School Bullying
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School Bullying

Bullying, one form of which is depicted in this staged photograph, is detrimental to students' well-being and development.[1]

School bullying is a type of bullying that occurs in any educational setting.

For an act to be considered bullying, it must meet certain criteria. These include hostile intent, imbalance of power, repetition, distress, and provocation. Two main actions that can be taken are preventive and reactive actions, with preventive measures being more preferable.

There are four types of bullying. These include verbal, physical, psychological, and cyber. The four types of bullying can have a broad spectrum of effects on a student including anger, depression, stress, and in extreme cases suicide. Bullying does not only affect the personal health of a student but also causes socio-economic and educational effects. For instance, a bully can develop a variety of social disorders or have a higher chance of engaging in criminal activity. Additionally, reducing the quality of education is another long-term impact.

If there is suspicion that a child is being bullied or is a bully, there are warning signs in their behavior. Many programs and organizations worldwide provide bullying prevention services and information on how children can cope if they are being or have been bullied.


It is widely agreed that bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior, characterized by the following three minimum criteria:[2][3][4]

  • hostile intent (i.e. the harm caused by bullying is deliberate, not accidental),
  • imbalance of power (i.e. bullying includes a real or perceived power inequity between the bully and the victim), and
  • repetition over a period of time (i.e. more than once with the potential to occur multiple times).

The following two additional criteria have been proposed to complement the above criteria:[4]

  • victim distress (victim suffers mild to severe psychological, social or physical trauma), and
  • provocation (bullying is motivated by perceived benefits of their aggressive behaviours).

Some of these characteristics have been disputed (e.g., for power imbalance: bullies and victims often report that conflicts occur between two equals); nevertheless, they remain widely established in the scientific literature.[2]


There are two main actions against bullying: preventive (before it happens) or reactive (when it is happening or it has just happened). The prevention of bullying is important because bullying can threaten students' physical and emotional safety at school and negatively impact their ability to learn. The best way to solve bullying is to stop it before it starts, so acting in advance is preferable.

The following are commonly used preventative solutions:

  • Education: To educate members of society from childhood about what bullying is, in order to position people against it. This generally seeks to instill the belief that bullying is harmful, dangerous, and morally wrong. Teachers, school bus drivers and other school professionals often receive bullying education to teach them how and when to intervene.[5][6][7][8]
  • Forbid recording devices to the students: Bullying has worsened with the introduction of mobile phones in the classrooms because they can be used to record the victims. Therefore, the experts advise to forbid students the use of any recording device when they are inside of the schools (this depends on their directors) and even while they are going there (this depends on the parents or tutors mainly) since they could use those devices for bullying purposes in the bus or in the way. In case of portable computers (laptops) in class, they should not have a built-in nor attached camera.[9] But, if the telephone, computer or device is not capable of making recordings, this problem does not exist.
  • Search of a safe school: Not all the school have the same level of safety and discipline. Therefore, before enrolling a student in a school, it is recommended to check what kind of place it is and foresee which type of coexistence and adaptation will have that specific student there. Besides, a safe school would have any system to warn in case of bullying, and protocol to follow when it happens.
  • Capacity of detection in the school: The school must be able to detect and reckon the bullying cases,[10][11] if the safety measures put into place cannot achieve that goal, then they are useless. Although not all the quarrels, discussions, insults, etc., can be classified as bullying, and it is not possible to describe bullying with a simple definition expecting that it will fit in all the cases, there are some elements that commonly appear in the bullying episodes. Thereby, it is possible to indicate that, in bullying, there is usually some kind of aggressive conduct that hassles the victim and is repeated in the context of a power imbalance (of some kind) between the aggressor or aggressors and the victim.[12] In early ages, and far from the adolescence, the cases tend to be slighter, but there are also serious episodes in those stages. On the other hand, teachers can also be bullied by their students, a situation that may seem anomalous but actually happens with a certain frequency, due to several circumstances.
  • Security technologies: The direction of the school can opt to install video cameras inside, to discover bullying cases and other acts of indiscipline, and to identify to whoever commits them. This kind of prevention has detractors who argue that cameras invade the students' private and that it can be dubious who can access to the recordings and how much time they will be stored.[13] But on the other hand, it is undeniable that cameras increase the security level. Cameras can be more important in the countries where carrying firearms is legal. Those places have suffered several cases of students that, being led by personal disorientation, mental disorders, or any other reason, have used them to commit attacks in schools. An alternative to the cameras (or a complement to them) for improving security against firearms is to install detectors of metals in the entrance zones. The "panic buttons" can also be useful because they allow warning immediately to any security force in case of a shooting starts.[14] Besides, the plain information is one of the best ways of prevention against shootings, since statistics show that they, almost always, end up with the attacker dying by the bullets of security agents or serving a long sentence in prison, and leaving his problems unsolved after having shot more or less randomly to some people that were present in the place in that moment. Otherwise, some schools prefer to trust professional companies, to put the security under their care, more than in the installation of technological systems.
  • Guards in the school: In some cases, the school uses internal security guards or watchmen.[15] Those guards can be private or public, even directly assigned by the Government (the latter, especially in risky zones in the countries where carrying firearms is legal). The purpose of having guardians in the school is to ensure the students' safety, avoiding problems of bullying, external assaults, and others. The current vision of this profession is that the guard keeps a certain relation with the students who are assigned to him, so he can know every one of them even by their names (this can require having some personal interviews with each one), but, obviously, without forgetting his task there. This type of relationship allows the guard to receive secrets, anticipate the problems and understand the situation, helping them know when and how to intervene in the best way.[16][17]

