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The Anti-Bullying Guidebook

How to Recognize, Prevent, and Stop Bullying in School, at Work, and Online

A sad female student sitting on the floor with her head down.

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.

Understanding 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.


  • Teasing
  • Name calling
  • Threats
  • Intimidating
  • Spreading rumors
  • Gossiping
  • Slandering


  • Exclusion
  • Manipulation
  • Spreading rumors
  • Social humiliation
  • Encouraging others to socially exclude someone
  • Damaging someone’s social reputation


  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Pushing
  • 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.

Decreased self-esteem

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.

Trouble sleeping

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.

Aggressive attitude

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.

IndividualShort-term Effects Long-term Effects
VictimSocial isolation

Sleep disturbance

Decreased self-esteem


Sick more often than normal

Poor performance at school

Psychosomatic symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, and other physical symptoms
Chronic depression

Increased risk of suicide or suicidal thoughts

Chronic anxiety

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Self-destructive behavior

Substance abuse

Difficulty forming friendships and relationships
BullyDifficult maintaining social relationships

Poor school performance

Increased risk of truancy, possibly due to suspensions
Risk of spousal or child abuse

Substance 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.

Parent Involvement

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.

Anti-bullying Policies

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 research organizations, presents helpful research findings online so parents, staff, and teachers may educate themselves with the latest information.


anti-bullying initiatives

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, Hazelden Publishing offers a variety of training resources and tips for administrators who wish to spearhead anti-bullying initiatives in their schools.


Zero-tolerance policies

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

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.

Group treatment

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