Bullying: Definition, Intervention and Prevention

Bullies come in all shapes and sizes. Being a victim of bullying can have far-reaching psychological effects on children, adolescents and adults. If you have ever been bullied, you always remember the bully, the actions taken by the bully and the way the bully made you feel, whether you were in their presence or not. Those who bully have a greater likelihood of engaging in violent behavior.

Bullying Definition

Definition of Bullying 

Bullying is defined as unwanted aggressive behavior and a form of abuse that is repeated over time and involves power and control. It is a form of youth violence and can be physical, verbal or emotional and can occur via email or online, known as cyberbullying. It involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times. Bullying negatively impacts those who are bullied and those who bully others. 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common examples of bullying include:

  • Physical: Hitting, kicking and tripping
  • Verbal: Name-calling and teasing
  • Relational/Social: Spreading rumors and excluding from social groups
  • Damage to property of the victim (the one being bullied)
Girl in red shirt is a victim of bullying

Effects of Being Bullied

If you are the one who is bullied, the feelings of insecurity, anxiety and having to always be on guard can mentally, physically and emotionally impact you daily. You spend countless hours thinking about how to escape the bully’s presence. This process can cause you to feel unaccepted, isolated, angry and withdrawn. It often leads to physical ailments from the stress such as headache, stomach aches, insomnia, palpitations and a lack of desire to participate in activities that you otherwise would enjoy with your family and friends. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including, but not limited to, impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. It can also play a contributing role in school violence, especially for those seeking revenge or retribution. Bullying can also result in physical injury, self-harm and lower academic achievement. 

Bystanders who witness someone being bullied are often afraid to intercede because they are afraid of retaliation or becoming the target of the bully’s actions themselves. As such, bystanders who know that bullying is wrong, will typically not get involved or help the person being bullied, which leads to the victim of the bullying feeling further ostracized by his or her peers and it enhances their feeling of being alone. 

Being a victim of bullying can have far-reaching psychological effects on children, adolescents and adults.

According to www.stopbullying.gov, bystanders play various roles in bullying situations. Some of the bystander roles include:

Outsiders: Witness the bullying situation, but stay out of it and do not get involved

Defenders: Help by intervening when bullying occurs or extend support to the person being bullied, either privately or in the moment, or take other actions to address the bullying 

Reinforcers: Support the person who bullies or the bullying behavior and may laugh, encourage or cheer during or after the bullying incident

Assistants: Help the bully by joining in and bullying, too!

Stop Bullying

Prevention and Intervention

Many acts of bullying occur in schools. According to the CDC, about 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property. Nearly 40% of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay or bisexual and about 33% of those who were not sure of their sexual identity experienced bullying at school or electronically in the last year, compared to 22% of heterosexual high school students. 

As such, some of the actionable steps by schools to combat bullying include:

  • Creating anti-bullying policies and communicate them to students, parents and staff
  • Reinforcing that bullying is unacceptable
  • Encouraging students to report incidents of bullying and support victims
  • Encouraging parents to keep communication lines open with your children and discuss what your child should do if they or someone they know experiences bullying
  • Identifying and taking immediate action against instances of bullying, including appropriate consequences

Everyone at school can work together to create an environment where bullying is not acceptable.

School-based programs that strengthen youths’ skills and modify the physical and social environment have also been shown to reduce bullying or key risk factors. Everyone at school can work together to create an environment where bullying is not acceptable.

Some schools use anonymous surveys to help determine the frequency, locations, and types of bullying behavior. Assessments involve asking students and school community members about their experiences and thoughts related to bullying to help understand the current landscape, determine an appropriate intervention or prevention plan in response and measure the results of efforts over time to ensure they are working. 

Schools should establish a culture of inclusion that welcomes all students, sets a tone of respect in classrooms, monitor places where bullying is more likely to occur such as bathrooms, playgrounds, and the cafeteria, and enlist the help of all school staff that interact with and influence students to help create an environment where bullying is not acceptable. 

School leaders should train teachers and staff on school policies and give them the tools to respond to bullying consistently and appropriately. Parents can get involved by volunteering or participating in school events, and students can offer their viewpoints and experiences with bullying, take leadership roles in school to promote respect and inclusion, and communicate about bullying prevention with their peers. 

If school leadership, students and parents work together, bullying can be addressed and irradicated over time, through education, resources and mutual respect for all.


If you are a victim of bullying or know someone who is being bullied, help is available.

Contact the following resources for assistance:

  • Contact the teacher, school counselor, principal, school superintendent or State Department of Education if a child is being bullied at school
  • Text a Crisis Counselor at 741741
  • Call or Text 988 if someone is feeling hopeless, helpless or thinking of suicide or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273- TALK (8255)
  • Call 911 if there has been a crime or someone is at immediate risk of harm
Stop Cyber Stalking

Related articles: Cyber Stalking Infographic, If You See Something, Say Something®

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