Six myths cloud our understanding of bullying behavior in schools and prevent us from addressing the issue effectively.

Peer victimization — or what’s known as harassment or bullying — is not a new problem in American schools, though it appears to have taken on more epic proportions in recent years.

Anywhere from 30% to 80% of school-age youth report being victimized by peers, and 10% to 15% may be chronic victims. A generation ago, if we’d asked children what they worried most about at school, they probably would have said, “Passing exams and being promoted to the next grade.” Today, students’ school concerns often revolve around safety as much as achievement, as the perpetrators of peer harassment are perceived as more aggressive and the victims of their abuse report feeling more vulnerable.

The research about peer victimization has increased dramatically in the past 10 years, but there are still many myths about bullying. I call them myths because researchers who study bullies and victims of many different ages and in many different contexts have not found them to be true.

Here’s how I define peer victimization: physical, verbal, or psychological abuse that occurs in and around school, especially where adult supervision is minimal.

What distinguishes victimization from simple conflict between peers are the intent to cause harm and an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim. This intended harm can be either direct, entailing face-to-face confrontation; indirect, involving a third party and some form of social ostracism; or even “cyberbullying.” Taunting, name-calling, racial slurs, hitting, spreading rumors, and social exclusion by powerful others are all examples of behaviors that constitute peer victimization.

My definition doesn’t include the more lethal types of peer hostility, such as those seen

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