October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to focus on change and educating others on the effects of bullying. Bullying directly affects one in five students in America. According to the CDC, kids who are bullied are more likely to experience low self-esteem, isolation, poor concentration and performance in school, have fewer friends, experience physical symptoms (such as headaches, stomachaches, or problems sleeping), and experience mental health issues like (anxiety and depression).
Bullying can also affect witnesses, as they are more likely to use tobacco, alcohol or other drugs and have increased mental health issues. Youth who bully others are at an increased risk for substance use, academic problems, and experiencing violence later in adolescence and adulthood. The ones who suffer the most serious consequences are youth who bully others and are bullied themselves. They are at greater risk for mental health and behavioral problems. There is a common misconception that bullying is an identity, but it is actually not. It is a behavior. Labeling students as a “bully” can have a detrimental effect on their future and often limits their ability to change their behavior. Knowing the definition of bullying and the forms of it, can give parents and other students a better understanding of the topic and its importance.
What is Bullying?
PACER.org defines bullying as “intentional behavior, which is typically repeated, that hurts, harms, or humiliates another student, either physically or emotionally, and can happen in any setting from school to online.”
Bullying Can Be:
Pushing and shoving
Yelling at someone
Making rude gestures
Taking or breaking another person’s things
Making fun of someone
Laughing at someone
Leaving someone out on purpose
Starting rumors or telling lies about someone
Sending mean messages on a computer or cell phone
Trying to make someone feel bad about who they are
Source: PACER Kids Against Bullying
There are also many different types of bullying that vary from being easy to spot to more subtle to see in kids. They are:
Physical Bullying- the most obvious form of intimidation and can consist of kicking, hitting, biting, pinching, pushing, hair pulling, or damaging property.
Verbal Bullying- often accompanies physical behavior and includes name calling, insults, teasing, intimidation, homophobic or racist remarks, or verbal abuse.
Relational or Social Bullying- is often harder to recognize and can happen behind the bullied person’s back. It is designed to harm someone’s social reputation and / or cause humiliation. Relational bullies often exclude others from a group, spread rumors, manipulate situations, and break confidences.
Cyber Bullying- Intentional and repeated harm, hurt, and humiliation inflicted through the use of computers, phones, and other electronic devices. Cyber bullies can send abusive or hurtful texts, emails, posts, images, and videos, spread gossip and rumors, and imitate others online using their login information.
Being bullied is still often wrongly considered as a ‘normal rite of passage’. Bullying is a major risk factor for serious physical and mental health problems. Learning about bullying and its effects can not only save lives by preventing self-harm, but has cost benefits also. A study found “in the USA, it has been estimated that preventing high school bullying results in lifetime cost benefits of over $1.4 million per individual.”
Short-Term & Long-Term Effects of Bullying
Bullying has short and long term effects for both the victim and the bully themselves.
Short term effects for the victim of bullying: social isolation, sleep disturbance, changes in eating habits, low self-esteem, school avoidance, symptoms of anxiety, bedwetting, higher risk of illness, Psychosomatic symptoms (stomachaches, headaches, muscle aches, other physical complaints with no known medical cause), and symptoms of depression.
Short term effects for the bully: poor school performance, difficulty maintaining relationships, increased risk or substance use, and much more.
Long term effects of the victim of bullying: chronic depression, increased risk of suicidal thoughts, suicide plans, and suicide attempts, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, poor general health, substance use, and more.
Long term effects for the bully: risk of spousal or child abuse, risk of antisocial behavior, substance use, and is less likely to be educated or employed.
What to Do if You Are Being Bullied
It is important to not respond back to a bully, instead walk away from the situation and get help. Here are some tips for kids to improve the situation they are in and feel better:
Use a buddy system- try to use a different bathroom if the bully is nearby and don’t go to your locker or roam the halls alone without a friend. Stay with a friend on the bus, in the halls or at recess and offer to do the same for a friend.
Walk away and ignore the bully- Tell the bully to stop, then just walk away. Try to ignore the hurtful remarks, by acting uninterested or texting someone on your cell phone. By ignoring the bully, you're showing that you don't care.
Tell an adult and talk to them about it: Parents, teachers, principals, and other school staff members at school can all help stop bullying. Try to talk to someone you trust like a friend or reach out to a guidance counselor because they may give some helpful suggestions on how to deal with the situation.
If you are a victim of bullying or know someone who is, remember to report it. Parents or school professionals can help kids learn how to deal with bullying when it happens. As a parent, if your child tells you they are being bullied you should listen and comfort them. Make sure you tell them they did the right thing by talking to you about it and remind them that they are not alone.
There are many resources for kids and teens getting bullied:
Know Bullying App. SAMHSA’s free KnowBullying app will help you boost your children’s confidence, resilience, and build effective strategies for facing bullying.
Some helpful online mental health resources include:
If you're in crisis, contact one of the organizations below.
If you are in need of immediate help, call 911.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or suicidepreventionlifeline.org
Crisis Text Line, Text HELLO to 741741
Magellan Health Crisis Hotline, 1-800-327-7451
Action Line, 1-800-HOPE-135 or 211
Kids in Crisis: 203-661-1911
The Trevor Project for LGBTQ Lives: 866-488-7386