October is National Bullying Prevention Month

by Richard Mathews

North Texas Catholic

Boy with his head down Boy with his head down

What is bullying? Bullying is intentional, unwanted, aggressive behavior intended to cause harm. The intent may be to cause physical, emotional, psychological, social, or financial harm, or even to cause the victim to self-harm.

Typically, bullying is repeated multiple times, which causes fear in the target.

Bullying usually involves an imbalance of power between the target and the bully. It may be based on a person’s real or perceived race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, disability, gender, physical appearance, economic status, or anything that the perpetrator perceives as a vulnerability or “difference.”

Bullying behaviors can include verbal abuse, physical aggression, name calling, social isolation, defamation, and rumor spreading. It can be carried out directly (face to face), indirectly, and/or through electronic media (“cyberbullying”).

Bullying can have a lasting impact on everybody within the community: the victims, the bullies, and even bystanders. The lasting effects can include depression and anxiety; low self-esteem; ongoing damage to social relationships and social withdrawal; increased stress; lack of sleep; poor academic performance; school or work absenteeism or avoidance; and even thoughts of suicide.

What can adults do to reduce bullying and its effects?

  • Be an example of respectful behavior and a model to children
  • Teach responsible use of technology
  • Talk to your children about bullying and encourage them to report it
  • Teach your children to:
    • Report instances of bullying to you and to trusted adults
    • Stand up to bullying if the situation is safe
    • Show kindness to all others
    • Reach out to children being bullied and help them report it.

Bullying and hazing are similar — the motivation is often identity-based, with specific individuals selected. If not dealt with, each can contribute to creating an unsafe, oppressive, and hateful environment that is assumed to be “acceptable.” They differ in that bullying tends to exclude the target or victim from the group, whereas hazing is often a process inflicted on a person who wants to be part of the group.

Hazing is intentional action taken that causes embarrassment, harassment, or ridicule. It typically leads to emotional and/or physical harm to members of a group or team, whether they are new or not. In past generations, hazing was a “rite of passage” — particularly as an indoctrination of joining a group or team.

According to a 2017 study, 1 in 5 Americans experienced hazing during high school. Even though victims of hazing can suffer many of the same effects as victims of bullying, the study showed that 35 percent of the general public polled said hazing has a place on sports teams, educational institutions, Greek life organizations, and school clubs. Moreover, 49 percent of those polled, who were between 18 and 34 years old, shared this opinion.

How do we respond to incidents of bullying or hazing when it occurs in our parishes or Catholic schools?

  1. Gather information from the victim and then talk to the bully;
  2. Warn the bully about the potential consequences of his/her actions if they do not cease;
  3. If bullying or hazing by a youth continues, the next step is to talk to the bully about this issue along with his/her parents;
  4. If the behavior continues, then removal of the youth, either temporarily or permanently, may be necessary for the protection of others.

Bullying and hazing are often precursors to more destructive, hateful, and harmful behavior and are inconsistent with a safe environment where people can flourish.


Richard mathews

Richard Mathews is Director of Safe Environment for the Diocese of Fort Worth.  A former prosecuting attorney, he also served as the General Counsel for the Boy Scouts of America and for Trail Life USA. 

Boy with his head down

What is bullying? Bullying is intentional, unwanted, aggressive behavior intended to cause harm.