older sibling will confront the bully (3.7%)


The results demonstrate that the majority of college students surveyed were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years and that almost 100% of them knew someone who was bullied.  This demonstrates that bullying was prevalent during their earlier educational experiences. Furthermore, the results indicate that a large number of participants believe that they were bullied because they were different.  This is an important finding with implications for parents and teachers. Parents and teachers should make an effort to promote sensitivity, tolerance, and acceptance of differences among others. If youth learn to embrace the differences in other people, it may contribute to decreasing the prevalence of bullying.

Most of the participants who experienced bullying believe that being bullied impacted them negatively and some reported that the experience of being bullied had a negative effect on their academic performance.  These findings provide important information that can be used by parents and teachers to help students who are victims of bullying. The findings confirm those of a 2013 study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello which found that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood.    

Additionally, almost half of the participants reported that being bullied in middle or high school still affects them today confirming the findings of a study by Adams & Lawrence (2011) which demonstrated that that the effects of bullying are long lasting.   The current study not only demonstrates the long term effects of bullying but also contributes to the empirical evidence that can be used to help dispel the myths that bullying is not serious and that it is a normal part of childhood. Bullying is indeed serious; so serious that a child who is bullied during middle or high school may still be affected by it during young adulthood.

Another important finding from this study is that the majority of participants believe that bullying is more prevalent today.  In addition, they believe that the internet and social media are major contributors to the increased prevalence. This is essential information for parents.  Parents must be aware and well informed about bullying so that they can help their children who may be affected by bullying as either bullies, victims or witnesses.  Parents should also exercise caution when allowing their children to use the internet and social media. Parents should teach their children cyber-safety and cyber-responsibility before allowing their children to access the internet and social media, especially unsupervised.   In addition, teachers must be well prepared and vigilant in their classrooms so they can identify cases of bullying and provide proper intervention.

The responses to the hypothetical vignettes demonstrate that the participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies.  This is an encouraging finding since the vast majority of the participants consisted of Psychology and Education majors who may be working with youth in the future.  When adults respond quickly, consistently, and effectively to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. In addition, if children are confident that the adults in their lives can effectively help, they may be more likely to tell an adult when they experience or see bullying.   According to, effective response to bullying may help stop bullying behavior over time.

The findings of this study contribute to a deeper understanding of bullying.   Nonetheless, more research is needed to address the issue of bullying which has become quite prevalent today.  The findings of this study are limited in that the sample size was not very large. Furthermore, the participants consisted of more females than males.  The same findings may not exist among male college students. Furthermore, the study did not examine in detail the specific ways that the participants believe bullying still affects them today.  Future research should address these limitations.



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