What Is Bullying and How Do I Recognize It?

What Behaviors Define Bullying? Get to Know Signs and Coping Tools

Girl (9-11) in park hand on hip, looking down, boys (9-12) in background
Bullying is intentional aggression that's physical or verbal or both. Digital Vision/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Bullying is intentionally aggressive behavior intended to intimidate or frighten. Bullying often involves forcing someone into behavior they would typically avoid. It can take the form of physical or verbal harassment and involves an imbalance of power. The imbalance of power may be physical (a group or larger child bullying an individual or smaller child) or based on another component. In some cases, power comes from social acceptance, whether in school, in the community, or online.

How to Recognize Bullying

Bullying behavior can include teasing, insulting someone (particularly about their weight or height, race, sexuality, religion or other personal traits), shoving, hitting, excluding someone, or gossiping about someone. This behavior can happen in real life as well as online, via social media sites, texting, emails, and other tech devices and platforms.

Children who are bullied may not speak up about their experience. There are, however, recognizable signs that a youngster is living with ongoing bullying. These may include:

  • Generalized anxiety
  • Depression
  • School avoidance
  • Difficulty with concentration

If you notice such symptoms appearing, apparently out of the blue, there is a good chance your child is the victim of bullying.


In the past, it was extremely difficult to bully someone who wasn't physically in the same room. And it was tough to bully someone who was bigger, stronger, or more popular than you.

Now, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, anyone can be a bully—and anyone can be bullied at any time, day or night. 

Cyberbullying involves the same types of behaviors as typical bullying, but it all happens online. A cyber bully may post gossip, rumors, photographs, or other nasty material about another child, and share it with their online community.

Online material can be passed around almost instantly so that dozens of classmates can see it and discuss it between the end of school on Monday and the start of school on Tuesday.

While it is very difficult to stop cyber bullying altogether, there are simple tactics for limiting a child's vulnerability. Often, cyber bullying involves sharing embarrassing images or "ganging up" on someone an online social media site. In some cases, it's possible to avoid or halt cyber bullying by keeping compromising images off the Internet and canceling social media accounts if bullying begins.

Outcomes of Bullying

Bullying can cause a victim to feel upset, afraid, ashamed, embarrassed, and anxious about going to school. It can involve children of any age, including younger elementary grade-schoolers and even kindergarteners. Bullying behavior is frequently repeated unless there is intervention.

If you believe your child is being bullied, talk with your child about steps to take. Older children will know exactly what types of actions are likely to make a situation worse rather than better.


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