Your Complete Guide to Understanding Bullying in the Modern Age

Bullying can cause serious physical, emotional and mental negative effects for the short term, but these effects can also last a lifetime. Bullying can be experienced by children and adults alike.

What is bullying?

Bullying is an aggressive form of behavior that is repeated and intentional, and creates an imbalance of power. Unlike friendly teasing, bullying behaviors are preplanned, destructive and persist for long periods of time (weeks, months or years). Victims find it difficult to defend themselves.

What Are the Most Common Types of Bullying? 

Bullying is all about power and dominance; it also doesn’t happen among social equals. Bullies target others who they perceive to be “unequal” and to gain admiration, status and/or dominance. The most common types of bullying are:

Physical:

This form of bullying involves physical contact such as taking belongings, pushing, hitting, punching, tripping or spitting.

Emotional:

This type of bullying involves threatening, insulting, name calling, teasing or inappropriate sexual or racial comments.

Social:

This form of bullying involves spreading rumors, excluding someone to make them feel “left out”, encouraging others to bully and making comments meant to cause embarrassment.

Cyberbullying:

When a person is harassed online (via the internet, mobile devices, email and social media sites).

Who Is Impacted by Bullying?

Bully by Gender 

Boys are more likely to commit bullying as well as be the victims of physical bullying. ​​​1

Girls are more likely than boys to experience other forms bullying, such as teasing or rumors. ​​​1

Girls and sexual minority (LGBTQ) youth have a higher prevalence of overall bullying and cyberbullying compared to boys and heterosexual peers. ​​​2

%

Public Schools That Report Weekly Bullying Incidents

Bully by Grade Level

Bullying is one of the most commonly recorded discipline problems in public schools. Approximately 12% of public schools reported that a bullying incident occurs at least once a week. Bullying reports by different grade levels include: ​​​3

  • Middle Schools 22% 22%
  • High Schools 15% 15%
  • Combined Schools 11% 11%
  • Primary Schools 8% 8%
In-school bullying can negatively impact a student’s education as well. A 2013 research study found that almost 13% of high school students missed one or more days of school due to safety concerns related to in-person bullying in the past 30 days. ​​​4 Adding together students who miss school due to cyberbullying safety concerns, the number jumps up to more than 21%.

What Is a “Bully Group” and How Is it Different?

A bully group, also called collective bullying, occurs when a number of people band together to commit physical, verbal, social or cyberbullying. Rather than having to face one bully, the victim has the added experience of being “ganged up on” from a group of bullies. Examples of bully groups are:

Mob or mobbing:

A group, whether it be family members, co-workers, peers, or people in a neighborhood or community, that come together to force someone out of the family, job, peer group, neighborhood or community.

Trolls or trolling:

People who bully online sometimes band together and make an organized effort to harass a target or targets.  

What Are Risk Factors for Bullying in Youths? 

There are factors for children who are at risk for being bullied, as well as risk factors for children who are likely to be (or become) bullies.

Children at Risk of Being Bullied

Children at risk for being bullied generally have one or more of the following risk factors:

They are seen as being different from their peers. This includes kids who are too overweight or skinny, wear glasses or different clothing, are new to school, or can’t afford what kids consider “cool”.

Children with birth defects or developmental disorders.

Kids who are regarded as unable to defend themselves.

Children who are anxious, depressed or have low self esteem.

Children who have few friends and are regarded as less popular.

Children who are perceived as annoying, provocative or who seek attention by antagonizing others.

Children More Likely to Be Bullies

There are two types of children who are at higher risk for bullying other kids:5

Type 1: Some kids who have social power, strong peer connections and are highly focused on their popularity. They like to boss others around and dominate their peers.

Type 2: Kids who are depressed, anxious and have low self esteem. They are not strongly connected to their peers (isolation), are less involved in school, and can be easily pressured by their peers to bully. They may not be empathetic of the feelings of others.

Additional risk factors:

  • Easily frustrated or aggressive
  • Think badly of others
  • Hang out with kids who bully others
  • Find it hard to follow rules
  • View violence positively
  • At home: less parental involvement or issues are occurring
  • Children who use power imbalance (strength, intelligence or popularity) to bully5

What Are the Effects of Bullying?

