The Anti-Bullying Guidebook
How to Recognize, Prevent, and Stop Bullying in School, at Work, and Online
Last Updated: 08/14/2020
Bullying is harassment or aggressive behavior that intimidates, dominates, or hurts another person mentally, emotionally, or physically. While some authority figures and parents may believe that bullying is just part of growing up, research on the short- and long-term effects of bullying prove otherwise. According to the Center for Disease Control, students who are bullied experience more learning difficulties in school, sleep issues, anxiety, and depression. Many of these negative emotions can follow a bullied child into adulthood, causing deep emotional, mental, and physical issues throughout their life. This guide offers readers information on what bullying is, how it impacts the people involved, how victims can get help, and what we can do as a community to put an end to bullying.
While bullying rates vary between schools, it can happen in virtually any location inside and outside of educational institutions. It is also a common myth that bullying is simply a part of youth culture and unavoidable. There are many different reasons why aggressors engage in these harmful behaviors, and “the boys will be boys” sentiment does not cover the complexity of bullying motivations. Aggressive behavior from children and teens may stem from experiences with sibling aggression and other types of family conflicts, but studies show that bullies do not only come from families with internal issues. In fact, research conducted by the National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) shows that children from a variety of backgrounds and familial experiences, even those considered to be non-troublemakers, can become involved in bullying activities. Bullying is also carried out in a variety of forms and mediums, especially in today’s highly connected, media-driven youth culture.
Common Forms of Bullying
Bullying takes on multiple shapes at different times in a student’s life. While physical forms of bullying may be prevalent among children, verbal and social bullying are more present as kids mature. Bullying acts can include manipulating, excluding, and humiliating others in-person and online. With advances in technology and the youth’s increased reliance on social media as a communication tool, the introduction of a more anonymous form of bullying, cyberbullying, has become prevalent among children and teens today. In the table below we categorize the different types of bullying and the ways in which they are carried out to negatively affect others.
- Name calling
- Spreading rumors
- Spreading rumors
- Social humiliation
- Encouraging others to socially exclude someone
- Damaging someone’s social reputation
- Taking and/or damaging property
- Forced contac
- Sending harassing, embarrassing, or other unwelcome emails, text messages, or social media posts
- Deliberately excluding others online
- Posting nasty rumors and fallacies on social media
- Imitating others online or stealing their log-in info
- Sexual name-calling
- Crude comments
- Vulgar gestures
- Uninvited touching
- Sexual propositioning
- Spreading of pornographic materials
Prejudicial bullying is based on prejudices toward people of different races, religions, or sexual orientation and can include all the other types of bullying including cyberbullying, verbal, physical and sexual.
- Being singled out on the basis of race, religion, or sexuality.
- Any other form of bullying on the basis of race, religion, or sexuality.
Signs & Symptoms of Bullying
According to StopBullying.gov, one in every five students in the U.S. aged 12 to 18 have been bullied in school. While the most common forms of bullying are verbal or social and take place in-person, a Pew Research Center study found that nearly 60% of American teens have experienced cyberbullying or online harassment of some form. Since bullying is often a negative act that affects the victim in a personal way, victims can respond in a variety of different ways. It is important for other children, teachers, and parents to recognize some common symptoms of displayed by bullied children.
Signs Someone is Being Bullied
Here are some of the most common indicators displayed by bullied children.
Verbal, physical, and social attacks on the individual can cause them to develop low self-confidence. Students experiencing decreased self-esteem can be sensitive to criticism, appear consumed by personal problems, and display physical symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and visible hostility.
Bullied students may show signs of withdrawal in school and at home. They may have a difficult time participating in activities that they typically enjoy. Additionally, they may avoid social activities and organized events to avoid their antagonizers.
Students who are bullied may experience changes in their sleep patterns. Many children develop trouble sleeping or insomnia while others experience night terrors. Signs of sleep issues include screaming or shouting, rapid heart rate, sweating, and anxiety.
Reluctance to go to school
Similar to withdrawal, victims of bullying may avoid going to school to evade their bully. Students may develop elaborate stories and excuses or feign an illness in order to stay home. The National Education Association reported that nearly 160,000 students miss school each day to avoid bullies.