Educative means to teach prevention in schools

About who has to address bullying (and cyberbullying) in schools, there are many different groups that can intervene: parents, teachers, and school leadership.[18] The most commonly used strategies by teachers to prevent it are to communicate, mediate and seek help.[19] Training school staff and students to prevent and address bullying can help sustain bullying prevention efforts over time. There are no federal mandates for bullying curricula or staff training. In addition to addressing bullying before it occurs, a great prevention strategy is to educate the students on bullying.[20]

Examples of activities to teach about bullying include:[20]

  • Internet or library research, such as looking up types of bullying, how to prevent it, and how kids should respond
  • Presentations, such as listening to a speech on the subject or role-play on stopping bullying
  • Discussions about topics like reporting bullying
  • Creative writing, such as a poem speaking out against bullying or a story or skit teaching bystanders how to help
  • Artistic works, such as a collage about respect or the effects of bullying
  • Classroom meetings to talk about peer relations

Multicomponent programs which have multiple practices to address the various internal and external factors of bullying and which involve all students and parents in each class are effective to prevent bullying. It is required that such programs are implemented at all schools in each country.[21][22][23]


Reactions are referred to as reactive actions, which can work to solve the bullying when it is happening, or just happened. The most obvious and immediate answer is that the victim repels a received aggression. Still, here it is considered that it will not occur because of reasons like the power imbalance mentioned above (of any kind: physical, numerical, social, emotional, even due to established rules, and so on) that leaves the victim in some disadvantage against his bully or bullies, or it will not happen because the victim professes any ideology related with pacifism that impedes him to have behaviours that can be considered violent, or because of other circumstances.

Besides, when an incident has happened, it is necessary to start by assessing its severity to know if it is a case of bullying or not. Each one of the involved people can give a partial version of the events to favour themselves, but, in general, it is not convenient to underestimate too much the facts, so no severe case is overlooked by mistake.

The recommended solutions in case of bullying can be of several kinds, according to the aspects and people that are involved:

  • Avoid rigid confrontations: Although confronting the bullies is a solution that has been used traditionally and can even work in specific cases, in the present, it is recommended that, normally, the victim does not use true violence against his bullies because of the imbalance of power with them and to avoid contributing to promoting the apparition of violent environments in society.[24] This does not contradict the possibility that the victim could defend himself and repel aggression depending on the situation.
  • Reports of the witnesses: The witnesses of bullying (who are usually the fellows of the victim) or any other people who know well a bullying case can use the reporting channels that have been enabled, or indicated, to warn to whoever has the authority (teachers, principals of the centres, and even political authorities when the others do not work). It is preferable that those channels are anonymous,[25] but any email account where the owner has not placed his name can serve for giving a warning, and any mobile phone or another email account, to receive it. The pupils, and any other possible reporter, must learn how and when to use these channels, so they can serve only to transmit concise messages in the opportune cases to avoid their saturation and to protect the informers from being pointed out as "snitches," or identified, and to avoid any shameful situation or problem that comes from the excesses committed in reporting.
  • Minor intervention of any bystander: Some of the bystanders in bullying could obstruct or stop it easily and without too much effort when it is going to happen because they are not in a situation of imbalance of power with the aggressors, or they know them, or because of any other circumstance. However, it is recommended that the bystanders, and other third persons, avoid entering in those conflicts causing damage to anyone with true violence (since that could aggravate the situation), except if the victim is asking for it or his life is in danger, and, in addition, it is possible to help in that way.
  • Communication between the victim and his own parents: Some parents, after discovering that their child suffers from bullying, could act precipitately, making mistakes that impair his quality of life because of aggravating the problem, producing shame, or any other problem. It is recommended that the parents start by asking their son or daughter for a personal opinion about what kind of solution would be better before doing anything.[26] The experts advise to avoid commenting on the situation to other people, and, in case of talking about it with someone, it would be better if it is not with other adults whose sons attend the same school. In case the victim is in a situation of danger, or harm etc. that does not stop and makes necessary an intervention, the most advisable option would be to warn the centre's personnel where the bullying is happening to stop it.
  • Warnings from the parents of the victim: When the parents have decided to intervene, the normal procedure would be to communicate the bullying situation to the centre where it is happening, asking to stop it. The general recommendation is to start by warning about it to the lowest and closest authority (the teacher) and, if there are no results, warn to higher authorities each time (to the director of the educative centre, and, If it that does not work, to political authorities or the police).
  • Policial help: When the situation is dangerous and urgent (for example a group of people preparing a group quarrel, or aggression that is being prepared against someone), and in other cases in which nothing is working, it is possible to call the police directly, so that they stop the attack and put order there. Besides, the policemen can remind the bullies that they are authorized to intervene if they exceed in their acts.
  • Expel the bullies: A solution for bullying problems that are not ending is to expel the bullies from the centre. This allows for the rest of people to continue the course in a calm environment, avoiding the annoyances of the bullies that have been already expelled, and, in case of some of them is still there, dissuading him from hassling.[27]
  • Move the victim: In cases that are more difficult to solve, the victim can consider a change of educative centre (interrupting his course there if it is necessary), and even moving with his family to another city or village.[28]
  • Improvements in the victims life: The victim could require some changes in their life as making new friends, doing new activities and so on.[29] It will also be convenient to empower them socially, physically, in their guidelines of conduct and in manners that allow him to manage himself in an environment. Entering in environments that he likes could be positive.

