6 Types of Bullying Parents Should Know About

Understand how bullies target others and who is doing the bullying

Hispanic boy blowing spitball on girl in class
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Researchers have been studying the phenomenon of bullying for years. What they have discovered is that there is more than one type of bullying. What's more, not all bullies are created equal. Every bully has a different style and uses different tactics to intimidate and control the victim.

By being aware of the common types of bullying as well as the types of bullies your child may encounter, you will be better equipped to help your child in any situation.

The 6 Types of Bullying

When most people think of bullying, they imagine boys punching, kicking and hitting one another. But, physical bullying is just one type of bullying that kids participate in. There are actually six primary types of bullying. Here is an overview of the six most common types of bullying found in schools.

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying is the most obvious form of bullying. It occurs when kids use physical actions to gain power and control over their targets. Physical bullies tend to be bigger, stronger and more aggressive than their peers. Examples of physical bullying include kicking, hitting, punching, slapping, shoving and other physical attacks.

Unlike other forms of bullying, physical bullying is the easiest to identify. As a result, it is most likely what people think of when they think of bullying. Additionally, it has historically received more attention from schools than other more subtle forms of bullying.

Verbal Bullying

Perpetrators of verbal bullying use words, statements, and name-calling to gain power and control over a target. Typically, verbal bullies will use relentless insults to belittle, demean and hurt another person. They choose their targets based on the way they look, act or behave. It’s also common for verbal bullies to target kids with special needs.

Verbal bullying is often very difficult to identify because attacks almost always occur when adults aren’t around. As a result, it is often one person’s word against another person’s word. Additionally, many adults feel that things kids say don’t impact others significantly. As a result, they usually tell the victim of bullying to “ignore it.” But research has shown that verbal bullying and name-calling has serious consequences. In fact, it can leave deep emotional scars.

Relational Aggression

Relational aggression is a sneaky and insidious type of bullying that often goes unnoticed by parents and teachers. Sometimes referred to as emotional bullying, relational aggression is a type of social manipulation where tweens and teens try to hurt their peers or sabotage their social standing. Relational bullies often ostracize others from a group, spread rumors, manipulate situations and break confidences. The goal behind a relationally aggressive bully is to increase their own social standing by controlling or bullying another person.

In general, girls tend to use relational aggression more than boys, especially between fifth and eighth grade. As a result, girls who engage in relational aggression are often called mean girls or frenemies.

A teen or tween on the receiving end of relational aggression is likely to be teased, insulted, ignored, excluded and intimidated. Although relational aggression is common in middle school, it is not limited to tweens. In fact, some bullying bosses and other workplace bullies also engage in relational aggression.


When a tween or a teen uses the Internet, a cell phone or other technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person, this is called cyber bullying. If an adult is involved in the harassment this is called cyber-harassment or cyberstalking.

Examples of cyberbullying include posting hurtful images, making online threats, and sending hurtful emails or texts.

Because teens and tweens are always "plugged in," cyberbullying is a growing issue among young people. It’s also becoming more widespread because bullies can harass their targets with much less risk of being caught.

Cyberbullies often say things that they do not have the courage to say face-to-face because technology makes them feel anonymous, insulated and detached from the situation. Consequently, online bullying is often mean and cruel. To the targets of cyberbullying, it feels invasive and never-ending. Bullies can get to them anytime and anywhere, often in the safety of their own home. As a result, the consequences of cyberbullying are significant.

Sexual Bullying

Sexual bullying consists of repeated, harmful and humiliating actions that target a person sexually. Examples include sexual name-calling, crude comments, vulgar gestures, uninvited touching, sexual propositioning and pornographic materials. For instance, a bully might make a crude comment about a girl’s appearance, attractiveness, sexual development or sexual activity. In extreme cases, sexual bullying opens the door to sexual assault.

Girls are often the targets of sexual bullying both by boys and by other girls. Boys might touch them inappropriately, make crude comments about their bodies or proposition them. Girls, on the other hand, might call other girls names like “slut” or “tramp," make insulting comments about their appearance or body and engage in slut-shaming.

Sexting also can lead to sexual bullying. For instance, a girl may send a photo of herself to a boyfriend. When they break up, he shares that photo with the entire school. As a result, she then becomes the target of sexual bullying because people make fun of her body, call her crude names and make vulgar comments about her. Some boys may even see this as an open invitation to proposition her or assault her.

