Bullying is sometimes dismissed as “kids will be kids” or something that “just happens,” but it’s actually very serious. Anyone who’s ever been bullied knows how bad it can make you feel. It’s common to feel anxiety, fear and depression when you’re being bullied. Those feelings can cause physical symptoms like stomachaches, headaches or trouble sleeping. People who are bullied may be afraid to go to school or other places where they could run into their bully.
What is Bullying?
Bullying includes a lot more than just taking someone else’s lunch money. Bullying is when a person or a group of people repeatedly and purposefully hurts someone else. This hurt can be physical or emotional. Bullying is different than fighting. Bullying involves someone using power over another person to make them afraid and control them. Examples of power include being older, physically bigger or stronger, or more popular.
Types of Bullying
There are four different types of bullying.
Physical bullying: Pushing, punching, hitting, kicking, pinching, tripping, spitting, or taking or damaging your property (like throwing your clothes in the toilet, ripping pages out of your notebook, or ruining your backpack)
Verbal bullying: Teasing, threatening, name calling, intimidation, or any racist, homophobic or unwanted sexual comments
Social bullying: Spreading rumors or making up lies about someone, playing mean pranks, purposefully excluding someone, encouraging others to exclude someone, embarrassing someone in public
Cyber bullying: Cyber bullying is any bullying that happens online. It can take place on social media platforms (like Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook or Twitter) or through texting, messaging, email or gaming sites. It includes sending or posting anything mean, harmful, embarrassing, personal or false. Cyber bullying may feel particularly hard to deal with because it’s harder to get away from.
Bullying can happen anywhere: at school, in your neighborhood, on the school bus, or on the internet. In a survey taken by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2015, 20 percent of high school students said that they had been bullied on school property within the last year.
The Effects of Bullying
Being bullied can be a horrible experience, and has serious consequences. People who are bullied can become sad or feel isolated. They may also develop mental health issues like anxiety or depression. They are more likely to think about suicide than those who are not bullied. Intense emotions can sometimes cause physical symptoms, like stomachaches, trouble sleeping, or other pains. It can become very hard for people who are being bullied to go to school or do other activities where they may see their bully. This can seriously affect how they do in school. It may seem like physical bullying is always worse than verbal or social bullying, but that isn’t true. Words can make someone feel just as bad as (or worse than) physical pain.
Bullies aren’t all the same. Some may not realize how hurtful their behavior is. Others may be dealing with aggression or violence at home. Many bullies are popular, and use bullying as a way to maintain their social status.
If You’re Being Bullied…
Tell Someone What’s Going On
If you are being bullied, the first thing to know is it’s not your fault. It’s important to tell a trusted adult what’s going on, and to report any bullying that happens at or on the way to school. Tell a teacher, school counselor, coach, school principal or the superintendent about bullying at school. You have a right to feel safe. Even if the adult can’t entirely stop the situation, they can support you and help you find solutions. An adult can help keep the bully away from you and make sure everyone is safe. In many cases, an adult can intervene without the bully knowing who told the adult.
If you are being cyberbullied, it may feel like you can’t escape the embarrassment or hurt your bully is causing. But you have more control than you may realize. Tell a trusted adult. If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it to the school. Don’t respond to cyberbullying messages. Block the person who is cyberbullying. Take screenshots of the cyberbullying so you can show adults what’s been going on. This is especially important if the cyberbullying breaks the law. If you feel comfortable, ask a trusted adult or friend to keep the messages for you. This way, you can forward the messages to them as evidence, but don’t have to look at them yourself.
Sometimes cyberbullying is a crime and should be reported to law enforcement. Threats of violence, child pornography, sexually explicit messages or photos, stalking, hate crimes, or a photo or video taken in a bathroom, locker room or other private place are criminal activities and have very serious consequences. You should also tell law enforcement if someone is telling you to hurt yourself. A trusted adult will be able to tell you if something is a crime, and help you report it to law enforcement if that’s what you decide to do. Threats online are just as serious as threats made in person. Even if you don’t think someone would act on them, it is still important to report what’s going on.
Other Ways to Respond to Bullying
- If you fear the situation may become violent, it’s especially important to talk to an adult about what’s going on. In addition, try to avoid being alone. Stay close to friends and classmates whenever you can.
- Don’t respond. Bullies thrive on attention. If you walk away or ignore hurtful texts or social media posts (and block the sender), you’re depriving them of the attention they want.
- Don’t respond with physical force. You are more likely to be hurt if the situation escalates. You’re also giving the bully an excuse to keep bullying, or to get you in trouble. Instead, get away from the bully.
- Talk to a guidance counselor, mental health professional, teacher, or friend. You can let out your fears and frustrations in a safe place.
- Do things that make you feel good. If you’re being bullied, it’s especially important to practice self-care. If possible, surround yourself with friends and people you trust. Join clubs or do activities that you enjoy and make you feel confident in yourself.
- Support other people who are being bullied. If you’re not being bullied but you see it happening, stand with the person who is being bullied. This takes courage, but two people are stronger than one! Staying quiet and not speaking up gives the bully permission to keep hurting others and to escalate their behavior.
If You’re in Danger
If you feel in danger or someone you know is in danger, there are ways to get help.
- Call 911 if there has been a crime or someone is in immediate danger.
- If you or someone else is feeling hopeless, helpless, or thinking of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- If you or someone else is sad, anxious, or struggling with school work or other tasks, talk to a school counselor or other mental health professional. They can help you cope with your feelings and get treatment if needed.
If you live in the New York City area, you can come to Mount Sinai Adolescent Health Center for the support you need. Call 212-423-3000 for more information.
This information is not intended to provide medical advice, professional diagnosis, opinion, treatment or services, only general information for education purposes only.