Power imbalance

Bullying is usually associated with an imbalance of power.[30] A bully has a perceived authority over another due to factors such as size, gender, or age.[31] Boys tend to bully peers based on the peer's physical weakness, short temper, friend group, and clothing. On the other hand, bullying among girls, results from factors such as facial appearance, emotional factors, being overweight, and academic status.[32]

Bullies also tend to target people with speech impediments of some sort (such as stuttering). The majority of stutterers experience bullying, harassment, or ridicule to some degree during their school years from both peers and teachers who do not understand the condition.[33]


Percentage of boys and girls who experienced bullying in the past 12 months

According to the American Psychological Association, "40% to 80% of school-age children experience bullying at some point during their school careers."[34] Various studies show that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and students with disabilities experience bullying more often than other students.[35][36] The following statistics help illustrate the severity of bullying within classrooms:[34]


  • Statistics show that 1 in 3 children are affected by bullying in their lifetime in the U.S. school system, and 30% report being involved in some manner.[37]
  • A nationwide survey of bullying in first and second-level schools conducted by Trinity College Dublin estimates that some 31% of primary and 16% of secondary students have been bullied at some time.[38]
  • In a 1997 study of five Seattle high schools, students recorded their peers' hallway and classroom conversations. It was discovered that the average high school student hears about 25 anti-gay remarks a day.[39]
  • In a study conducted across 32 Dutch elementary schools, 16.2% of the 2,766 participating children reported being bullied regularly (at least several times a month).[40]
  • At least 1 in 3 adolescent students in Canada has reported being bullied.[41]
  • 47% of Canadian parents report having a child who is a victim of bullying.[41]
  • Students who are homosexual, bisexual, or transgender are five times as likely to miss school because they feel unsafe after being bullied due to their sexual orientation.[42]
  • According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of gay, lesbian, and bisexual students who did not go to school at least one day during the 30 days preceding the survey due to safety concerns ranged from 11% to 30% for gay and lesbian students and 12% to 25% for bisexual students.[43]
  • 61.1% of LGBT middle- or high-school students were more likely than their non-LGBT peers to feel unsafe or uncomfortable as a result of their sexual orientation.[43]
  • In a Canadian study that surveyed 2,186 students across 33 middle and high schools, 49.5% reported being bullied online in the previous three months. 33.7% of the sample reported being the perpetrator of cyberbullying.[44]
  • The most common form of cyberbullying involved receiving threatening or aggressive emails or instant messages, reported by 73% of victims.[41]
  • In the United States, a 2013 nationwide survey indicated that 20% of high school students were bullied on school property in the past year, 15% of the students were bullied electronically, and 8% of students ages 12-18 reported ongoing bullying on a weekly basis.[45]
  • According to the journal Evolutionary Psychological Science, victims of bullying are more likely to be sexually inactive compared to bullies.[46]

Statistics referencing the prevalence of bullying in schools may be inaccurate and tend to fluctuate. In a U.S. study of 5,621 students ages 12-18, 64% of the students had experienced bullying and did not report it.[47]


Bullies' personalities usually show tendencies towards narcissism and aggressiveness. It is not recommended to cheer those behaviours, but to consider them pathetic instead. Fortunately, life sometimes forces the bullies to inhibit these tendencies in order to be able to complete important tasks and follow laws.

There have been two subtypes created in bully classification; popular aggressive and unpopular aggressive. Popular aggressive bullies are social and do not encounter a great deal of social stigma from their aggression. However, unpopular aggressive bullies, are most often rejected by other students and use aggression to seek attention.[37]

  • In a recent national survey, 3,708,284 students reported being a perpetrator of bullying in the U.S. school system.[37]
  • Studies have shown bullies actually report having more friends than other children who are victims.[][48]
  • Bullying behavior in perpetrators is shown to decrease with age.[49]
  • Developmental research suggests bullies are often morally disengaged and use egocentric reasoning strategies.[50]
  • Bullies often come from families that use physical forms of discipline.[51] Adolescents who experience violence or aggression in the home, or are influenced by negative peer relationships, are more likely to bully. This suggests that positive social relationships reduce the likelihood of bullying.[52]
  • The diagnosis of a mental health disorder is strongly associated with being a bully. This trend is most evident in adolescents diagnosed with depression, anxiety, or ADHD.[53]
  • Poor theory of mind is associated with bullying.[54]
  • 25% of students encourage bullying if not given proper education and information about the consequences of bullying.[55]
  • A study by Lisa Garby shows that 60% of bullies in middle school will have at least one criminal conviction by the age of 24.[56]

In a survey by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), students were asked to complete a questionnaire.

