What is Bullying? A New Uniform Definition for Research

Feb 10, 2014|By: Alana Vivolo-Kantor, Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and R. Matthew Gladden, Division of Violence Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

In order to stop bullying before it begins, it is necessary to improve the consistency and comparability of data on bullying. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Education (ED), and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) partnered with bullying experts to develop a uniform definition of bullying for research and surveillance. In January 2014, CDC and ED released the definition listed below:

  • Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.

What this definition is:

  • A tool to help public health practitioners, school officials, researchers and evaluators define and gather data on bullying to inform research.
  • A “starting point” to discuss the best ways to gather data on bullying in schools and communities.

What this definition is not:

  • A way to label youth either as victims or perpetrators of bullying. We avoid using labels such as “bully” and “victim” and instead use terms such as “youth who perpetrate bullying behaviors.” The most important take-away from this definition is that we don’t label youth – we label their behaviors. Read more on to understand why we don’t use the word “bully” to label kids.
  • A legal definition or mandate; however, the definition can be used to inform discussions about bullying policies and laws.

Bullying Surveillance Among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements also includes useful information about other questions to ask to gain a fuller picture of bullying problems, such as when bullying occurs, different types of bullying (e.g., physical, verbal, relational), and whether different groups are more or less likely to be involved in bullying.

Defining bullying is the first step in many to prevent it from happening. Also, check out CDC’s Bullying Compendium to search through surveys used by schools and researchers to measure bullying.

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