Loss of friends
As a result of withdrawal and isolation, victims of bullying can have a difficult time maintaining regular social lives. They may avoid going to social functions and fall out of touch with supportive friend groups. Parents and teachers should help at-risk students maintain social lives, as friendships have been proven to reduce the risk of being bullied.
Drop in academic performance
Parents and teachers should keep an eye on students’ grades and school progress. A drop in academic performance, especially for students who typically perform well in school, can be a telltale sign that a student is experiencing some form of harassment at school or online.
Frequent mood swings
Adults may notice victims showing signs of significant mood changes. Sufferers can be hypersensitive to particular social situations or words and display peaks and valleys of emotions in a short amount of time.
Unexplained bruises, cuts, and scratches
Students with physical markings or injuries may be experiencing physical abuse at school. Parents and teachers should stay observant and keep an eye out for even minor scrapes or bruises, as they may be signs of unwanted physical contact. Adults should be especially suspicious of these physical signs if the victim has a difficult time explaining the source of the injuries.
Signs Someone is Bullying Others
Parents, teachers, and students should also be aware of the signs that someone is bullying others. Here are some common characteristics of antagonizers.
Children who are verbally or physically aggressive toward others may have an aggressive attitude that extends to other social situations. Adults should also keep an eye out for aggressive attitudes among friends, as bullies often fraternize with other children who bully.
A need to control or dominate others
Oppressors often display a need to be in control of situations or control the actions of others. Antagonizers often test others’ patience to see how much control they can gain in a given situation. Authority figures need to be on the lookout for dominating actions and controlling behaviors both inside and outside school.
Hot tempered, impulsive, easily frustrated
Children who bully often have a short fuse and typically don’t respond well to criticism. They may be impulsive and make choices without thinking about the consequences and how their decisions impact others around them. Bullies can also become easily frustrated with simple tasks such as chores or daily routines.
Breaks rules and pushed boundaries
Because bullies like being in control they will often break rules to assert their dominance over others as a way of keeping control of situations. By pushing boundaries, they try to redefine and expand what is considered tolerable behavior with no regard for others’ feelings.
Show little sympathy towards those being bullied
A common thread throughout most of the characteristics listed above is that bullies show little remorse, especially for the individuals they intend to hurt. Studies show that bullies often lack affective empathy, or the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes and feel their pain.
The Effects of Bullying
Bullying can go far beyond the individual incidents themselves. Bullying can cause both short- and long-term trauma for victims, including feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety. There may also be serious short- and long-term consequences for the aggressors, as well. In the table that follows, we highlight some of the effects for both the bully and the victim.
|Individual||Short-term Effects||Long-term Effects|
Sick more often than normal
Poor performance at school
Psychosomatic symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, and other physical symptoms
Increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Difficulty forming friendships and relationships
|Bully||Difficult maintaining social relationships|
Poor school performance
Increased risk of truancy, possibly due to suspensions
|Risk of spousal or child abuse|
Risk of continued antisocial behavior
Poor performance at work
Strategies to Stop Bullying
Direct punishment for bullies is not always the most effective method for deterring bullying behavior. One of the most effective ways for schools to prevent bullying is to put preventive measures in place, educate parents and faculty, and create a positive learning environment for all children. With the help of professional and medical organizations, parents and teachers need to raise awareness about bullying in schools and at home and show the harmful effects bullying has on student health and the community. Educating students and staff, implementing anti-bullying policies, actively reporting incidents, and providing support are of the utmost importance. Here are a few ways to stop bullies.
Schools can’t stop bullying entirely on their own, so parent involvement is crucial. Parents can get involved with school efforts through parent-teacher associations, volunteer work, and participation in school improvement events. In some cases, educational institutions create safety committees in which parents, youth, and teachers work together to address safety concerns. These organizations also help parents stay in touch with one another and monitor their children’s behaviors throughout the school year.
Anti-bullying Education & Training
It can be helpful for parents, teachers, staff, and students to receive regular anti-bullying education and training. Schools and parents can use resources offered by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) that provide evidence-based techniques for managing student behaviors. Additionally, Striving to Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE) is a national youth violence prevention effort that offers training and technical assistance as well as access to online resources and community work spaces.