A total of 10.6% of the children replied that they had sometimes bullied other children, a response category defined as moderate bullying. An additional 8.8% said they had bullied others once a week or more, defined as frequent bullying. Similarly, 8.5% said they had been targets of moderate bullying, and 8.4% said they were bullied frequently. Out of all the students, 13% said they had engaged in moderate or frequent bullying of others, while 10.6% said they had been bullied either moderately or frequently. Some students -- 6.3% -- had both bullied others and been bullied themselves. In all, 29% of the students who responded to the survey had been involved in some aspect of bullying, either as a bully, as the target of bullying or both.[57]

Proactive aggression is a behaviour that expects a reward. With bullying each individual has a role to defend. Some children act proactively but will show aggression to defend themselves if provoked. These children will react aggressively but tend to never be the ones to attack first.

According to Tara Kuther, an associate professor of psychology at Western Connecticut State University, "...bullying gets so much more sophisticated and subtle in high school. It's more relational. It becomes more difficult for teens to know when to intervene; whereas with younger kids, bullying is more physical and, therefore, more clear-cut."[55]

Types of bullying

There are four basic types of bullying: verbal, physical, psychological, and cyber. Cyberbullying is becoming one of the most common types. While victims can experience bullying at any age, it is witnessed most by school-aged children.

Direct bullying is a relatively open attack on a victim that is physical and/or verbal in nature.[58] Indirect bullying is more subtle and harder to detect, but involves one or more forms of relational aggression, including social isolation via intentional exclusion, spreading rumors to defame one's character or reputation, making faces or obscene gestures behind someone's back, and manipulating friendships or other relationships.[58]

Pack bullying is bullying undertaken by a group. The 2009 Wesley Report on bullying found that pack bullying was more prominent in high schools and lasted longer than bullying undertaken by individuals.[59]


A female bully, portrayed in the 1917 silent film Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm

Physical bullying is any unwanted physical contact between the bully and the victim. This is one of the most easily identifiable forms of bullying. Examples include:[60][61]

  • Fighting
  • Hazing
  • Headlocks
  • Inappropriate touching
  • Kicking
  • Pinching
  • Poking
  • Pulling hair
  • Punching
  • Pushing
  • Shoving
  • Slapping
  • Spitting
  • Stalking or holding unwanted persistent eye contact with a victim
  • Spilling liquids onto a victim
  • Throwing small and lightweight objects at a victim
  • Teasing
  • Threatening
  • Tickling
  • Using weapons, including improvised ones
  • Overt theft and/or damaging of personal belongings


Emotional bullying is any form of bullying that causes damage to a victim's psyche and/or emotional well-being. Examples include:[60][61]

  • Spreading malicious rumors about people
  • Getting certain people to "gang up" on others (this could also be considered physical bullying)
  • Ignoring people on purpose (via the silent treatment or pretending the victim is non-existent)
  • Provoking others
  • Belittling, making fun of people, or saying hurtful things (which are also forms of verbal bullying)[62]


Verbal bullying is any slanderous statements or accusations that cause the victim undue emotional distress. Examples include:[61]


Cyberbullying is the quickest growing form of harassment of school campuses in the U.S., and 40% of adolescents report being a victim.[64] Most definitions of cyberbullying come from definitions of school bullying. Thus, this conduct is often described as an intentional aggressive behaviour that takes place via new technologies, during which groups or individuals hurt classmates who cannot easily defend themselves. Cyberbullying events can occur via cellphones or computers, by means of text messages, e-mails, online social networks, chatrooms or blogs.[65] This form of bullying can easily go undetected because of the lack of parental or authoritative supervision. Because bullies can pose as someone else, it is the most anonymous form of bullying. Like the bullying that occurs in school, the following four profiles have been identified: cyberneutral, cyberbully, cyber-victim and cyberbully-victim.[65] Many who are bullied in school are likely to be bullied over the internet and vice versa.[61] Since students have become more reliant on internet, the advancement in social media and technology has altered the fear of in-person bullying away from schoolyards but has rather increased cyberbullying.[66] Studies have shown that almost half of cyberbullies are repeat offenders and harass others as few as three times.[67] Males are more likely to be active cyberbullies than females. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day and seven days a week and reach a child even when they are alone. Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts or pictures is extremely difficult after being posted or sent online.[68] Sexual exhibitionism promotes several forms of abuse and bullying because the attackers can use the sexual contents divulged by their victims or harass them with their own exhibitionisms.


