Understanding Bullying and Cyberbullying

Whether it’s overtly aggressive or not, bullying is detrimental to students of all ages. The various forms that bullying can take — verbal, social, physical, and cyber — present different challenges, but all are ultimately harmful.

Harassment occurs in-person and on the internet, affecting youths and teens in a variety of situations. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 28% of students aged 12-18 have been bullied, and 9% experienced cyberbullying. The following guide was created to bring awareness to issues surrounding bullying and cyberbullying, and to help students, parents, and teachers prevent instances of bullying in the future.

The Prevalence of Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying takes different forms at different ages, growing in complexity and subtlety as students develop. Physical violence is the prevalent form of bullying among children. This abuse typically evolves into verbal or social bullying as students mature, often with one or more bullies excluding or manipulating their victim through several mediums. The popularity of social media has made this form of bullying more prevalent, as technology-based platforms allow perpetrators to share hurtful words and images anonymously.

Common Forms of Bullying


Saying or writing mean things. This is the most common form of bullying, often starting in elementary school and peaking in middle school. Examples:

  • Teasing
  • Name calling
  • Making threats
  • Intimidating
  • Demeaning jokes about someone’s differences
  • Spreading rumors
  • Gossiping
  • Slandering


Making someone feel excluded or humiliated. This behavior is often carried out by a group and can be especially hard to recognize. Examples:

  • Exclusion
  • Social manipulation
  • Telling someone whom they can and cannot be friends with
  • Spreading rumors


Hitting, kicking, or threatening to hurt someone. This is the easiest form of bullying to identify and it often starts in preschool. Examples:

  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • Taking or damaging property
  • Forced or unwelcomed contact


Writing mean or inappropriate things online. Examples:

  • Sending unwelcome emails or text messages
  • Threats
  • Sexual harassment
  • Hate speech
  • Ridiculing someone publically
  • Posting lies, rumors, or gossip and encouraging others to distribute that information

Source: What Parents Should Know About Bullying

Why and Where Do Kids Bully?

Bullies have various motivations. Some of the most cited causes of bullying are linked to social, cultural, and familial factors. These potential sources of aggressive behavior generally manifest themselves in children with underdeveloped problem-solving skills. This may cause them to resort to bullying in an attempt to deal with a distressing situation, embarrassment, or the need to feel in control.

Bullying can happen anywhere, but usually occurs when students have a lack of direct supervision: on the playground, during classroom activities, or on the school bus. As students grow older, bullying flourishes in isolated and unsupervised spaces. Technology in particular may encourage aggressive behavior, as students can bully others anonymously through websites, social media, apps, and instant messaging.

The Rise of Cyberbullying

The National Crime Prevention Council found that nearly 43% of students have experienced or seen someone bullied online. This can be delivered through social media in a variety of formats, including private messages, emails, comments, photographs, and catfishing. Cyberbullying can occur frequently and repeatedly due to constant access to the victim, and can be perpetuated through anonymous, gossip-fueled apps such as Yik Yak and Whisper. Since originating with the rise of technology in the 1990s, cyberbullying methods have multiplied and increased in complexity. Despite legislative efforts to combat cyberbullying, online harassment remains widespread.

The Victims of Bullying

Bullies often target those who are perceived as weak or people with less-developed social skills. According to The Youth Voice Project, students most often reported being bullied for their looks (55%), body shape (37%), and race (16%). Students who identify or are perceived as LGBTQ also have a higher risk of being bullied; the National School Climate Survey reported that 31.8% of LGBTQ students missed at least one entire day of school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable due to bullying at school. Victims bullied because of their image, ethnic background, sexual orientation, or otherwise are often targeted because they appear different in some way.

At-Risk Students

Of all children who are bullied, more than one third reported bias-based bullying, a form of bullying that targets someone because of who they are or what they look like. Potential victims include LGBTQ youth, students with disabilities, and religious students, especially those who wear symbols of their religion. Students with a higher risk of being bullied are often targeted because of their visible appearance, as physical differences often incite teasing.

  • LGBT Students: Youth identifying or perceived as LGBTQ are considered at high risk for bullying. Among students who identity as LGBTQ, 81.9% were bullied within the last year, and most reported feeling unsafe because of their sexual orientation.
  • Students with Disabilities: Children with disabilities are two to three times more likely to be bullied than nondisabled children. This form of bullying can be especially dangerous because victims may be defenseless against the perpetrators and may have a harder time communicating about the bullying to others.
  • Religious Students:Twenty-five percent of children are bullied because of their religion. Bullying students because of their religion may have less to do with one’s beliefs and more to do with misinformation or negative perceptions about religion, or how adherents express their beliefs.
  • Girls and Young Women: Girls and young women are targeted due to body image or sexuality, and are more often harassed over social media. Girls are more likely than boys to be victims of cyberbullying; bullying statistics show that 38% of girls who use social media report being bullied online, compared to 26% of boys.

College Students

Bullying does not end after high school. In fact, 22% of college students report being cyberbullied and 15% experience traditional bullying. Freshman and students in the Greek system may experience bullying or hazing in college — both in person and through cyberbullying. Students in college who bully use technology in particular, as it is widely used across campuses and can be done anonymously.

Apps like Yik Yak, for example, contribute to the problem. The app allows users to anonymously create, view, and up- or down-vote “yaks” within a 10-mile radius, creating threads of popularity-based gossip. These campus-centered apps, combined with the rampant use of social media and hazing, fuels bullying across college campuses.

