Our understanding of what bullying is has evolved over time.

A contemporary understanding of bullying looks beyond the observable behaviours and encompasses a range of individual, social, cultural and community-wide factors.

National definition of bullying
Bullying is complex; countering bullying is also complex
Not all conflict is bullying
People hold a range of ideas about bullying
Prompt questions

National definition of bullying

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools is:

Bullying is an ongoing and deliberate misuse of power in relationships through repeated verbal, physical and/or social behaviour that intends to cause physical, social and/or psychological harm. It can involve an individual or a group misusing their power, or perceived power, over one or more persons who feel unable to stop it from happening.

Bullying can happen in person or online, via various digital platforms and devices and it can be obvious (overt) or hidden (covert). Bullying behaviour is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time (for example, through sharing of digital records).

Bullying of any form or for any reason can have immediate, medium and long-term effects on those involved, including bystanders. Single incidents and conflict or fights between equals, whether in person or online, are not defined as bullying.

Read more at What is bullying?

Bullying is complex; countering bullying is also complex

An approach based on a contemporary understanding of bullying:

  • acknowledges that the reasons for bullying occurring are complex
  • recognises that positive change requires a comprehensive and long-term approach
  • promotes a positive vision of a safe and supportive school community
  • fosters student engagement, leadership and activism for changing social attitudes, prejudices and norms
  • targets key development 'windows of opportunity' (i.e. Years 3-5 and the transition to secondary school)
  • integrates and embeds concepts within the everyday curriculum
  • challenges stereotypes about identity and behaviour
  • incorporates critical reflection about social interaction and power
  • supports professional learning for a long-term, integrated and sustainable pedagogical approach
  • seeks to educate and support the broader community, particularly acknowledging the key role of parents/caregivers, and the role of bystanders, in supporting or challenging bullying behaviour.

Not all conflict is bullying

Not all conflict is bullying, so schools can use the national definition to develop a shared understanding among the whole school and wider community.

It is important for schools to respond to any inappropriate behaviour and to ensure every person feels safe. But it is just as important to identify when the behaviour is part of bullying, and to look into the underlying reasons and all the people involved.

People hold a range of ideas about bullying

Some outdated, sometimes simplistic and unhelpful ideas about bullying are still around. Approaches based on these outdated ideas are unlikely to have a positive effect in your school. Issues that are critical to long-term prevention of bullying may not be addressed.

You may identify that a range of ideas about bullying are held by members of staff and by parents and carers. As well, students often have different ideas about what bullying is compared with teachers or parents. It may be worth considering the questions:

  • Do we need to investigate the ideas about the definition of bullying held by members of our school community?
  • Before we implement an anti-bullying approach, do we need to invest in professional development or community education activities to establish a shared and contemporary understanding of bullying?

Prompt questions for Definition

Key question: Is the approach based on a contemporary understanding of bullying that is consistent with the school's definition?

To ask about the approach

  • How does the approach define bullying?
  • Does it align with the national definition of bullying for Australian schools?
  • How does the approach identify the causes and factors involved in bullying?

To ask about your school

  • Is the definition in this approach consistent with our school's understanding of bullying?
  • Do all members of our school community share this definition of bullying? Is it included in our school policies?

Use the STEPS form for schools (PDF, 651KB) to record your answers.