According to the website Stop Cyberbullying, "When schools try and get involved by disciplining the student for cyberbullying actions that took place off campus and outside of school hours, they are often sued for exceeding their authority and violating the student's free speech right." [69] They suggest that schools make revisions to their policies that would allow for disciplinary actions to take place even if off campus or after hours. They say if the act is likely to affect a student mentally or physically while in school then the revision of the policy would allow for the staff to intervene without violating the student's constitutional rights. Many principals are hesitant to act because school discipline codes and states laws do not define cyberbullying. According to Professor Bernard James, "educators are empowered to maintain safe schools, the timidity of educators in this context of emerging technology is working in advantage of the bullies."[70]

Cyberbullying has become extremely prevalent; 95% of teens who use social media reported having witnessed malicious behaviour on social media from 2009 to 2013.[71] As sites like Facebook or Twitter offer no routine monitoring, children from a young age must learn proper internet behaviour, say Abraham Foxman and Cyndi Silverman. "This is a call for parents and educators to teach these modern skills... through awareness and advocacy."[72] Per Scott Eidler, "Parents and educators need to make children aware at a young age of the life-changing effects cyberbullying can have on the victim. The next step for prevention is advocacy. For example, three high school students from Melville, New York organized a Bullying Awareness Walk, where several hundred people turned out to show their support."[73]

Clara Wajngurt writes, "Other than organizing events, calling for social media sites to take charge could make the difference between life and death. Cyberbullying is making it increasingly difficult to enforce any form of prevention."[74] Joanna Wojcik concludes, "The rapid growth of social media is aiding the spread of cyberbullying, and prevention policies are struggling to keep up. In order for prevention policies to be put in place, the definition of cyberbullying must be stated, others must be educated on how to recognize and prevent bullying, and policies that have already attempted to be enacted need to be reviewed and learned from."[75]

Researcher Charisse Nixon found that students do not reach out for help with cyberbullying for four main reasons

  • They do not feel connected to the adults around them
  • The students do not see the cyberbullying as an issue that is worth bringing forward
  • They do not feel the surrounding adults have the ability to properly deal with the cyberbullying
  • The teenagers have increased feelings of shame and humiliation regarding the cyberbullying.[76]

Nixon also found that when bystanders took action in helping end the cyberbullying in adolescents, the results were more positive than when the adolescents attempted to resolve the situation without outside help.[76]

A systematic review found that individuals who defend victimized peers either from offline or online bullying tend to be girls, have high empathy, low moral disengagement, are popular and well-liked by their peers, are supported by their parents, teachers and schools.[77]


Sexual bullying is "any bullying behaviour, whether physical or non-physical, that is based on a person's sexuality or gender. It is when sexuality or gender is used as a weapon by boys or girls towards other boys or girls--although it is more commonly directed at girls. It can be carried out to a person's face, behind their back or through the use of technology."[78]

As part of its research into sexual bullying in schools, the BBC TV series Panorama commissioned a questionnaire aimed at people aged 11 to 19 in schools and youth clubs across five regions of England.[79] The survey revealed that of the 273 respondents, 28 had been forced to do something sexual, and 31 had seen it happen to someone else. Of the 273 respondents, 40 had experienced unwanted touching.[80] U.K. government figures show that in the 2007-2008 school year, there were 3,450 fixed-period exclusions and 120 expulsions from schools in England due to sexual misconduct.[81] This included incidents such as groping and using sexually insulting language. From April 2008 to March 2009, ChildLine counselled a total of 156,729 children, 26,134 of whom spoke about bullying as a main concern and 300 of whom spoke specifically about sexual bullying.[82]

The U.K. charity Beatbullying has claimed that as gang culture enters, children are being bullied into providing sexual favours in exchange for protection.[83] However, other anti-bullying groups and teachers' unions, including the National Union of Teachers, challenged the charity to provide evidence of this.[83]

Sexting cases are also on the rise and have become a major source of bullying. The circulation of explicit photos of those involved either around school or the internet put the originators in a position to be scorned and bullied.[84]

Higher education

According to HealthDay News, 15 percent of college students claim to have been victims of bullying while at college.[85] In the article, "Bullying not a thing of the past for college students," Kaitlyn Krasselt writes, "Bullying comes in all forms but is usually thought of as a K-12 issue that ceases to exist once students head off to college."[86] The misconception that bullying does not occur in higher education began to receive attention after the suicidal death of college student Tyler Clementi. According to an experiment conducted by Dr. Gary R. Walz, "21.47% of participants reported rarely being victims of cyberbullying; 93.29% reported rarely cyberbullying others. Overall, there was a low prevalence rate for cyberbullying."[87]


A victim, in the short term, may feel depressed, anxious, angry, have excessive stress, learned helplessness, feel as though their life has fallen apart, have a significant drop in school performance, or may commit suicide (bullycide). In the long term, they may feel insecure, lack trust, exhibit extreme sensitivity (hypervigilant), develop a mental illness such as psychopathy, avoidant personality disorder or PTSD, or develop further health challenges.[88] They may also desire vengeance, sometimes leading them to torment others in return.[89]

