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Types of bullying

Overt (face-to-face) bullying (click to expand)

Overt bullying (sometimes referred to as face-to-face or direct bullying) involves physical actions such as punching or kicking or overt verbal actions such as name-calling and insulting.

Covert bullying (click to expand)

Covert bullying (sometimes referred to as indirect bullying) is a subtle type of non-physical bullying which isn't easily seen by others and is conducted out of sight, and therefore often unacknowledged by teachers.

Covert bullying behaviours mostly inflict harm by damaging another's social reputation, peer relationships and self-esteem.

Covert bullying can include repeatedly:

  • using hand gestures and weird or threatening looks
  • whispering, excluding, turning your back on a person
  • blackmailing, spreading rumours, threatening, stealing friends
  • breaking secrets, gossiping, criticising clothes and personalities.

(Source: Safe Schools Hub and Australian Covert Bullying Prevalence Study (PDF, 214 KB) May 2009, Edith Cowan University)

Online bullying (click to expand)

Online bullying (also referred to as cyberbullying) can be conducted in many ways, using different media including:

  • the sending of abusive texts or emails
  • taking and sharing unflattering or private images, including naked or sexual images
  • posting unkind messages or inappropriate images on social networking sites
  • excluding individuals from online chats or other communication
  • assuming the identity of the victim online and representing them in a negative manner or manner that may damage their relationship with others
  • repeatedly, and for no strategic reason, attacking players in online gaming.

Like other forms of bullying such as verbal abuse, social exclusion and physical aggression, online bullying has the potential to result in the target of bullying developing social, psychological and educational issues.

While online bullying is similar to real life bullying it also differs in the following ways:

  • it can be difficult to escape and invasive—it can occur 24/7 and a person can be targeted while at home
  • it can involve harmful material being widely and rapidly disseminated to a large audience, for example, rumours and images can be posted on public forums or sent to many people at once
  • it can provide the bully with a sense of relative anonymity and distance from the victim, so there is a lack of immediate feedback or consequences.

(Source: Australian Communications and Media Authority Cybersmart website ).

Just as bullying can be of many different types, it can also occur between students, staff and parents/carers. This site focuses on bullying between students.

Roles students may play in bullying

Bullying is an aspect of interpersonal relationships. All relationships can be complex and changing.

Students may take on different roles in different circumstances. A student who is being bullied in one context may do the bullying in another, or a student who is a bystander to bullying in one context may be bullied in another.

The range of roles students take in bullying may be:

  • as the target/victim of bullying
  • as the person engaging in bullying behaviour
  • as a bystander – someone who sees or knows about someone being bullied.

Bystanders can play a number of roles:

  • Students who assist the students who are bullying and actively join in.
  • Students who encourage and give silent approval to the students who are bullying.
  • Students who watch the bullying (or hear about it) but are passive and do nothing.
  • Students who defend or support the student who is being bullied by intervening, getting teacher support or comforting them.

The actions of a supportive bystander can stop or diminish a specific bullying incident or help another student to recover from it.