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Bullying: A Serious Problem Among Youth

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

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is aggressive behavior toward another person that is intended to cause harm and is repeated over time. It involves an imbalance of power where a person or group attacks someone weaker or more vulnerable. Bullying can take many forms, including:

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

Past studies have shown that boys are more likely than girls to be both bullies and 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 while girls are more often involved in spreading rumors and sexual comments and excluding others. Bullying occurs both at school and in the community. However, it happens more often at school, and usually where there is little or no adult supervision, for example, in cafeterias, hallways, and bathrooms, and on playgrounds.

What Are Common Characteristics of Bullies and Their Victims?

There is no single cause of bullying. Individual, family, peer, school, and community factors may all contribute. However, several characteristics are common among youth who bully regularly. They:

  • Are impulsive and dominant
  • Are easily frustrated
  • See violence as a good solution to conflict
  • Lack empathy
  • Get in trouble often
  • Have poor academic achievement
  • Are more likely to drink and smoke
  • Participate in sexual risk-taking behaviors

Youth who are most likely to get bullied tend 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.

What Are The Effects of Bullying?

Bullying can seriously affect the emotional and physical health, and academic achievement of victims. It can result in fear, anxiety, and low self-esteem. Targets of bullying may be afraid to go to school and other places and may become socially isolated, withdrawn, and depressed. They may develop physical symptoms, such as headaches and stomach aches.

The effects of bullying can be long-term, with the victims continuing to experience depression and low self-esteem into adulthood. In extreme cases, bullying can lead to suicide or violence against others as revenge. According to a study published in 2003 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, bullying can lead to more serious violent behavior such as carrying weapons and getting into physical fights. An earlier study found that boys who bullied were more likely to engage in criminal behavior when they were older. Bullies, too, are at increased risk for suicide.

Many bullying episodes are witnessed by other youth. Often others do not get involved because they do not know how to stop the bullying or fear becoming victims themselves. They may feel helpless or guilty for not stopping the bully or not reporting the incident. If they are drawn into the bullying by peer pressure, they may feel even more guilt.

What Can Youth Do?

  • Talk with your parents or another adult you trust, such as a teacher or school counselor.
  • Don’t fight back because 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 will be less likely to start or continue bullying 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 by drawing attention away from the victim or asking the bully to stop, if you can do this without putting yourself at risk.
  • Get a teacher, parent, or another adult to help.
  • Help the person who is being bullied if you can, or at least support him or her later.
  • Encourage the victim to talk with parents or another adult he or she trusts.

What Can Parents Do?

  • Take the situation seriously and support your child. Have an open, honest talk with your child and let them know that it is not his or her fault and 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 and stay with friends when bullying may occur.
  • Watch for signs that your child may be getting bullied, such as unexplained cuts or bruises, mood changes and withdrawal, and fear of going to school.
  • Tell your child you will not tolerate the bullying. Set and enforce consistent 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 like 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 professional.
  • Stop Bullying—US Department of Health and Human Services

  • Veto Violence—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  • Bullying Canada

  • Stop a Bully

  • Dealing with bullying. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: Updated July 2013. Accessed July 24, 2015.

  • Nansel TR, Overpeck M, Haynie DL, Ruan WJ, Scheidt PC. Relationships between bullying and violence among US youth. JAMA. 2003;157(4):348-353.

  • Teaching kids not to bully. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: Updated July 2013. Accessed July 24, 2015.

  • Understanding bullying. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Accessed July 24, 2015.

  • What is bullying? Stop Bullying website. Available at: Accessed July 24, 2015.

  • 11/19/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance Holt MK, Matjasko JL, Espelage D, Reid G, Koenig B. Sexual risk taking and bullying among adolescents. Pediatrics. 2013;132(6):1481-1487.