For Youth Who Are Bullied:

Kids who are bullied are at greater risk for anxiety, depression and suicide. ​​​6 The term “bullycide” was coined for kids who commit suicide due to bullying. These effects can be long-lasting, extending deep into their adult lives. Children who are bullied have more problems adjusting to school. They also have self-esteem issues. ​​​7

Substance Abuse and Being Bullied:

Bullying is associated with a higher incidence of alcohol use in high school kids who are being bullied. 10 Students who were experiencing bullying weekly reported heavier drinking compared to youths who were not being bullied weekly. Also, high school kids who reported drinking alone were more often victims of bullying than those who drank in social settings. Bully victims were also associated with an increased likelihood of marijuana use.

For Youth Who Bully:

Kids who bully are also at a higher risk for mental health problems, such as anxiety, depression and hostility. 8 They also have more academic problems and are more likely to experience violence later in life, even into adulthood.

For Youth Who Bully Others and Are Also Bullied:

Kids who bully others and are bullied themselves suffer the heaviest consequences and are more likely to experience mental health and behavioral problems. 3

Substance Abuse and Bullying:

Kids who bully are at higher risk for substance abuse. One study found that 59% of children who bullied were offered alcohol in the past 7 days compared with a little more than 28% of kids who didn’t bully. ​​​8

Since alcohol and marijuana are considered “gateway drugs” that can lead to the use and misuse of other drugs, a preventable factor like bullying, which can cause substance abuse and addiction later on, needs to be addressed to protect our youth.

Suicide Risks:

One study revealed that being a bully victim can play an important part regarding suicide attempts among children across the world. A survey of children ages 12-15 years who attempted suicide was conducted. The data reported that 5.9% of the youth who had attempted suicide had no connection to bullying compared to 32.7% of those children who reported being bullied for 20-30 days. 9

Children Who Were Offered Alcohol in the Past 7 Days

  • Children Who Bully 59% 59%
  • Children Who Didn’t Bully 28% 28%

Children Ages 12-15 Who Attempted Suicide in the Last 20-30 Days

  • No Connection to Bullying 5.9% 5.9%
  • Being Bullied 32.7% 32.7%

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying someone via electronic means, such as via social media sites, through text messages and emails. Cyberbullying, like in-person bullying, contributes to physical and mental health problems including depression, suicide, substance use, headaches and sleeping problems in middle and high school students. ​​​11

What distinguishes cyberbullying from in-person bullying is that it gives bullies a limitless audience before which to bully. Also, bullies can hide with anonymity, making for bolder, more vicious and more repeat cycles of bullying. In addition, bullying incidents are permanently recorded on the internet, and bullying can happen at any time of the day or night in one or multiple locations when it’s done electronically. It’s also harder for adults to see or stop cyberbullying.

Add this all up, and cyberbullying can have a much more powerful impact in a shorter window of time on the victims. Research has found that: 12

  • 93% of adolescent cyberbullying victims report negative feelings of hopelessness, sadness and powerlessness
  • 32% of adolescents who were harassed online experienced at least one symptom of stress
  • 38% of adolescent cyberbullying victims reported that they were emotionally distressed
  • High school students who were targets of cyberbullying were almost twice as likely to have attempted suicide
  • Adolescents who were cyber victims were more likely to use alcohol, drugs and carry a weapon at school

Signs of Bullying

The direct approach can help parents determine of their child is being bullied. Parents can ask their children the following questions while encouraging them to answer honestly:

  1. Do you ever see kids picking on other kids?
  2. Do kids ever pick on you?
  3. Do you ever pick on kids? (and you won’t get in trouble for telling the truth)

Statistics on Victims of Bullying

%

Victims Report Negative Feelings of Hopelessness, Sadness, and Powerlessness

%

At Least One Symptom of Stress

%

Emotionally Distressed

%

High School Students that Missed One or More Days Due to In-Person Bullying

Parents who believe their children are bullying others can also use a direct approach and encourage an honest talk by using the following points:

  1. What’s your side of the story of the incident where you were accused of being a bully?
  2. Talk to your child in a calm manner.
  3. Focus on the behavior, rather than the child.
  4. Encourage your child to see the incident(s) from the bullied child’s point of view: for example, “how would you feel if…” to cultivate empathy regarding the effects of bullying.
  5. Brainstorm with your child on alternative paths of action.
  6. Discuss conflict resolution skills.

