Faculty & Staff

Back to Publications

Defining the Word Bullying: Inconsistencies and Lack of Clarity Among Current Definitions

Publication Link 0


Assessment, bullying, definitions, intervention, school


Heather Peshak George, Ph.D.


Bullying is a label or word often considered a subset of aggressive behavior distinguished from other forms of aggression because it occurs repeatedly and involves individuals of unequal power (Frey et al., 2005 Frey, K. S., Hirschstein, M. K., Snell, J. L., Edstrom, L. V. S., MacKenzie, E. P., & Broderick, C. J. (2005). Reducing playground bullying and supporting beliefs: An experimental trial of the steps to respect program. Developmental Psychology, 41(3), 479–491.[Crossref], [PubMed], [Web of Science ®], , [Google Scholar]; Olweus, 1993a Olweus, D. (1993a). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Maiden, MA: Wiley—Blackwell.[Crossref], , [Google Scholar]). Despite researchers’ efforts at establishing a uniform definition, others continue to attribute other meanings to the word bullying. While bullying is identified as one of the most prevalent forms of violence within schools (Swearer & Doll, 2001 Swearer, S. M., & Doll, B. (2001). Bullying in schools: An ecological framework. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2(2–3), 7–23.[Taylor & Francis Online], , [Google Scholar]), inconsistencies in definitions make it difficult to determine the true extent of the problem. The purpose of the current article is to highlight relevant issues with current definitions of bullying. The authors briefly review the core elements (i.e., components) of bullying reported in the literature and synthesize the varying definitions of bullying offered by researchers, federal legislation, state legislation, school district policy, school staff members, students, and parents. In addition, the authors discuss factors that are thought to influence individuals’ definitions of bullying. Last, the impact that inconsistent and unclear definitions of bullying may have on assessment and interventions for bullying is considered and future directions are described.


Lindsey C. Slattery, Heather Peshak George & Laura Kern (2019) Defining the word bullying: Inconsistencies and lack of clarity among current definitions, Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, DOI: 10.1080/1045988X.2019.1579164

Faculty & Staff