Bullying is when one child picks on another child again and again. Usually children who are being bullied are either weaker or smaller, as well as shy, and generally feel helpless. Some children and youth are at higher risk of being bullied, such as those with disabilities or other special health care needs and those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.
Bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power. Sometimes children argue with each other or make bad choices in their behavior, which is not bullying.
Cyberbullying occurs electronically, using things like social media sites, texting, chat rooms, or instant messaging. Cyberbullying can happen any time—day or night—and is visible to many more people than traditional bullying. It’s very hard to undo or hide what the child who is cyberbullying has done.
Facts about bullying
- Both girls and boys can be bullies.
- A child can be both the bully and the victim.
- Bullies target children who cry, get mad, or easily give in to them.
- There are 3 types of bullying.
- Physical—hitting, kicking, pushing, choking, punching
- Verbal—threatening, taunting, teasing, hate speech (This can also include electronic messaging)
- Social—excluding victims from activities or starting rumors about them
- Bullying happens
- At school, when teachers are not there to see what is going on
- When adults are not watching—going to and from school, on the playground, or in the neighborhood
- Through electronic methods, such as social networks, texting, and instant messaging
Common characteristics of bullies and victims (from www.StopBullying.gov)
Generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:
- Are seen as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or not having what kids consider “cool”
- Are seen as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Are less popular than others and have few friends
- Do not get along well with others, are seen as annoying or provoking, or provoke others for attention
Those who bully others do not need to be stronger or bigger than those they bully. Often, these students require support to change their behavior and address other challenges that may be influencing their behavior. Children who bully may have more than one of the following characteristics:
- Are aggressive or easily frustrated
- Have less parental involvement
- Have issues at home
- Think badly of others
- Have difficulty following rules
- View violence in a positive way
- Have friends who bully others
Effects of bullying
Children who experience any kind of bullying—including cyberbullying—can experience long-term effects, even into adulthood. Bullying can have consequences for both the bully and the victim, who
- Have a higher risk of substance use
- Are more likely to skip or drop out of school
- Can have health complications
- Have poor school performance
- Experience depression or other mental health challenges
Talk with your child about bullying
Even if you don’t think your child is bullied, a bully, or a bystander, you will be helping protect your child just by asking these questions.
- How are things going at school?
- What do you think of other kids in your class?
- Does anyone get picked on or bullied?
- What is lunchtime like? (or recess)
- Is anyone texting, tweeting, or posting mean things on social networks?
Help your child resist bullying
You cannot always help your child avoid all bullying, but you can help him build coping skills to deal with difficult situations. Spend time with your child, show him love and encouragement, and model good behavior toward others. Talk through difficult situations with your child so he knows he can trust you with his problems.
When your child is bullied
It can be upsetting to find out your child has been bullied. Let her know you are there for her, willing to listen, and taking action to make sure it doesn’t continue. Here are some things you can do.
- Help your child learn how to respond. For example, “Let’s talk about what you can do and say if this happens again.”
- Teach your child how to.
- Look the bully in the eye.
- Stand tall and stay calm.
- Walk away.
- Not respond to electronic messages and cut off communications with those who are sending unwanted messages.
- Show bullying texts, posts, or e-mails to a parent or other trusted adult.
- Teach your child how to say in a firm voice.
- “I don’t like what you are doing.”
- “Please do not talk to me like that.”
- “Why would you say that?”
For many children, these skills do not come naturally. It is like learning a new language—lots of practice is needed. Practice so, in the heat of the moment, these skills will come to your child naturally.
- Teach your child when and how to ask for help. Your child should not be afraid to ask an adult for help when bullying happens. Since some children are embarrassed about being bullied, parents need to let their children know being bullied is not their fault.
- Encourage your child to make friends with other children. There are many adult-supervised groups, in and out of school, that your child can join. Invite your child’s friends over to your home.
- Support activities that interest your child. By participating in activities such as team sports, music groups, or social clubs, your child will develop new abilities and social skills. When children feel good about how they relate to others, they are less likely to be picked on.
- Alert school officials to the problems, and work with them on solutions. Since bullying often happens outside the classroom, talk with the principal, guidance counselor, or playground monitors, as well as your child’s teachers. Write down and report all bullying, including cyberbullying, to your child’s school. By knowing when and where the bullying occurs, you and your child can better plan what to do if it happens again.
When your child is the bully
No parents want to think their child would bully another child, but it does happen and parents must be ready to respond. If you know your child is bullying someone, take it very seriously.
Now is the time when you can change your child’s behavior.
In the long run, bullies continue to have problems. These often get worse. If the bullying behavior is allowed to continue, these children often become adults who are much less successful in their work and family lives and may even get in trouble with the law.
- Help your child understand what bullying is and why it is a problem. Help your child understand how bullying hurts other children. Give real examples of the good and bad results of your child’s actions.
- Set firm and consistent limits on your child’s aggressive or hurtful behavior. Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK.
- Be a positive role model. Children need to develop new and constructive ways for getting what they want. All children can learn to treat others with respect.
- Use effective, nonphysical discipline, such as loss of privileges. When your child needs discipline, explain why the behavior was wrong and how your child can change it.
- Find positive ways to stop bullying with the school principal, teachers, counselors, and parents of the children your child has bullied.
- Supervise your child and help develop individual skills and interests. Children with too much “time on their hands” are more likely to find themselves in bad situations.
- Supervise their time online, and monitor what sites they are visiting. Require them to friend you on social media sites and share their passwords with you.
- Ask for help. If you find it difficult to change the behavior, reach out to a professional, like a teacher, counselor, or your child’s pediatrician.
When your child is a bystander (with additions from StopBullying.gov):
Most children are neither bullied nor bullies— they just watch. There are things your child can do to help stop bullying.
- Don’t give bullying an audience. Often, those who bully are encouraged by the attention they receive from bystanders. Children can help stop bullying by actively not supporting it.
- Set a good example.
- Help the child who is bullied get away.
- Tell a trusted adult. Talking with an adult is not tattling. Standing up for another child by getting help is an act of courage and safety. To make it easier, suggest taking a friend.
- Be a friend. Children can help someone who’s been bullied by simply being nice to him. Being friendly can go a long way toward letting him know that he’s not alone.
It is important for everyone in the community to work together to build a safe environment for all children. Partner with your child’s pediatrician, school district, and local community leaders to create anti-bullying messages and policies. Find more information at StopBullying.gov.
Listing of resources does not imply an endorsement by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The AAP is not responsible for the content of external resources. Information was current at the time of publication.
The information contained in this publication should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
© 2018 American Academy of Pediatrics. All rights reserved.