​​​​​Perspectives on bullying

Broadly speaking, there are three perspectives on bullying.

The three perspectives represent different ideas of what bullying is, why it happens, and how it can be prevented or reduced. They are:

  • Individual perspective – views bullying as an individual, psychological and behavioural problem.

  • Social-ecological perspective – views bullying as an interpersonal relationship dynamic problem and the expression of the varying status and unequal power relations between individuals and groups (social) in that context (ecology).

  • Systemic perspective – views bullying as a cultural and system-wide problem related to the power dynamics inherent in all institutions.

​A shared perspective provides the starting point for members of the school community to work together productively.

Every approach to preventing and responding to bullying is drawn from one perspective, even if it is not clearly stated. Some approaches, particularly whole-school frameworks and multi-faceted programs, may draw on more than one perspective.

Concentric circles with the individual within the social context within the wider society

The three perspectives can be considered as concentric circles with the individual within the social context of ​​the wider society.

Each perspective tends to be dominant in certain professions, so it is helpful for schools who are working with other professionals, services and community groups to be aware of each of these.

Schools can counter bullying more effectively by considering all three perspectives.

Contemporary definitions of bullying incorporate all three perspectives into a comprehensive understanding of bullying.

Read more about each of the perspectives below. Download the Perspectives on bullying matrix (PDF, 235KB), accessible version (RTF, 305KB).

Individual perspective on bullying

From the individual perspective, bullying is viewed as an individual, psychological and behavioural problem.

Bullying happens because of: Bullying can be prevented or reduced by: Issues, limitations and risks: Approaches drawing on this perspective

natural instinct towards social dominance

individual psychological attributes and personality traits

the tendency of the 'target' to annoy and provoke

lack of understanding about appropriate behaviour

failure to conform to rules and regulations

age and developmental phase

 

counselling to improve self-awareness and self-respect

training for impulse control and anger management

training for problem solving and social skills

supporting 'targets' to be less vulnerable by modifying their behaviour

the development and enforcement of firm rules and boundaries

limiting of opportunities and risks

emphasises measurement and remediation of individual 'deficits'

does not engage with underlying social causal factors, such as values about diversity, social beliefs and attitudes

conflict resolution and peer mediation are not effective because bullying is not the same as 'conflict'

zero tolerance is unlikely to assist the person doing the bullying to learn alternative ways to interact with others

punitive and threatening measures may deter reporting and undermine efforts towards attitudinal change and unforced cooperation

Mental Health, Mindfulness

Resilience training

Skills training

Social and emotional (SEL) learning programs

Support group method

Peer support, mentoring, buddy and friendship approaches

Mediation and Restorative justice

Examples: You Can Do It, Power Up, Bounce Back, Rock and Water, Reach for the Stars, Better Buddies, The Helping Friends Program, Friends for Life, parts of Friendly Schools if done in isolation, zero-tolerance, exclusion and expulsion, boot camps

Social-ecological perspective on bullying

From the social-ecological perspective, bullying is viewed as an interpersonal relationship dynamic problem and an expression of unequal social status and power between individuals and groups in that context (ecology). It is more than just the interaction between two people.

Bullying happens because of: Bullying can be prevented or reduced by: Issues, limitations and risks: Approaches that draw on this perspective:

peer pressure and the desire to conform to social norms

social dynamics between students

community norms, including the modelling of parents/carers, staff and other school community members

beliefs about people that are used to justify discriminatory or victimising behaviour

social messages about appropriate or desirable characteristics and behaviour (e.g. aggression is okay, toughness means strength) which lead to acceptability of bullying-like behaviours

modelling and developing values in students and school connectedness

developing students' knowledge and skills in positive bystander behaviour to positively influence responsible individual action

using activities, language and resources to recognise, critically examine and confront discriminatory attitudes and behaviours

inadequately trained practitioners or poorly executed procedures may make matters worse

requires a focus on the knowledge and skills of teachers, and requires teachers to investigate their own beliefs and biases about individuals and groups in society

substantial time and resource investment required

requires whole school community engagement which may be challenging

Social and emotional (SEL) learning programs that provide opportunities for real life learning

Critical pedagogy and critical literacy

Community of inquiry, inquiry learning

Method of shared concern

Promoting positive and active bystander/peer norms

Respectful Relationships

Examples: Philosophy in schools, Growing Respect & RespectED (NAPCAN), Friendly Schools, Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP)

Systemic perspective on bullying

From the systemic perspective, bullying is viewed as a cultural and system-​wide problem related to the power dynamics inherent in all institutions – families, schools, industries, governments, etc.

Bullying happens because of: Bullying can be prevented or reduced by: Issues, limitations and risks: Approaches that draw on this perspective

the power differential between different social groups

institutional, political and cultural assumptions e.g. dominance of individualist paradigm

failure to recognise systemic violence, e.g. punitive approaches, bullying by teachers and principals

articulation of the role of the whole school and wider community in promoting positive and respectful behaviour in policy and procedures

professional learning for informed leadership, critical pedagogy and inquiry approaches

employment of a sociological and political lens in the development of school curriculum

improvement of the overall school climate and relationships amongst staff and students

increasing civic participation through building collaborative community networks, and cross-sector and interagency activities

school climate/cultural change approaches take a significant amount of time and effort to become established

coordination and monitoring - require schools to develop and create compatible activities, tasks, policies, and procedures

requires considerable investment in informed and strategic leadership

without adequate implementation support, social, environmental or psychological factors may be neglected

'Whole-school' organisational approach

Critical pedagogy and critical literacy

Equity and inclusion/anti-discrimination focus

Education or curriculum-based approach

Human rights and democracy

Participatory action research

Student voice and activism

Cross sector and interagency projects

Examples: School-​wide Positive Behaviour Support, Productive Pedagogies, Excellence in Teaching

Share this page

  • Share with Email

  • Share with Pinterest

  • Share with Google+