​Definition of bullying

The national definition of bullying for Australian schools says:

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.

Behaviours that do not constitute bullying include:

  • mutual arguments and disagreements (where there is no power imbalance)
  • not liking someone or a single act of social rejection
  • one-off acts of meanness or spite
  • isolated incidents of aggression, intimidation or violence.

However, these conflicts still need to be addressed and resolved.

Download the national definition of bullying for Australian schools (PDF, 136KB), Accessible version (RTF, 48KB).

Versions of the definition of bullying suitable for students at various ages are available in the Resources section.

The 3 main features of bullying

Exploring the definition further

Bullying has three main features:

  • It involves a misuse of power in a relationship
  • It is ongoing and repeated, and
  • It involves behaviours that can cause harm.

A series of short animated videos What is bullying? unpack​ the key components of bullying. The animated videos are accompanied by a discussion starter for school staff.​

 What is bullying? National definition videos

Identifying whether a situation is bullying or something else helps to determine the most appropriate response.

Bullying requires schools and families to look beyond the observable behaviour of students to what is going on behind the scenes.

Read more about what we know about bullying in Facts and figures.

People hold a number of different ideas about why bullying happens and what can be done about it. Read more about the various philosophical perspectives on bullying.