Bullying: Everything You Need to Know

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Bullying is any unwanted or aggressive behavior from someone who is intentionally trying to upset, harm, or have power over you. Bullying occurs among children, adolescents, and teens, either in person, online, or through social media. Adults can also be bullied, both in social groups and in the workplace.

Read on to learn more about the main types of bullying, signs someone is being bullied, and how to deal with a bully.

teenager being bullied at school

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6 Types of Bullying

In the United States in 2019, 1 out of 5 children ages 12–18 reported being bullied at school. Bullying included being:

  • Made fun of or called names
  • Threatened
  • Pressured into doing things
  • Excluded from activities
  • Pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
  • The subject of rumors

There are six main types of bullying, as discussed below.

Verbal Bullying

Verbal bullying is when someone is saying or writing harmful things or making threats. It includes:

  • Name-calling
  • Taunting
  • Teasing
  • Threatening to cause harm
  • Making inappropriate comments

Social Bullying

Social bullying is also called relational bullying, relational aggression, or emotional bullying. It involves threatening someone's reputation or relationships.

Social bullying can include:

  • Excluding someone on purpose
  • Spreading rumors and gossip about someone
  • Shunning, or telling others not to interact or be friends with someone
  • Publicly embarrassing someone

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying includes bodily harm or damage to possessions. Any form of aggressive physical contact constitutes physical bullying.

This type of bullying can include:

  • Hitting, kicking, or spitting on someone
  • Tripping or pushing someone
  • Taking or breaking someone’s things
  • Making mean or inappropriate gestures

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying involves bullying or harassing someone online or through social media. This harassment can occur on a computer, telephone, cell, or text messaging device.

Cyberbullying can include:

  • Sending mean texts
  • Posting insults about someone on social media
  • Making rude comments about someone's posts
  • Posting or sending personal information about someone to others in order to hurt or embarrass that person
  • Threatening someone or bullying them through online chats or groups

In a 2018 survey, 59% of U.S. teens reported being cyberbullied.

Racist Bullying

Racist or racial bullying can include all other types of bullying, even physical attacks. It includes:

  • Belittling, mocking, or intimidating someone because of their race
  • Devaluing someone's racial background
  • Discrediting someone's religious or cultural practices
  • Insulting or shaming a person's speech, the way they dress, or their customs

Sexual Bullying

Sexual bullying includes any unwanted sexual physical contact, inappropriate comments, or online harassment. It includes:

  • Sending or posting sexually explicit photos, messages, or videos
  • Making inappropriate sexual comments, jokes, or hand gestures
  • Spreading sexual rumors
  • Groping, grabbing, or touching in a sexual manner
  • Pressuring someone for sex or sexually explicit photos

Help Is Available for Bullying

If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide or self-harm because of bullying, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If they are in immediate danger, call 911.

Signs of Bullying

Bullying occurs intentionally out of the sight of adults. When there are warning signs, they usually involve behavioral and emotional changes.

Signs someone you know is being bullied include:

  • They have physical signs like cuts, bruises, or scratches that are not easily explained.
  • They try to get out of going to school.
  • They suddenly start doing poorly in school.
  • They come home moody, sad, teary, depressed, or overly fatigued.
  • They have a loss of appetite or develop an eating disorder.
  • They appear more stressed or anxious than usual.
  • Their belongings come home torn or damaged, or they are missing altogether.
  • They experience headaches, nausea, stomach aches, or other physical symptoms.
  • They have nightmares, sleep disorders, insomnia, or trouble sleeping.

If You Think Your Child Is Being Bullied

If you think your child is being bullied, it's important to talk to them. They may not ask for help out of fear that it will make things worse. Instead of putting them on the spot, start a general conversation to lead into the topic. Let them know you want to help them. Some suggestions include:

  • “There's been a lot of discussion about bullying on the news. Do you know if that happens at your school?"
  • “Is there anyone at school you don't like to be around?"
  • "Are there any kids at school who are mean to you or other kids?"

Why Do People Bully?

One study indicates that bullies tend to be bullied by their own family, so they may observe and mimic aggressive or angry behavior.

Other reasons may include that they are:

  • Lashing out for attention due to lack of attention at home or elsewhere
  • Being bullied by their older siblings or adults in their lives (parent, teacher, coach, etc.)
  • Elevating their own social status among their peers
  • Trying to fit in with others who are bullying
  • Insecure, feeling incompetent, or experiencing poor self-esteem

Bullies may feel emotional relief from their own insecurity by dominating others.