Anxiety, depression and psychosomatic symptoms are common among both bullies and their victims. Among these participants alcohol and substance abuse are commonly seen later in life.[90] It is known that people suffering from depression feel much better when they talk to others about it. But victims of bullying may feel reluctant to talk to others about their feelings for fear of being bullied for doing so, which can worsen their depression.[91]

In the short term, being a bystander, who witnesses a bullying episode, "can produce feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and sadness.... Bystanders who witness repeated victimizations of peers can experience negative effects similar to the victimized children themselves."[58]

While most bullies, in the long term, grow up to be emotionally functional adults, many have an increased risk of developing antisocial personality disorder, which is linked to an increased risk of committing criminal acts (including domestic violence).[92]

Negative impact on educational quality and outcomes

The educational effects on victims of school violence and bullying are significant. Violence and bullying at the hands of teachers or other students may make children and adolescents afraid to go to school and interfere with their ability to concentrate in class or participate in school activities. It can also have similar effects on bystanders.[93]

The consequences include missing classes, avoiding school activities, playing truant, or dropping out of school altogether. This in turn has an adverse impact on academic achievement and attainment and on future education and employment prospects. Children and adolescents who are victims of violence may achieve lower grades and may be less likely to anticipate going on to higher education. Analyses of international learning assessments highlight the impact of bullying on learning outcomes. These analyses clearly show that bullying reduces students' achievement in key subjects, such as mathematics, and other studies have documented the negative impact of school violence and bullying on educational performance.[94][93]

Bystanders and the school climate as a whole are also affected by school violence and bullying. Unsafe learning environments create a climate of fear and insecurity and a perception that teachers do not have control or do not care about the students, and this reduces the quality of education for all.[93]

Being bullied is associated with greater academic difficulties.[95]

A systematic review of longitudinal studies found that, compared to non-bullies, the likelihood of school bullies will commit future offences was much higher. In fact, bullying perpetration is a risk factor for later offending, regardless of other major childhood risk factors. These findings suggest anti-bullying programmes may be viewed as a form of early crime prevention.[96]

Social and economic costs

The 2006 UN World Report on Violence against Children shows that victims of corporal punishment, both at school and at home, may develop into adults who are passive and over-cautious or aggressive. Involvement in school bullying can be a predictor of future antisocial and criminal behaviour. Being bullied is also linked to a heightened risk of eating disorders and social and relationship difficulties.[97][93]

Other studies have shown the longer-term effects of bullying at school. One study of all children born in England, Scotland and Wales during one week in 1958 analyzes data on 7,771 children who had been bullied at ages 7 and 11. At age 50, those who had been bullied as children were less likely to have obtained school qualifications and less likely to live with a spouse or partner or to have adequate social support. They also had lower scores on word memory tests designed to measure cognitive IQ even when their childhood intelligence levels were taken into account and, more often reported, that they had poor health. The effects of bullying were visible nearly four decades later, with health, social and economic consequences lasting well into adulthood. For children, "peers are a much more important influence than has been realized. It is a terrible thing to be excluded by your peers".[98][93]

The economic impact of violence against children and adolescents is substantial.[99] Youth violence in Brazil alone is estimated to cost nearly US$19 billion every year, of which US$943 million can be linked to violence in schools. The estimated cost to the economy in the USA of violence associated with schools is US$7.9 billion a year.[100][93]

Analytic work supported by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) shows that school-related gender-based violence alone can be associated with the loss of one primary grade of schooling, which translates to an annual cost of around US$17 billion to low- and middle-income countries.[101][93]

In the East Asia and Pacific region, it is estimated that the economic costs of just some of the health consequences of child maltreatment were equivalent to between 1.4% and 2.5% of the region's annual GDP.[93]

In Argentina, the forgone benefit to society from overall early school dropout is 11.4% of GDP, and in Egypt, nearly 7% of potential earnings is lost as a result of the number of children dropping out of school.[93]

A study has shown that each year Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Nigeria lose US$974 million, US$301 million and US$1,662 million respectively for failing to educate girls to the same standard as boys, and violence in school is one of the key factors contributing to the under-representation of girls in education.[102][93]

Locations and contexts

Bullying locations vary by context. Most bullying in elementary school happens in the playground. In middle school and high school, it occurs most in the hallways, which have little supervision. According to the U.S Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, more than 47% of kids reported getting bullied in hallways and stairway.[103] Bus stops and bus rides to and from school tend to be hostile environments as well; children tend to view the driver as someone with no disciplinary authority.[104]

Bullying may also follow people into adult life and university. Bullying can take over the lives of both lecturers and students, and can lead to supervisors putting pressure on students.[105] Bullying can happen in any place at any time.

