Who is a Bully Anyway?: Examining Perceptions of Bullying among Parents and Children

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2019


Bullying is a common problem among youth, whether they have been a bully, victim, or both. The concern with bullying among youth is that it does not just start and stop at school and will impact a child’s interactions in a variety of settings, including out-of-school time activities. Therefore, as youth workers in the field of parks and recreation, we must seek ways to help children address issues related to bullying. Additionally, like with many aspects of children’s lives, we have to consider and foster ways to engage parents, noting that they play a key role in guiding young people’s behavior. Based on this understanding, we felt it was imperative to explore the perspectives of youth and their parents regarding approaches to addressing bullying among youth. To this end, we conducted a study to examine personal experiences and strategies guided by the following three goals: a) to understand how youth and their parents conceptualize bullying, b) to examine how youth and parents address bullying, and c) to explore the types of bullying issues that youth experience. We examined these goals by conducting individual interviews with eight children and eight parents in a rural community in the northeastern United States. Grounding the analysis in Social Cognitive Theory (Bandura, 1986), we found that due to a lack of knowledge and understanding of bullying, parents and youth frequently blur the lines between bully, victim, and friend. Additionally, both parents and youth had reactions toward incidents of bullying that varied from ignoring to directly acknowledging the situation through confrontation with the presumed bully. Children attempted a variety of strategies to combat personal experiences with bullying and often found parental advice to be ineffective. We concluded that youth workers in the field of parks and recreation must continue to provide spaces and programs for young people to develop strategies to address negative peer interactions in a positive and proactive way. Additionally, we suggest that youth workers should take a lead role in facilitating communication between parents, youth, and themselves in order to proactively address issues of bullying in advance of escalation.


Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services

Publication Title

Journal of Park and Recreation Administration