Bullies often blame others and don't accept the consequences of their actions.

How to Deal With a Bully

Bullies gain power and control by getting a reaction out of others. They get this reaction by aggravating, frightening, angering, or threatening others.

Some ways to deal with a bully include:

  • Get help: Seek help if you're being bullied. This is especially important if it is escalating toward physical threats or actual assaults.
  • Respond, don't react: You may feel upset on the inside, but if you can respond calmly instead of reacting emotionally, you maintain control of your emotions. Getting a reaction out of other people is how bullies try to gain power and control.
  • Walk away: If safe to do so, walk away from the situation.
  • Take a screenshot: If you are cyberbullied, take a screenshot as evidence.
  • Strength in numbers: Effective bullying intervention programs assign students into roles of peer supporters, peer mediators, and peer educators.

When You Are the Bully

If you think you may be a bully—or others have accused you of being a bully—consider these questions:

  • Have you repeatedly called other people names?
  • Have you used your size or tone of voice to intimidate or threaten others?
  • Have you made fun of others or said mean things to people about their weight or appearance?
  • Have you spread rumors, posted comments, or shared something negative about someone on social media?

If you are mistreating others, you may have been mistreated yourself. It may be helpful to talk to a school counselor, trusted adult, or mental health professional.

The Effects of Bullying

Adults bullied as children are likely to have mental health conditions, including depression, anxiety disorder, and antisocial personality disorder.

Bullying affects bullies negatively as well. In one study, men who bullied and men who were bullied had increased risks of suicide.

Other effects in children and teenagers may include:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Loss of interest in social activities
  • Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
  • Development of eating disorders
  • Nightmares
  • Loss of interest in school
  • Difficulty focusing on learning
  • Poor school attendance
  • Lower testing scores and lower grades
  • Higher dropout rates

Summary

Bullying is any unwanted and aggressive behavior that is intentionally done to hurt another person. It often occurs among children, adolescents, and teens, but it can happen to adults as well. Bullying creates a power imbalance, and it usually occurs repeatedly.

Types of bullying include physical, verbal, social, cyber, racist, and sexual. People who have been bullied may experience effects like depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

A Word From Verywell 

Being bullied can make you feel helpless, anxious, and depressed. Support is available to help you address any bullying you are facing. To find resources in your area, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the relationship between bullying and depression?

    Studies show bullies often do have depression. Researchers wonder if the bullying behavior is a way of acting out the depression.

  • How common is bullying?

    In the United States in 2019, 22% of students ages 12–18 experienced bullying. In another study from 2019, 19.5% of students in grades 9–12 indicated they were bullied at school.

  • How do you deal with a bully?

    A few ways to handle a bully include:

    • Try to avoid the bully, and walk or run away from them if it's safe to do so.
    • Alert nearby people or an authority figure.
    • Try to remain calm.
13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. Bullying.

  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Stop Bullying Initiative. What is bullying?.

  3. U.S. Department of Education National Center for Education Statistics. Student reports of bullying: results from the 2017 school crime supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey.

  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Stop Bullying Initiative. What is cyberbullying?.

  5. Pew Research Center. A majority of teens have experienced some form of cyberbullying.

  6. Nemours Foundation. Sexual harassment and sexual bullying.

  7. Stomp Out Bullying Organization. Signs your child is being bullied.

  8. Copeland WE, Wolke D, Angold A, Costello EJ. Adult psychiatric outcomes of bullying and being bullied by peers in childhood and adolescence. JAMA Psychiatry. 2013:70(4):419. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2013.504

  9. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Stop Bullying Initiative. Why some youth bully.

  10. Stomp Out Bullying Organization. Why do kids bully?.

  11. Stomp Out Bullying Organization. Are you being bullied? How to deal with bullies.

  12. Menesini, E., Salmivalli, C. Bullying in schools: the state of knowledge and effective interventions. Psychology, Health & Medicine. 2017;22(sup1):240-253. doi:10.1080/13548506.2017.1279740

  13. Jormanainen E, Fröjd S, Marttunen M, Kaltiala-Heino R. Is pubertal timing associated with involvement in bullying in middle adolescence?Health Psychol Behav Med. 2014;2(1):144-159. doi:10.1080/21642850.2014.881259

By Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks, LMFT
Michelle C. Brooten-Brooks is a licensed marriage and family therapist, health reporter and medical writer with over twenty years of experience in journalism. She has a degree in journalism from The University of Florida and a Master's in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University.