Physical bullying can run the gamut of everything from milder forms of harassment, such as pushing, shoving, or encroaching upon a student’s personal space, to all-out assaults that could land a child in the hospital. Physical bullying is more common among boys, but girls experience it too.
It’s important to note that the most dire consequences of physical bullying are not physical at all, but emotional. Just because a child isn’t coming home with bruises or broken bones doesn’t mean that it isn’t serious. As we state elsewhere, child abuse is about messages more than actions, and physical aggression is a way of delivering painful social messages. A shove in the hallways can be more than just an irritation; it’s a way of telling the victim that they’re unliked, that they have no control over their environment, that they aren’t safe, that they’re surrounded by people who are hostile towards them, or that they’re considered a worthless piece of garbage to be bashed around for the bully’s amusement. Remember: Actions can speak just as loud as words. These physical actions increase stress levels and cause a social injury. Physical bullying always comes with an emotional component as well.
‘Minor’ types of physical bullying
Most physical bullying involves ‘minor’ acts of aggression that do not cause serious physical injury, such as…
- Tripping someone in the hallways
- Intentionally bumping or driving your shoulder into someone as they walk by
- Biting, scratching, spitting or pinching
- Pushing someone down or shoving them into a locker
- Throwing spit wads or other non-injurious yet irritating items
- Hair pulling
- Hitting, kicking, slapping or punching
These “minor” types of physical bullying may seem petty by themselves, yet they don’t seem so minor to the victim when they occur repeatedly and become an everyday part of a youth’s school day. It’s not so much the level of injury, but the pain and insecurity that comes with being mistreated by those around you, that makes each of these ‘minor’ incidents a significant source of stress and social injury.
Making matters worse, school officials often disregard such incidents as petty and ascribe to a “no blood, no foul” type of philosophy. As one girl observes, “if (the teachers) see someone trying to trip you, they’ll pretend they don’t see it, because they don’t want to deal with it. Because they’re lazy.” (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, p. 185)
Physical bullying can also include damaging a student’s property
This includes things like ripping up papers or art projects, damaging books, ripping clothes, throwing a child’s personal belongings into the road or out the bus window, using paint or a permanent marker to ruin clothing, stealing things, or committing other acts that destroy the victim’s personal property.
More severe types of physical bullying
When allowed to continue, physical bullying can steadily progress to more severe forms of assault. Bullied children have endured bruises, broken bones, serious cuts, and even stab wounds. A few have been paralyzed or even killed from injuries suffered at the hands of bullies. Here are some examples of more severe types of physical bullying:
- Being tied up, detained, or imprisoned against their will
- Being physically overpowered (lifted up and placed in a trash can, for example, or held upside down over a toilet)
- Throwing bottles, rocks, or other potentially deadly items
- Trying to run over or bump someone with a car; hitting them with a car door or other object as they drive by
- Being attacked by gangs of kids or with weapons
Physical bullying by girls
Physical bullying is not just a problem among boys. At least 7% of school age girls are involved in physical fights each year. (Smith, 2010) What’s more, researchers who have been tracking trends in bullying have noticed a sizeable increase in physical bullying among girls over the last decade or two. (Kidscape, 1999)
Girl-on-girl violence and physical bullying by girls can include things like kicking, clawing, hair pulling, slapping, biting, or punching. But it can also include more serious forms of aggression, such as stabbings, attacks with weapons, or group assaults.