Why can't bullying be prevented in schools?

Causes of Bullying in Schools

by Isabell Koehler

There are many reasons for bullying in schools.
The power factor plays an essential role here. It's the feeling of dominance, the feeling that one can rule over another person. As a bully you have a feeling of strength. It's fun to be in the dominant position. Thus, the bullying is associated with positive pleasant feelings in the perpetrator and encourages the exercise of violence.

Bullying can also be a relief valve for aggression that cannot be acted out any other way. [1] So bullies usually look for people from whom no resistance is to be expected and who therefore appear particularly "suitable" as targets for aggression. [2]

Fear of failure in school can also ultimately lead to bullying. The pressure of competition is growing not only in the world of work, but also in school. Thus, the fear of not being able to meet these requirements also increases among the schoolchildren. The feelings of fear and possible frustration with your own performance can lead to bullying other classmates in order to put yourself in a better light. Bullying can thus be seen as an attempt to compensate for one's own feelings of inferiority.

In addition, it becomes more likely that a person will be bullied if he or she has already been bullyed or has been a victim of violence in general. The bullying thus represents an attempt to escape the feelings of powerlessness that you have experienced and to get yourself into a position of power. [3]

Causes of Violence and Aggression

In order to be able to develop appropriate preventive approaches to the prevention of violence and aggression, it is essential to deal with the possible causes of violence and aggression. There is a wealth of theories here that try to get more on the trail of the phenomenon.

This paper presents psychological theories that explain violence and aggression. Using examples from the area of ​​violence in schools, the theories are explained in more detail. In addition, preventive approaches that result from these theories are presented. It should be noted that the paper does not cover all theories. Sociology, for example, also deals with possible causes of violence and aggression. Reference is made to further literature in the bibliography.

1. The frustration theory

According to the frustration theory, aggression arises in response to frustration. Aggression arises as a reaction to unpleasant situations such as attacks, harassment and the like. Aggression does not necessarily have to follow frustration, however, because frustration creates incentives for different behaviors. Constructive reactions, for example, are also possible, but also reactions such as resignation or self-anesthesia. Furthermore, not every aggression is caused by previous frustration, e.g. acts of war or extortion. Aggression by children and adolescents can thus be understood as a targeted response to a subjectively perceived provocation. The so-called "postponed" aggression can also be explained with the frustration-aggression theory. This is where the aggression is diverted from the actual frustrator to another, usually weaker, person. This postponed aggression is often found in everyday school life. If, for example, a student is reprimanded by a teacher, the teacher does not let the frustration out on the teacher, as he has to reckon with negative sanctions, but instead chooses a weaker classmate from whom no resistance can be expected.

The following possible preventive approaches emerge from the frustration theory:

It is important that long-term frustrations are prevented in people so that they do not build up more and more and ultimately lead to aggression and violence. Feelings of anger should be verbalized to assess whether they are appropriate or whether a situation has been misinterpreted. Furthermore, it should be discussed how feelings of anger can be appropriately expressed without hurting the other person. Developing frustration tolerance and affect control are essential to prevent aggression from occurring. Relaxation exercises can help resolve aggressive feelings. [4]

2. The learning theory

In learning theory, aggression arises from learning processes. The learning processes can run differently. For example, people learn on the model, i.e. they learn by observing others. Primary caregivers such as one's own parents are essential. If other people's behavior is classified as successful, the likelihood that the observer will adopt this behavior increases. For example, if a student observes that a troublemaker is being paid more attention to by the teacher and by other classmates, the behavior of the troublemaker could become a model worth striving for for the student.

On the other hand, people learn from their own success or failure. As a result, aggression in children increases when they are praised for them. It is essential that occasional successes have a stronger effect than constant reinforcement. [5] One speaks here in psychology of the intermittent factor (reinforcing factor), which was discovered by the psychologist B.F.Skinner. This factor also explains, for example, why some people develop a gambling addiction. [6]

The following preventive approaches result from learning theory:

It is essential that aggressive behaviors are consistently criticized, as occasional successes have a stronger impact and make aggressive behaviors more likely to be persecuted. In connection with this, alternative non-aggressive behaviors should be developed and learned. [7]

3. The psychoanalytic theory

In psychoanalytic theory, aggression is the result of a threatened self. It is an expression of complex disorders of the entire personality. For example, if a person suffered trauma in childhood. The background to aggression is thus weakened ego structures and aggression is a helpless attempt to get the feelings of fear and threat under control. The person himself comes into a position of power through aggressive and violent behavior and thus tries to escape from his own position of powerlessness. Aggressive behavior therefore represents an attempt to stabilize the threatened self. In children and adolescents, aggressive behavior indicates that they want more attention, affection, and affirmation, but don't know how to get it. If the children cannot direct feelings such as anger and disappointment against their parents, for example out of fear of being sanctioned, they leave these feelings out in public, e.g. at school.

The following preventive approaches emerge from psychoanalytic theory:

It is important to focus more closely on the individual to find out whether individual help should be provided. For example, if a person suffers from fears that weaken their self-esteem and lead them to resort to aggressive behavior out of helplessness. In school, for example, a feeling of security and trust should be encouraged so that students can feel safe. In addition, it is important to give credit to the individual in order to strengthen self-esteem and reduce the breeding ground for aggression. [8th]


[1] see http://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/KOMMUNIKATION/MobbingSchule.shtml
[2] see Werner 2013, pp. 20-24
[3] see http://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/KOMMUNIKATION/MobbingSchule.shtml
[4] see Schubarth 2010, p. 23f.
[5] see ibid., P. 24ff.
[6] see www.uni-due.de/edit/lp/behavior/skinner.htm
[7] see Schubarth 2010, p. 24ff.
[8] see ibid., P. 30ff.

Fliegel, Steffen (2000): Mobbing at school. In: http://arbeitsblaetter.stangl-taller.at/KOMMUNIKATION/MobbingSchule.shtml. [last access on December 20, 2013]
Operant conditioning according to Skinner. In: www.uni-due.de/edit/lp/behavior/skinner.htm. [last accessed on December 20, 2013].
Schubarth, Wilfried (2010): Violence and Mobbing in Schools. Opportunities for prevention and intervention. Stuttgart. Kohlhammer Verlag.
Werner, Stefan (2013): Mobbing - victim-oriented help for children and adolescents. Basics and options for dealing with victims of bullying. Basel; Weinheim. Juventa publishing house.

 Video on bullying in schools:
Planet Knowledge: Bullying? What can be done against psychological terror? In: http://www.ardmediathek.de/tv/Planet-Wissen/Planet-Wissen-Mobbing-Was-tun-gegen-d/WDR-Fernsehen/Video? BcastId = 12994052 & documentId = 35780148. [last accessed on December 20, 2013].