Warning signs

Victims of bullying typically are physically smaller, more sensitive, unhappy, cautious, anxious, quiet, and withdrawn. They are often described as passive or submissive. Possessing these qualities make these individuals vulnerable, as they are seen as being less likely to retaliate.[51]

Signs that a child is being bullied include:[106][107]

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Showing anxiety and post-traumatic stress
  • Lost or destroyed clothing
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Declining grades
  • Continual school absences
  • Self-injury
  • Suicidal tendencies
  • Becoming overly apologetic

Signs that a child is bullying others include:[106][107]

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights
  • Getting sent to the principal's office frequently
  • Having friends who bully others
  • Becoming increasingly aggressive in normal activities

Signs that a child has witnessed bullying include:[106][107]

  • Poor school behaviour
  • Emotional disturbance
  • Depression
  • Post-traumatic stress
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Suicidal tendencies


Cartoon representation of a bully and a victim used to depict Western European powers and the United States bullying Serbia in the aftermath of the 2008 Kosovo declaration of independence during the 2008 Serbian protests

McNamee and Mercurio state that there is a "bullying triangle," consisting of the person doing the bullying, the person getting bullied, and the bystander.[108]

The US Department of Health and Human Services divides the people involved in bullying into several roles:[106]

  • Bully: student with social and/or physical power who repeatedly picks on another student or group of students with the intent to inflict harm or discomfort
  • Victim: the target of the bullying
  • Bystander: student who observes bullying; they may ignore it, encourage it, or defend the victim
  • Student who assists: does not start the bullying, but helps and is encouraged by surrounding peers to do so. They may feel that their social status will be damaged if they are not involved.
  • Student who reinforces: play a minor role in bullying, such as laughing at the bully's insults
  • Outsider: not involved in the bullying but witnesses it
  • Defendant: defends the victim or consoles them afterwards

In her book, The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander, Barbara Coloroso divides bullies into several types:[109]

  • The confident bully has a very high opinion of themselves and feels a sense of superiority over other students.
  • The social bully uses rumors, gossip, and verbal taunts to insult others. Social bullies are typically female and possess low self-esteem, and therefore try to bring others down.
  • The fully armored bully shows very little emotion and often bullies when no one will see or stop them.
  • The hyperactive bully typically has problems with academics and social skills. This student will often bully someone, then place the blame on someone else.
  • A bullied bully is usually someone who has been bullied in the past or is bullied by an older sibling.
  • A "bunch of bullies" (more often referred to as a "gang of bullies") is a group of friends who gang up on others for fun or due to their desire for power.

Complex cultural dynamics

Author, Les Parsons identifies school bullying cultures as typically having a web of dynamics which are much more complex than just considering bullying amongst students. These dynamics include:[110]

  • Some students bully other students; some of these student bullies are themselves bullied by other student bullies; some of these student bullies bully teachers.
  • Some teachers bully students; some teacher bullies bully other teachers; some teacher bullies bully parents.
  • Some office staff bully teachers, students and parents.
  • Some principals bully teachers, office staff, students and parents.
  • Some parents bully teachers, office staff, principals, and even their own children.[111]

Common misconceptions

Researchers have identified many misconceptions regarding bullying:[112][113][114]

  • Bullying is a consequence of large class or school size.
  • Bullying is a consequence of competition for grades and failure in school.
  • Bullying is a consequence of poor self-esteem and insecurity.
  • Bullying is just teasing.
  • Only boys are bullies.
  • Bullying is a normal part of growing up.
  • Bullies will go away if ignored.
  • Bullies are the social outcast of their class.
  • Victims of bullying become violent and lash out at others.
  • The best way to deal with a bully is by fighting or trying to get even.
  • People who are bullied will only hurt for a while before recovering.
  • Bullying is thought of as a K-12 issue that ceases to exist once students enter college.[86]


The first article to address school bullying was written in 1897 but then there was a long gap in time before bullying was first defined as aggressive behavior towards another living being with the goal of harming the victim in the year 1977.[115]

Research in school bullying dramatically expanded worldwide over time, from 62 citations from 1900 to 1990, to 289 in the 1990s and to 562 from 2000 to 2004.[116]

Unlike school bullying cyberbullying has only existed for around two decades now while school bullying has existed for a couple of centuries.[117]

School shootings

School bullying is associated with school shootings; the vast majority of students (87%) believe that shootings occur in direct retaliation to bullying.[118] School shooters who left behind evidence that they were bullied include Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (perpetrators of the Columbine High School massacre), Charles Andrew Williams, Eric Hainstock, Seung-Hui Cho, Wellington Menezes Oliveira, Kimveer Gill, Karl Pierson, Nikolas Cruz, and Jeff Weise.[119][unreliable source?]