By establishing and enforcing policies throughout a school system, teachers, staff, and administrators can significantly reduce or prevent instances of bullying. StopBullying.gov provides a detailed guide for establishing rules and policies, integrating guidelines into daily school culture, and creating a confidential reporting system for violent acts.
Support the Victims of Bullying
Listen to the individual being bullied
Authority figures need to listen to bullying victims and ensure that they feel heard, understood, and believed. In many cases, children who experienced these violent acts have a difficult time articulating their situation or discussing it at all. In some scenarios, authority figures may need to seek out a specialist such as a psychologist, licensed school counselor, or related mental health professional.
Assure the individual that the bullying is not their fault
Victims need to know that the bullying is not their fault. Depending on the age of the student, it may be useful to discuss with them that bullying is a widespread problem and that other children experience these difficulties as well. Children need to understand that they are not alone in these struggles and that parents and teachers will actively strive to provide a safe environment for them.
Consider referring them to a counselor
Since victims may respond in different and highly personal ways, effective support may be beyond the reach of many parents and teachers. In these scenarios, adults may need to refer the child to a specialized counselor with training in child psychology or a social worker with experience in trauma and child safety.
Work together to resolve situation
Parent-teacher-student organizations focused on student safety can learn a great deal from the victims themselves. Individuals in these organizations should ask children who are bullied what they can do to make them feel safe. StopBullying.gov suggests that parents, teachers, and students make small changes to daily routines that may keep a child out of harm’s way, from altering bus routes or course schedules to rearranging classroom seating charts or assigned bus seats. Additionally, StopBullying.gov argues that it is extremely important that teachers, parents, and students maintain open lines of communication about abuse and continually revisit policies and laws in place to protect bullied children.
Address Bullying Behavior
Make sure the individual knows the problem with their behavior
Authority figures need to confront bullies as soon as they realize there is potential for an incident. Bullies need to know that specific actions and words they use against others are inappropriate, harmful, and potentially dangerous. Especially for students who are not experienced agitators, they may not understand initially that they are engaging in harmful behavior.
Respectfully tell the individual that bullying will not be tolerated
Aggressors need to know that their violent acts, whether physical, verbal, or cyber, will not be tolerated inside or outside of school. Bullies should be addressed in a respectful tone and given ample descriptions and explanations as to why their actions are wrong.
Make sure the individual understands why they are bullying
Depending on the student, bullies may need help understanding why they engaged in harmful activities toward another. Sometimes children treat others poorly to fit into a crowd. In other scenarios, kids may torment others because of stressors in their lives at home. Aggressors may also be victims of bullying themselves and taking it out on others, so it’s important to find the root of the problem.
Use consequences to teach
StopBullying.gov suggests that parents and school staff use consequences that incorporate empathy building for aggressive students. Provided that teachers follow the guidelines set by their student code of conduct, they may choose to lead group discussions about being a supportive classmate, develop role-play scenarios that make a statement about the importance of respecting others, and other types of instructional exercises. Teachers may also involve the aggressor in making amends with their victim, which can be done in the form of a verbal or written apology. Experts argue that these apologies should be carried out privately and not in front of their classmates.
Strategies that Work & Strategies that Don’t
Educating staff and parents on bullying prevention
In best-case scenarios, schools take the initiative to educate their teachers, staff, and parents on effective bullying prevention techniques. While it may seem daunting, administrators need to educate the entire school, including bus drivers, cafeteria employees, school nurses, janitors, and any others who are in close proximity to students on a daily basis. PREVNet, among other national research organizations, presents helpful research findings online so parents, staff, and teachers may educate themselves with the latest information.
School-wide efforts are more effective than peer mediation and conflict resolution techniques. Various national organizations suggest that students, staff, and faculty engage with a bullying prevention program developed by Dr. Dan Olweus, a professor of psychology from Norway. In addition to in-school training sessions offered by certified Olweus trainers, ViolencePreventionWorks.org offers a variety of training resources and tips for administrators who wish to spearhead anti-bullying initiatives in their schools.
