• by Aurora Yàñez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • November- December 2001

If left unchecked or unaddressed, bullying and teasing during childhood may develop into dysfunctional behaviors that are detrimental to society and to the person. Bullying and teasing are harmful to the classroom environment by hindering the delivery of instruction and the social development of students.

Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway defines bullying, “A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time to negative actions on the part of one or more other students” (Froschl et al., 1998). Olweus explains that negative actions can include words, physical contact and making faces, gestures, and intentional exclusion from groups. Teasing is a form of banter.

Teasing and bullying are a continuum of intentionally hurtful behavior that, if not stopped, can make younger children feel unsafe. If left unchecked in older children, teasing and bullying can be used to exert power over others and may lead to committing sexual harassment, which is illegal (U.S. Department of Education, 1999).

While some attempts have been made to link bullying and teasing at the elementary school grades to sexual harassment behaviors during adult life, there is no solid evidence that sexual harassment is one of the resultant dysfunctional behaviors. In any case, it is important for administrators and teachers to address bullying and teasing continuously (Yáñez-Pérez, 1999).

Bullying and teasing can also lead classmates and adults to attach labels to the students involved. The literature on high expectations is replete with information on the detrimental effect of prematurely labeling students especially at the elementary school level. We would do a disservice to students if we start labeling and perceiving them negatively from this early age.

Teasing and bullying are manifested differently by gender. Males tend to be victims of physical bullying, and females tend to be victims of exclusion (NCES, 2000). Teasing and bullying are pervasive in school lunchrooms, playgrounds, hallways and classrooms. Teachers and other adults tend to ignore the conduct, giving children the impression that it is acceptable to engage in this type of behavior (Banks, 1997; and Gropper and Froschl, 2000). However, teachers and other adults can and must stop it.

Teachers and parents can use the following practices to address these behaviors in the elementary school grades. Once teachers have assured themselves that this behavior is being addressed and not in the upswing, it is probable that it will not escalate later in the students’ lives. To address the issue of teasing and bullying, teachers and parents can:

  • Intercede when an incident happens, do not ignore it;
  • Have discussions about teasing and bullying;
  • Provide opportunities for boys and girls to interact in positive ways; and
  • Show they care.

There are many resources available that address student teasing and bullying. Two publications in particular give examples of teasing and bullying behaviors as well as practical advice on how to address the issue. These are: Quit it! A Teacher’s Guide on Teasing and Bullying for Use with Students in Grades K-3 (Froschl et al, 1998) and Girls and Boys Getting Along, Teaching Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Elementary Classroom (Montgomery et al., 1993).

Children who experience teasing and bullying feel unsafe, uncomfortable and excluded both inside and outside of the classroom. It is important for children to understand that incidents might occur by accident the first time, but if they do not stop the behavior when they have been asked to stop then it is purposeful. One way to stop this pattern is for adults and children to be clear that these behaviors will not be tolerated.

The Intercultural Development Research Association’s South Central Collaborative for Equity is the equity assistance center funded by the U.S. Department of Education to serve the educational equity needs of Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas in the areas of race, gender and national origin equity. The center provides teacher training and assistance on preventing and dealing with teasing and bullying in schools. For more information contact Dr. Bradley Scott, SCCE director, at IDRA (210-444-1710).


Banks, R. “Bullying in School,” ERIC Digest (Champaign, Ill.: University of Illinois at Urbana, Champaign Children’s Research Center, 1997).

Froschl, M., and B. Sprung, N. Mullin-Rindler. Quit it! A Teacher’s Guide on Teasing and Bullying for Use with Students in Grades K-3. A joint publication of Educational Equity Concepts, New York, N.Y.; Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, Wellesley, Mass.; and National Education Association, Washington, D.C. (New York, N.Y.: Educational Equity Concepts, Inc., and Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1998).

Gropper, N., and M. Froschl. “The Role of Gender in Young Children’s Teasing and Bullying Behavior,” Equity and Excellence in Education (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc., April 2000).

Marano, H.E. “Big Bad Bully,” Psychology Today (New York, N.Y.: Sussex Publishers, Inc., September-October 1995).

Montgomery, B., and K. Petersen, S. Petersen, S. Sattel, S. Strauss. Girls and Boys Getting Along, Teaching Sexual Harassment Prevention in the Elementary Classroom (St. Paul, Minn.: Minnesota Department of Education, 1993).

National Center for Education Statistics. Trends in Educational Equity of Girls and Women (Huntsville, Texas: Center for Research and Doctoral Studies in Educational Leadership, Sam Houston State University, July 2000).

U.S. Department of Education. Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime: A Guide for Schools (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights and National Association of Attorney General, January 1999).

Yáñez-Pérez, M.A. “Sexual Harassment: What Parents and Students Should Know,” IDRA Newsletter (San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association, March 1999).

Aurora Yáñez, MA, is a research assistant in the IDRA Division of Evaluation Research. Comments and questions may be directed to her via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the November – December 2001 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]