Institutional prevention

Studies have shown that bullying programs set up in schools with the help and engagements of staff and faculty have been shown to reduce peer victimization and bullying.[120] Incidences of bullying are noticeably reduced when the students themselves disapprove of bullying.[121] Classroom activities that have students self-reflect on bullying decrease the cases of bullying while increasing the communication between students and school staff.[122]

Measures such as increasing awareness,[contradictory] instituting zero tolerance for fighting, or placing troubled students in the same group or classroom are actually ineffective in reducing bullying; methods that are effective include increasing empathy for victims; adopting a program that includes teachers, students, and parents; and having students lead anti-bullying efforts.[123][pages needed] Success is most associated with beginning interventions at an early age, constantly evaluating programs for effectiveness, and having some students simply take online classes to avoid bullies at school.[124]

Effective national responses

Based on UNESCO case studies of six countries that have succeeded in reducing school violence and bullying (Eswatini, Italy, Jamaica, Lebanon, Republic of Korea and Uruguay) as well as two countries that have maintained low levels over time (the Netherlands and Sweden), there are a number of factors that contribute to effective national responses.[125]

Factors that contribute to effective national responses include:[125]

  • Political leadership and high-level commitment, together with a robust legal and policy framework that addresses violence against children and school violence and bullying. Many successful countries also have an emphasis in national policies on promoting a safe learning environment and a positive school and classroom climate and a strong commitment to child rights and empowerment.[125]
  • Collaboration and partnerships. At national level, this includes partnerships between the education sector and other sector ministries, civil society organizations, academic institutions, professional associations and the media. At school level, it includes partnerships involving all stakeholders in the school community, including head teachers, teachers, other staff, parents and students, local authorities and professionals in other sectors. More specifically, the involvement of all students, including bystanders, and the use of peer approaches, have been a key factor in countries that have made the most progress.[125]
  • Evidence-based approaches, informed by accurate and comprehensive data and systematic evaluation of the effectiveness of existing programmes. Effective systems for routine reporting and monitoring of school violence and bullying, and rigorous evaluation of the impact of programmes and interventions are critical.[125]
  • Training and support for teachers and care and support for affected students.Training in successful countries has focused on developing skills to prevent and respond to school violence and bullying and to use positive approaches to classroom management.[125]

The case studies also identified a number of factors that can limit the effectiveness and impact of national responses. These include lack of data on specific aspects of school violence and bullying and on the sub-groups of students who are most vulnerable, low coverage of interventions, and lack of systematic monitoring of school violence and bullying and of robust evaluation of the impact of programmes.[125]

Legislation and court rulings

Some U.S. states have implemented laws to address school bullying.
  Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  Law that prohibits discrimination against students based on sexual orientation only
  Law that prohibits bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation and gender identity
  School regulation or ethical code for teachers that address discrimination and/or bullying of students based on sexual orientation only
  Law that forbids school-based instruction of LGBT issues in a positive manner
  Law that prohibits bullying in school but lists no categories of protection
  No statewide law that specifically prohibits bullying in schools

United Kingdom

Section 89 of the Education and Inspections Act 2006 provides for an anti-bullying policy for all state schools to be made available to parents.

United States

The victims of some school shootings have sued both the shooters' families and the schools.[126] At one point only 23 states had anti-bullying laws. In 2015 Montana became the last state to have an anti-bullying law and at that point all 50 states had an anti-bullying law. These laws are not going to abolish bullying but it does bring attention to the behavior and it lets the aggressors know it will not be tolerated.[127]


In 2016, a legal precedent was set by a mother and her son, after the son was bullied at his public school. The mother and son won a court case against the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board, making this the first case in North America where a school board has been found negligent in a bullying case for failing to meet the standard of care (the "duty of care" that the school board owes to its students). A similar bullying case was won in Australia in 2013 (Oyston v. St. Patricks College).[128]


The Ministry of Education launched a series of projects. In 2006, they started the 'anti-bully plan'. In 2008, they launched the 'prevent bully video from public project', and also building multiple informants routes, monitoring the school, in hope that it could improve the education quality.[129]

Bullying in fiction

Tom Brown's School Days, written by Thomas Hughes in 1857, is a book about intensive bullying at the Rugby School. In the story, the titular character Tom is deliberately burned in front of a fire for not handing over a sweepstakes ticket which is likely to win a race.

Events and organizations

Some of the main organizations against bullying are:

  • Kidpower: Non-profit association devoted to the protection from bullying and several different forms of abuse and conflict. It offers information and resources. Based in the USA but also present in many other countries.
  • Bully Police: All-volunteer organization that promotes anti-bullying laws and offers some educational resources. It is based in the USA.
  • Youth2youth: Donation-funded organization that offers a telephone helpline and e-mail counselling[130] for young people in bullying cases. It features some special peculiarities: it is run by trained young volunteers, personal information is not required, the content of the phone conversations remains confidential, and the received e-mails are destroyed. They are present in the UK, and their phone line is opened from morning to afternoon, all the week.

Other events and organizations which have addressed bullying in schools in the past or the present include:

See also


Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC-BY-SA IGO 3.0 License statement/permission on Wikimedia Commons. Text taken from School Violence and Bullying: Global Status Report, 17, 29-31, UNESCO, UNESCO. UNESCO.

Definition of Free Cultural Works logo notext.svg This article incorporates text from a free content work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO. Text taken from Behind the numbers: ending school violence and bullying, 70, UNESCO, UNESCO. UNESCO.


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