StopBullying.gov, zero-tolerance policies such as a “three strikes, you’re out” strategy are not effective. The Association of American Educators found that organizations that enforce a zero-tolerance policy can generate a variety of negative consequences for their students. Students under a zero-tolerance policy are more likely to exhibit poor resistance to peer influence and lack impulse control. Additionally, zero-tolerance policies create higher dropout rates and expulsion from school rarely improves bullying situations and can actually prevent parents and teachers from dealing with the root of the problem.
Peer mediation does not work well for bullying because these situations are victimizations, not conflicts, and involve people who do not share equal power or equal blame. Additionally, the Anti-Defamation League reports that there is no scientific evidence that conflict resolution and peer mediation have long-term positive effects on bullies.
Schools may choose to address bullying behavior in group therapeutic treatment sessions. While these can be marginally effective in some cases, student behaviors may worsen in crowds of other bullies as group members reinforce bullying behavior and negativity in one another. StopBullying.gov argues that some of the most productive treatment for bullies happens in one-on-one sessions.
The Rise of Cyberbullying
Our increased reliance on and use of technology, the internet, and social media has helped foster a new type of bullying culture. Cyberbullying occurs when someone uses digital technology such as the internet, emails, text messages, or social media to harass, threaten, or humiliate someone else. Unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying is not limited to a physical location and can happen anywhere and anytime. This type of constant access for bullies makes virtual antagonizing all the more dangerous. In order to battle cyberbullying, we need to understand how this digital violence occurs and how students use technology to commit these acts of aggression.
What is Cyberbullying?
With youth culture being so tied to digital media and the latest social platforms, bullies today possess advanced tools with which they torment others without having to face the sufferer in-person. Similar to traditional bullying, all forms of cyberbullying can have short- and long-term negative impacts on those involved. Here are some ways cyberbullying can be especially detrimental and present new challenges for anti-bullying efforts:
- It can occur at any time, 24/7
- Cyberbullying can be even harder to avoid than traditional bullying
- There may be a large increase in witnesses or audience
- The internet affords a bully anonymity to cause damage with little or no consequences
- Cyberbullying tends to spread extremely quickly and can be difficult to erase completely from the web
Where Does Cyberbullying Happen?
Cyberbullying takes place on a variety of platforms, especially via text message and social media. Popular social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat serve as platforms for students to bully from afar. Cyberbullying can also happen through emailing and instant message services. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 15% of students ages 12-18 experienced cyberbullying online or by text in 2017.
Examples of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying does not refer to one method of antagonizing victims. Rather, it serves as an umbrella term for different types of cyberbullying that occur today. The table below offers some details on popular methods of attacking an individual online or through an electronic communication device such as a computer or smartphone.
|Type of Cyberbullying||How it Works|
|Impersonation||Bullies can create fake profiles impersonating their victims and use the associated accounts to spread false information, contact or interact with outside individuals at their victim’s expense, and carry out other types of harassment.|
|Cyberstalking||Cyberstalking typically consist of bullies sending their victims frequent, fear-inducing content online. It may include threats of using personal information against the victim or making them feel that their safety or reputation is at stake with willful and repeated virtual attacks or messages.|
|Flaming||Flaming is a cyberbullying technique in which aggressors seek to assert their dominance over victims in online public spaces for bystanders to witness. This usually takes place in discussion boards and social media posts and typically features vulgar language and personal attacks.|
|Password theft||Similar to impersonation, password theft allows bullies to access their victims’ online accounts, usually social media and email accounts, through which the bully gains access to their personal information.|
|Proxy attacks||Online interactions provide a high level of anonymity for bullies. In some cases, they may torment others from yet another degree of separation with the use of a proxy, or someone else who is knowingly or unknowingly committing a bullying act online on behalf of the bully.|
Signs Someone is Being Cyberbullied
- Sudden hesitance about going online: When students show an abrupt attitude change toward using the internet, it may be a cause for concern. Students who are typically excited about using the internet and exhibit signs of stress or worry about using the devices may be experiencing cyberbullying.