Prejudicial Bullying

Prejudicial bullying is based on prejudices tweens and teens have toward people of different races, religions or sexual orientation. This type of bullying can encompass all the other types of bullying as well including cyber bullying, verbal bullying, relational bullying, physical bullying and sometimes even sexual bullying.

When prejudicial bullying occurs, kids are targeting others who are different from them and singling them out. Often times, this type of bullying is severe and can open the door to hate crimes. Any time a child is bullied for his race, religion or sexual orientation, it should be reported.

Common Types of Bullies

Bullies can vary greatly from one person to another. They have different styles, personalities, goals, and behaviors. And their motivations for and methods of bullying are all different. But remember, not all bullies will fit neatly into a category.

Some bullies will fall into several categories and some may appear to be in a category all their own. Here is an overview of the six most common types of bullies your child might encounter.

Bully Victims

Bully victims often rise up after being bullied. They bully others weaker than them because they, too, have been bullied. Their goal usually is to regain a sense of power and control in their lives. This type of bully is very common. In fact, a large number of kids who bully others have been bullied themselves. Their bullying is a way of retaliating for the pain they are feeling. Other times, the bully victim comes from a home riddled with domestic violence or suffers abuse from an older sibling. So in these cases, bullying is a learned behavior.

Most bully victims are either loners or fall at the bottom of the social ladder at school. This fact adds to the sense of powerlessness and anger they feel. Consequently, their bullying often appears hostile, which seems to keep the bully victim in a position of low social status and perpetuates the cycle of the bully victim.

Popular/Aggressive Bullies

Popular bullies have big egos. They are confident, aggressive and condescending. They usually have a group of followers or supporters and may feel like they rule the school. Additionally, popular bullies have a sense of entitlement that can stem from their popularity, their size, their upbringing or their socio-economic status. They thrive on the physical power and control they have over their victims and may boast about their bullying.

Most often they bully others through physical acts like pushing someone around, taking their books or pinning them against lockers. These bullies are sometimes the school’s star athlete or perceived school leader. They thrive on the attention and power they get from bullying. Other teens often tolerate this type of bully because they would rather be accepted than bullied.

Relational Bullies

The relational bully is usually a somewhat-popular student who enjoys deciding who is accepted at school and who isn’t. Excluding, isolating and ostracizing others are the most common weapons used by this type of bully. Most often, the relational bully will use only verbal or emotional bullying to maintain control. Many times, mean girls are relational bullies.

Relational bullies also maintain their power by using rumors, gossip, labels, and name-calling. Typically, they target others they are jealous of or they feel are socially unacceptable. Maintaining popularity is the key reason for relational aggression. The relational bully will do anything to be part of the "in the crowd."

Serial Bullies

The serial bully is another type of bully often found in popular circles. These bullies are systematic, controlled and calculated in their approach. But parents, teachers, and administrators may have no idea what the serial bully is capable of.

On the outside, this type of bully appears sweet, charming and charismatic to authority figures. But on the inside, they can be cold and calculating and tend to inflict emotional pain on their victims over long periods of time. Sometimes serial bullies will use physical bullying but only if they can be sure they won’t be caught.

Serial bullies also are skilled manipulators and liars. Their sweet and nice persona is just another way to manipulate situations to their liking. They are able to twist facts and situations to make themselves look innocent or to get out of trouble when confronted. In fact, serial bullies are often so skilled at deception that their victims often are afraid to speak up, convinced that no one will ever believe them.

Group Bullies

Bullies, who fall in this category, are typically part of a group and have a pack mentality when they are together. They tend to bully as a group but behave much differently when they are alone – even if they are alone with the victim. Usually, group bullies imitate the leader of the group and just follow along.

Because kids feel insulated when they are in a group, they often feel freer to say and do things they wouldn’t do otherwise. They also feel less responsibility for their actions because "everyone is doing it." This is a very dangerous type of bullying because things quickly can escalate out of control.

Indifferent Bullies

Indifferent bullies are often unable to feel empathy. As a result, they can often appear cold, unfeeling and detached and have very little, if any, remorse for what they do to others. These types of bullies, although less common than the other types of bullies, are often the most dangerous. They are bullying for the sheer enjoyment of seeing another person suffer and they are not deterred by the possible consequences. Additionally, indifferent bullies are often vicious and have deep psychological problems that need to be addressed by a professional.

A Word From Verywell

The first step in addressing a bullying situation is being able to identify both the type of bullying a victim is experiencing as well as the type of bully inflicting the harm. Having a solid understanding of what constitutes bullying as well as the motivations behind the bully will go a long way in equipping you to adequately deal with the situation.


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