Health Library

Bullying: A Serious Problem Among Youth

image Bullying is a common problem among children and teenagers. It can have serious and long-term effects. Bullying is a health issue, not just a harmless part of growing up. You can take steps to stop this behavior.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is aggressive behavior toward another person. It is used to harm the person and is repeated over time. It is when a person or group attacks someone weaker or who cannot defend themselves. Bullying can take many forms, such as

  • Physical—hitting, punching, kicking, spitting, or pushing
  • Verbal—yelling, teasing, or calling names
  • Indirect—spreading rumors or excluding others
  • Cyberbullying—spreading hurtful messages by email and on the Internet

In general, boys are more likely than girls to be bullies. Boys are also more apt to be the target of bullies. While boys bully both boys and girls, girls more often bully other girls. Boys are more likely to use physical bullying. Girls are more apt to spread rumors and sexual comments and exclude others.

Bullying happens both at school and in the community. However, it occurs more often at school. It usually takes place where there are few or no adults watching—for example, in lunchrooms, hallways, bathrooms, and on playgrounds.

Common Characteristics of Bullies and Their Victims

There is no single cause of bullying. Many things can contribute to this behavior. Examples are personality traits, and the influence of family, friends, schools, and community. However, youth who bully on a regular basis have some common traits. They:

  • Are impulsive and forceful
  • Are easily frustrated
  • See violence as a good solution to conflict
  • Do not care about someone else's feelings
  • Get in trouble often
  • Tend not to do well in school
  • Are more likely to drink and smoke
  • Take sexual risks

Kids who are most likely to get bullied have certain traits too. They are more apt to be insecure, cautious, sensitive, and have trouble asserting themselves. They are often socially isolated and feel lonely. This puts them at greater risk for being bullied. Male victims are often physically weaker than their peers.

The Effects of Bullying

Bullying can hurt kids emotionally, physically, and in their schoolwork. It can result in fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Kids who get bullied may be afraid to go to school and other places. They may withdraw from others and get depressed. Some develop physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

The effects of bullying can be long-term. Kids who are bullied may have depression and low self-esteem even as adults. In extreme cases, bullying can lead to suicide or violence against others. Bullying can lead to more serious violent behavior. This includes carrying weapons and getting into physical fights. Bullies also have an increased risk for suicide.

Many bullying episodes are witnessed by other kids. The other kids often do not get involved. They may not know how to stop the bullying. Others fear that they will be bullied too. Kids may feel helpless or guilty for not stopping or not reporting the bully. If friends draw them into the bullying, they may feel even more guilt.

What Kids Can Do

If you are getting bullied:If another person is getting bullied:
  • Talk with your parents or another adult you trust—such as a teacher or school counselor.
  • Do not fight back. That could make things worse. Stay calm and tell the person to stop, or just walk away.
  • Act confident. If you seem self-confident, a bully is less apt to pick on you.
  • Make friends with other people you enjoy. If you are with friends, a bully is less likely to go after you.
  • Avoid situations in which bullying can occur.
  • Refuse to join the bullying.
  • Try to help. Draw attention away from the victim or ask the bully to stop. Do this only if you do not put yourself at risk.
  • Get a teacher, parent, or another adult to help.
  • Help the person who is being bullied, if you can. At least support him or her later.
  • Encourage the victim to talk with parents or another adult he or she trusts.

What Parents Can Do

If your child is getting bullied:If your child is bullying others:
  • Take the situation seriously and support your child. Have an open, honest talk with your child. Let them know that it is not their fault. Reassure them that you will help them out.
  • Teach your child how to avoid confrontation by being assertive. Have them seek out an adult for help as soon as possible.
  • Talk with your child’s principal and/or teacher. Ask them what they will do to stop the bullying.
  • Encourage your child to make friends. Tell them to stay with friends when bullying may occur.
  • Watch for signs that your child may be getting bullied. Look for unexplained cuts or bruises, mood changes, withdrawal, and fear of going to school.
  • Tell your child you will not tolerate the bullying. Set and enforce steady rules for your child’s behavior. Praise your child for positive behavior.
  • Teach your child to manage anger without violence.
  • Monitor your child’s activities and relationships with friends.
  • Encourage your child to become involved in positive activities. Examples are sports and music lessons.
  • Work together with your child’s teacher and/or principal. If necessary, get help from a school counselor and/or mental health counselor.

Resources

Stop Bullying—US Department of Health and Human Services
http://www.stopbullying.gov

Veto Violence—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
http://vetoviolence.cdc.gov

Canadian Resources

Bullying Canada
http://www.bullyingcanada.ca

PREVNet
https://www.prevnet.ca

References

Dealing with bullying. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/bullies.html. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Depression in children and adolescents. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/depression-in-children-and-adolescents. Accessed June 17, 2021.

Preventing bullying. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html . Accessed June 17, 2021.

Teaching kids not to bully. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: https://kidshealth.org/en/parents/no-bullying.html. Accessed June 17, 2021.

What is bullying? Stop Bullying website. Available at: https://www.stopbullying.gov/bullying/what-is-bullying. Accessed June 17, 2021.

  • EBSCO Medical Review Board
  • 202106
  • 20210617