What parents need to know about bullying

Laura came home from work and found her 13-year-old son, John, lying on the bed with his new GAP sweatshirt crumpled on the floor. She gently asked him what had happened and he handed her his phone with a picture of him. The photo had the words Gay And Proud written below the GAP brand on his sweatshirt. The comments of his classmates were less than pleasant and John was worried about going to school the next day.

Bullying is a topic that has probably arisen in your family if you have children older than 7 years, and sometimes even earlier. Sadly, bullying can have lifetime consequences for both the victim and the bully. Although it can be easy to see bullying as a traditional childhood experience, technology has made it much more intrusive and difficult to escape.

Bullying can take place face-to-face and is usually restricted to environments where children meet, such as schools, parks, or after-school programs. Cyberbullying is usually defined as bullying that is carried out in electronic formats such as social media (e.g. Instagram, Snapchat), email, or online multiplayer online games (MMOGs) (e.g. World of Warcraft, Call of Duty).

Children who would not bully face-to-face may like the anonymity of cyberbullying. Additionally, face-to-face bullying can extend into cyberbullying as photos or video clips are captured during the face-to-face bullying and then shared online. The fact that cyberbullying can occur in so many different ways and include an unlimited number of people makes it an oppressive form of bullying.

Bullies are usually not psychologically well adjusted, have problems at home, cannot handle their emotions or have little empathy for others. Some bullies are aggressive to attain a social status while others are looking to hurt vulnerable victims. Bullies who target their friends are usually in the first category and looking for a better social status. Bullies who look to hurt others are often anxious or depressed and, usually, not popular themselves. When not addressed, bullies are at risk for alcohol and drug use, early sexual activity, dropping out of school, abusing intimate partners, and being convicted of crimes.

Victims are at risk for depression, anxiety, suicide, and impaired social functioning. It can be hard to make and keep friends after being betrayed by a friend who bullies because trust has been broken. This can lead victims to use aggressive strategies when interacting with peers. These strategies can be socially isolating and place the victim as a marginalized member of the group, which makes them easier to bully. The sheer irony of this cycle can be devastating to a victim and lead to mental health and physical problems.

The best solution to the issue of bullying is to focus on prevention. When an individual alone views bullying, that one person feels a need to intervene. However, when many people view bullying together, they feel less inclined to react because they are waiting to see how the others respond. This puts everyone in a holding cycle until someone does something and, sadly, that something can be doing nothing, watching, or joining in. Therefore, it is important to talk about everyone’s responsibility in stopping bullying. If children are taught to be empathetic, to think about what it would feel like to be bullied and to help bullies learn to see the pain they are causing others, this may motivate children and teens to step in to stop bullying when they see it. Children can also be taught to see their own vulnerability. Standing up for a victim today might mean that they have a friend on the day they are targeted by a bully. This approach can apply to both face-to-face and cyberbullying.

Bullying will only stop when issues involving both the aggressor and victim are addressed. Making sure children grow up in healthy, loving homes is a great first step. Treating all behavioral and psychological problems is also helpful. Finally, teaching children how to be resilient, how to be a good friend, how to respectfully manage conflict, and model the values of kindness, empathy, and compassion can help break the pervasive cycle of bullying.


Antila, H., Arola, R., Hakko, H., Riala, K., Riipinen, P., & Katonjarvi, L. (2017). Bullying involvement in relation to personality disorders a prospective follow-up of 508 inpatient adolescents. European Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 87, pp. 1-8.

Mishna, P., Khoury-Kassarbri, M. Gadalla, T., & Daciuk, J. (2012). Risk factors for involvement in cyberbullying victims, bullies, and bully-victims. Children & Youth Services Review, 34 63-70.

Zuckerman, D. (2016). Bullying harms victims and perpetrators of all ages. Health Progress, 97(4), pp. 63-66.

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