​​​​​​​Who is invo​lved?​

Research has shown that some students are more likely to be involved in bullying than others.

Students may be more likely to be involved in bullying for a range of reasons. Each of these are useful to consider, as each alone gives only a part of the whole picture.

Personality characteristics of individual students
Belonging to certain subgroups of students
Group norms and social status

Personality characteristics of individual students

The following personal characteristics of students who are more likely to be involved in bullying are based on patterns found in Australian research.

These profiles do not mean all students with these characteristics will be involved in bullying. Schools always need to look at the overall social context of the school to understand why bullying has happened, and to work out appropriate solutions.

Students who are more likely to be bullied are also more likely to:

  • feel disconnected from school and not like school
  • lack quality friendships at school
  • display high levels of emotionality that indicate vulnerability and low levels of resilience
  • be less well accepted by peers, avoid conflict and be socially withdrawn
  • have low self-esteem
  • be relatively non-assertive​
  • be considered to be different in some way.

It is possible that some of these characteristics exist before a student is involved and contribute to them being targeted, or the characteristics may result from the experiences of being bullied.

Students who are more likely to bully others are more likely to:

  • feel disconnected from school and dislike school
  • demonstrate good leadership skills
  • demonstrate good verbal skills and ability to talk themselves out of trouble
  • demonstrate low levels of moral reasoning and high levels of self-centred thinking
  • believe that the use of aggression is an acceptable way to achieve their own goals
  • be preoccupied with their own goals and not concerned about the rights of others
  • show more emotional instability, as do those students who support them
  • be reasonably popular but more disliked than non-bullying peers
  • be less anxious than peers
  • have high self-esteem and an inflated view of themselves, especially about their social behaviour and influence
  • have lower levels of empathy than other students
  • have poor impulse control and poor anger management skills
  • be less likely to consider the negative consequences of their actions on others or on their own relationships over time.

Belonging to certain subgroups of students

Students belonging to certain subgroups within the overall school population are more likely to be bullied depending on the school context.

Bullying is often focused on an individual student's weight, ability, gender, culture, religion​ and sexuality. For example, students who are overweight are more likely to be bullied.

Research suggests that students belonging to certain subgroups are more likely to be bullied because other students consider they have 'different', annoying or undesirable features.

Schools need to be alert to these subgroups of students in planning their bullying prevention approaches.

The likelihood that these students will be bullied is strongly linked to the school climate, including how openly difference and diversity are discussed and how much value is placed on respect for diversity.

Read more about the importance of fostering respect for diversity within the school.

Group norms and social status

Group 'norms' are the expected ways to look and behave. They exist in every social group, irrespective of culture or age. The need to conform to the social peer group norms usually peaks during adolescence.

Research has found that any students who 'stand out' or vary from the social norms within the peer group are more likely to be bullied.

Bullying may exist within the peer group to ensure all students in the group conform, and those identified as 'different' are kept out of the group.

It is always important to ask students why bullying has happened.

The answers can give adults critical insights about possible solutions.

Read more about the implications of hierarchy, social norms and power within schools.

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