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.
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:
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.
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:
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.
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 Targets of bullying may be afraid to go to school and other places and may become socially isolated, withdrawn, and depressed.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.
If you are getting bullied:
If another person is getting bullied:
If your child is getting bullied:
If your child is bullying others:
Stop Bullying—US Department of Health and Human Services
Veto Violence—Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Dealing with bullying. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/teen/homework/problems/bullies.html. 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: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/no_bullying.html. Updated July 2013. Accessed July 24, 2015.
Understanding bullying. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/ViolencePrevention/pdf/BullyingFactsheet2012-a.pdf. Accessed July 24, 2015.
What is bullying? Stop Bullying website. Available at: http://www.stopbullying.gov/what-is-bullying/definition/index.html. Accessed July 24, 2015.
11/19/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Holt MK, Matjasko JL, Espelage D, Reid G, Koenig B. Sexual risk taking and bullying among adolescents. Pediatrics. 2013;132(6):1481-1487.
Last reviewed July 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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