Prevention Tips

To prevent future incidents:

Along with giving a child the opportunity to express their point of view, it’s also important to hold the child accountable for any actions that were connected to bullying

Spend more time with the child

Monitor the child’s activities through your participation in their interests

Make sure the child has the proper supervision at all times

Stay in close touch with the school staff

Encourage the child to participate in activities with positive role models

Enroll the child in group activities that can provide opportunities to properly direct aggression (examples include: writing and martial arts classes)

Promote responsible online behavior

Dealing With Bullying

If You Are A Child Being Bullied

A child who is being bullied can use a few approaches to handle a bully. In a clear and calm voice, tell the bully to stop. For a kid who can joke easily, try laughing it off. Both approaches are designed to throw a bully off guard and defuse the situation.

If speaking up or laughing it off isn’t safe, it’s best to walk away. Don’t fight the bully. Find an adult who can help stop the bullying at the time of the incident.

After the incident, talk about it to a trusted adult. This lessens feelings of isolation and provides an opportunity to make a plan to prevent future bullying.

If You See Bullying

If it’s safe at the time of the incident, a child can speak up and tell a bully it’s not okay to bully. Not speaking up can be interpreted as saying bullying is okay, which makes it worse for everyone.

After the incident, youths who witness bullying should talk to a trusted adult about what they’ve seen so the adult can help. Also, extending kindness and friendship to a bullied peer helps the victim feel included and safer. Talking to them at lunch, sitting with them on the bus, or doing things together helps bullied kids know they are not alone.

How Adults Can Help Prevent Bullying

There is an urgent need to put into action effective interventions that work to address bullying in order to prevent the negative short- and long-term effects of bullying, including suicides.

Strategies which are recommended to help prevent bullying include:

Promote healthy family environments

Approaches such as early childhood visits as well as parental skills and family therapy programs can help support a healthy developmental environment for children. 

Early Childhood Education

Providing quality preschool education early in a child’s life can influence how a child behaves later in his or her school life. Education that establishes a positive foundation can be the cornerstone for healthier social, behavioral and academic development in the future.

Youth Skills Training

Strengthening the skills of today’s youth through school-based programs can help cut the bullying statistics.

community Actions

By creating protective community settings, children can find safe places to reduce their exposure to risks. Community outreach programs to promote bullying awareness can also help.

Interventions

Youths who have been or are at risk for exposure to violence, display problem behaviors or have been involved in violence could benefit from treatment to prevent future risk and harm.

Adulthood Bullying: What Is Workplace Bullying?

Adults can also commit and be victims of bullying, mainly in the workplace. Workplace bullying is the systematic and repeated abusive behaviors that negatively affect both the targeted individual and the work organization. A collection of research studies found that about 11% of workers are being bullied, particularly in the blue-collar and unskilled sectors. ​​​13

Bullying behaviors frequently happen when there are real or perceived power imbalances between the bully and the bullied. Bully behaviors usually include degradation, intimidation and humiliation of the victim. Workplace bullying can be in the form of in-person and/or cyberbullying.

Similar to childhood bullying, bullying in adulthood causes negative consequences in the psychological, emotional and medical areas as well as having socioeconomic impacts.

Emotional and psychological effects:

Workplace bullying can contribute to depression, anxiety, fatigue and work-related suicide.

Medical effects:

Health effects from workplace bullying include an increase in general health complaints, pain, headaches, fibromyalgia and cardiovascular disease.

Socioeconomic effects:

Increased absenteeism due to sick days, higher tendencies for long-term absence due to sick leave, and higher rates of unemployment (job loss or leaving voluntarily) have been connected to workplace bullying.

Workplace bullying prevention starts with people who work in mental health and primary care setting who see the negative effects of workplace bullying. Since workers may not reveal that they are victims of bullying because they are embarrassed or fear reprisals, clinicians need to be aware and ask the right questions to see if bullying is involved.​​​13

Getting Help for the Effects of Bullying

Bullying is a serious problem that can cause trauma and other consequences, but with the right help, you or your child can recover from bullying and work through any issues and ill effects. Talk to your doctor or mental health clinician, so you or your child can work within a positive atmosphere to recover physically, emotionally and mentally from bullying.

This guide was brought to you by Everlast Recovery Centers


Resources

  1. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1541204010362954
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/yv-technicalpackage.pdf
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-factsheet508.pdf
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/health_and_academics/pdf/fs_bullying_absenteeism.pdf
  5. https://www.stopbullying.gov/at-risk/index.html
  6. https://www.livescience.com/6325-bullying-kids-cruel.html
  7. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/bullying/conditioninfo/health
  8. https://www.livescience.com/11163-bullies-bullying.html
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30926574
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2707251/
  11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4724486/
  12. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4126576/
  13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4382139/