The Effects of Bullying

Bullying directly affects the victims, but also impacts entire communities. Victims may feel anger, depression, and anxiety, both short- and long-term. If the bullying continues, victims may in turn lash out. When schools, organizations, and groups do not address bullying, it can make others — not just the direct victims of bullying — feel insecure and unsafe, and they may ultimately have trouble learning.

Short-term impacts

  • Depression
  • Anxiety over and desire to avoid settings in which bullying may occur
  • Lower grades than non-bullied peers
  • Suicidal thoughts and feelings


  • Reduced occupational opportunities
  • Difficulty trusting people
  • Interpersonal difficulties, including fear and avoidance of new social situations
  • Increased incidence of continued bullying and victimization

Source: http://www.aaets.org/article204.htm

As bullies hurt others, they also hurt themselves. Adolescents who bully often do not learn how to express themselves maturely, and as a result they develop higher rates of aggression, violence, and antisocial behavior. Their lack of behavioral skills are detrimental years later, as bullies often perform poorly in school, and have high rates of smoking, depression, violence, and drunk driving.

The Role of the Bystander

Bystanders witness bullying incidents and can choose to ignore or intervene. Bystanders who intervene are typically able to break up the situation. Those who discourage the bully, defend the target, or gather attention from peers stop nearly 60% of bullying incidents. Students who do not intervene often view the incident as a problem, but are unsure how to respond. Watching someone get bullied can instill feelings of fear and powerlessness, which can cause bystanders to ignore the situation or side with the bully.

Preventing Bullying and Cyberbullying

For the health of all children and the community, it is important that schools, families, and organizations address this issue and raise awareness about cyberbullying and bullying. There are several effective methods, such as educating students and staff, implementing anti-bullying policies and laws, reporting and following up on incidents, and helping perpetrators stop their bullying behaviors.

Parent Involvement

The parents of bullied students are advised to report the incident directly to the school. If the bullying occurs away from school grounds, or if the victim has been threatened, contact the police.

As an initial step, parents may set up a meeting with the principal and present every detail of the bullying incident(s), noting whether the bully has violated the school’s anti-bullying policy. If the issue continues, parents should file a Notice of Harassment. The final step, if necessary, is to contact the U.S. Department of Education.

Providing Support for Bullies

To prevent aggressors from bullying, parents and administrators are encouraged to help them realize why they chose to bully, why it is a problem, and the ramifications of their actions. The bully should also actively resolve the situation by apologizing and demonstrating a positive change in behavior by helping the victim in some way. Adults should also recognize that boys and girls tend to bully in different ways. Girls often use verbal and emotional bullying instead of physical aggression, and therefore require different types of management and support.

Reporting Cyberbullying

There are multiple channels to report cyberbullying. Many websites allow users to flag incidents directly through their application. For cyberbullying protection across all websites, some technology users use third-party software to stop online harassment. Several programs have been developed to prevent cyberbullying, and most social media sites, including Facebook, have added measures to combat cyberbullying with “report” and “block” functions where users cannot view, reach, or interact with the victim.

“Reporting” and “blocking” actions give victims the power to remove themselves from cyberbullying situations. These functions are not fool-proof, however. Cyberbullies can use their anonymity to harass people from different accounts without consequences. To help combat the issue and prevent future instances of harassment, parents are encouraged to teach their children about online etiquette and to report cyberbullying instead of retaliating.

Anti-bullying Apps

STOPitSTOPit is a reporting app for three different audiences: primary and secondary schools, colleges, and businesses. The app allows users to report inappropriate behaviors and mitigate unethical or illegal activity that can occur through technology-based programs used by these groups.
ReThinkReThink uses filtering technology to flag offensive content. The software is geared toward adolescents who use social media, and it notifies them when their writing is offensive, giving them a second chance to reconsider their decision before posting online. Being forced to rethink their decision has proven effective; users change their minds 93% of the time.
ProfessorGarfieldProfessor Garfield Cyberbullying is a comic-styled app geared toward younger children to inform them about cyberbullying. The app also teaches users how to identify and resolve cyberbullying situations, and when to enlist help from an adult.
PureSightPuresight, a program that filters and monitors content on internet applications, prevents cyberbullying by alerting parents of verbal violence. The software also blocks offensive users and provides details about them for parents to follow-up, if necessary.

Anti-bullying Training and Education

Prevention techniques include school-wide anti-bullying policies, a plan for consistent consequences for bullies, and family education.

Bullying-prevention techniques vary from school-to-school, but often start with an assessment of bullying facts and prevalence. Schools can take their findings and collaborate with the community to create policies and a reporting system to reinforce positive behavior and inclusiveness. In doing so, schools often integrate anti-bullying material into the student curriculum and staff training methods to prevent and reduce bullying at their school.

Anti-bullying Policies and Laws

Anti-bullying policies and laws are crucial to preventing bullying and ensuring consistent consequences. All 50 states have anti-bullying state laws in place. Laws vary by state but each has policies outlining anti-bullying guidelines to school systems state-wide. Although there are currently no anti-bullying federal laws, bias-based bullying that overlaps with harassment is considered a civil rights violation and must be reported to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.

Prevention on College Campuses

Bullying behavior on college campuses is serious, as such actions are often considered crimes for perpetrators over the age of 18. To prevent and combat these behaviors, students should take advantage of campus policies and laws to report bullying and cyberbullying to the appropriate offices, including law enforcement, Title IX coordinators, or ombudsmen.

Additional Resources

If you or someone you know is being bullied and needs immediate help, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).


Bullying in College

Help for LGBT Students

General Resources

Stories about Bullying