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What is Bullying? Brunel academic on panel providing new definition for the USA


Leading expert in bullying behaviour, Brunel's Professor Ian Rivers has recently finished working with the US government to agree a consistent definition of bullying for use across the country.

The Uniform Bullying Definition Project has been agreed at a federal level so there is consistency of measurement across the US, which individual states can opt to use in the national surveillance surveys.  These surveys look at a sample of children from across the country every two years (such as the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) and the Health Behaviors in School-age Children (HBSC) survey).  This definition doesn't supersede individual state definitions which are enshrined in law.

Unlike the US, the UK doesn't have an agreed definition or approach to tackling bullying, neither does it survey the health and wellbeing of pupils in schools so it is hard to directly translate this research. The British government has committed to address and give guidance on bullying – with £2million to the BeatBullying charity to tackle cyber-bullying.  

As the only British representative on a panel made up of US and Canadian academics, Professor Rivers found the differences between how the two countries deal with bullying striking: "There is lots of coverage around bullying but are we measuring the same thing? It would help to have a consistent baseline definition which would underpin work to tackle cyber-bullying and develop guidance for schools. Schools need guidance on what bullying is and is not, how to measure it, record it, and build interventions around knowledge of their own schools' circumstances. We can learn a great deal from the approach taken in the US to reach a consensus and measure behaviour systematically."

However, there are other difficulties around providing a definition of bullying as Professor Rivers explains, "Bullying is a very subjective experience and the definition often describes the behaviour of the perpetrator whereas the measurement is often from the perspective of the victim. How we operationalise our understanding of bullying and apply it in school or work-based contexts differs".

Professor Rivers' involvement in this important work will continue as the panel will meet regularly to refine this definition. 

The agreed US Definition of Bullying Among Youths:

Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behaviour(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.

You can download the full definition from the CDC website.