- Nervousness when receiving text messages, instant messages, or emails: Bullies often attack others using text messages and emails, which are extremely common tools that today’s youth use on a daily basis. Students who show signs of nervousness about communicating via text message, instant messages, or emails may have been harassed through these channels.
- Being visibly upset after computer or mobile phone use: Parents and teachers should take note of whether or not students appear visibly flustered or depressed after using their phone or spending time on the computer.
- Hides mobile phone or closes computer screen when others are present: If students try to keep their devices away from others or hide the screens when other people are around, they may be doing more than trying to keep a simple conversation private. Their reluctance to share a device could be a sign that an aggressor is committing violent cyber-based acts against them and they are embarrassed or afraid to let others know.
- Spending unusually long hours online: While it is not uncommon for today’s youth to spend several hours a day using an online device, especially a smartphone, prolonged engagement could be a sign that they are dealing with problematic individuals in cyberspace. Some victims of cyberbullying choose to ignore attacks from aggressors, while others choose to engage them. Responding to these attacks can be taxing and time-consuming, thus keeping a victimized student online for extended periods of time.
How We All Can Help
Teachers and parents are on the front line of addressing bullying, intolerance, discrimination, and harassment. The following list offers some actionable steps that adults can take to help reduce or prevent instances of bullying both inside and outside of school.
Steps Schools Can Take
- Learning to identify bullying language and actions within themselves and others should become part of the curriculum. Education will help create a more positive environment where bullying is less likely to occur.
- There should be an established system for children to report bullying, anonymously if needed, and get immediate help.
- Classroom discussions about the effects of bullying to sensitize students and promote self-awareness should become common practice at schools.
- Available counseling for victims of bullies, bullies themselves, and outside therapy options when needed should be offered by the school.
- School-wide events that focus the student body on bullying such as, “Bullying Awareness Week.”
- Schools should have strong repercussions for bullying. Although there should be zero tolerance for bullying behavior, zero tolerance policies rarely work, so it is important that the bully receive consequences that teach them a lesson rather than create additional anger.
Tips for Parents
It is not uncommon for the parents of a bullied child to respond in a manner that is not helpful, even when the parent has the best of intentions. Telling a child to fight back, stand up to the bully, or ignore the behavior is unlikely to be effective and can have harmful consequences. Instead, parents should be ready to do the following:
Your child is likely in a great deal of emotional pain from being bullied. Let them express themselves and tell their story so they feel heard.
Make sure your child knows it is not their fault and they do not deserve to be bullied. It is the parent’s job to empower their child and avoid judgmental comments about the child or the child who is bullying. Bullying can bring a lot of negativity into a child’s life and parents should try to remain positive.
Your child may be feeling insecure, withdrawn, frightened, or ashamed and that can prevent them from opening up right away. Take your time talking about bullying with your child.
Parents should educate their child about bullying by providing information that the child can understand.
Explore intervention strategies
Discuss the options for dealing with the bully together with your child. Find a strategy that works for you both and doesn’t push the child too far out of their comfort zone such as peer mediation with the bully which can further intimidate them.
Careers that Make a Difference
The negative effects of bullying are far-reaching and can be life-altering for everyone involved. Bullies, victims, and even bystanders can feel the mental consequences of bullying long after the incident occurs. Mental health professionals who understand the effects of bullying as well as the underlying causes and who are specially trained to educate and intervene are needed now more than ever. Here are some careers for those who are seeking to help prevent bullying:
- School counselor
- Social worker
- Child psychologist
- Behavioral interventionist
- Child safety awareness educator
- Community service manager
Bullying Prevention Resources
There are many bullying prevention resources online today that come from credible sources. Students, teachers, and parents need to take advantage of well-researched academic studies from bullying prevention and research centers. It is critical that adults received their information on child psychology, counseling, behavioral adjustment tips, and general bullying statistics from reliable sources. As a general rule, those researching bullying prevention services and resources should rely on .gov and .org sites. In some cases, .edu sites that offer research findings from accredited colleges and universities will also suffice. Anyone interested in researching bullying prevention further should avoid local news sites and click-bait stories, opinion pieces, and personal web pages hosted by untrained, inexperienced, or non-licensed individuals.
PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center
PREVNet: Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network