Risks, Warning Signs and Effects of Bullying

Who is at Risk?
Warning Signs
Effects of Bullying
Special Groups
Assessing Bullying at School
Cyberbullying

Who is at Risk

Bullying can happen anywhere, but depending on the environment, some groups may be at an increased risk. Learn what factors increase the risk of children being bullied or children more likely to bully others and what warning signs can indicate that bullying may be happening. You can also find out how bullying can negatively impact kids.

No single factor puts a child at risk of being bullied or bulling others. Bullying can happen anywhere—cities, suburbs, or rural towns. Depending on the environment, some groups—such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth, youth with disabilities, and socially isolated youth—may be at an increased risk of being bullied. 

Children at Risk of Being Bullied

Generally, children who are bullied have one or more of the following risk factors:

  • Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
  • Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self esteem
  • Are less popular than others and have few friends
  • Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention

Children More Likely to Bully Others

There are two types of kids who are more likely to bully others:

  • Some are well-connected to their peers, have social power, are overly concerned about their popularity, and like to dominate or be in charge of others.
  • Others are more isolated from their peers and may be depressed or anxious, have low self esteem, be less involved in school, be easily pressured by peers, or not identify with the emotions or feelings of others.

Children who have these factors are also more likely to bully others;

  • Are aggressive or easily frustrated
  • Have less parental involvement or having issues at home
  • Think badly of others
  • Have difficulty following rules
  • View violence in a positive way
  • Have friends who bully others

Remember, those who bully others do not need to be stronger or bigger than those they bully. The power imbalance can come from a number of sources—popularity, strength, cognitive ability—and children who bully may have more than one of these characteristics.

Warning Signs

There are many warning signs that may indicate that someone is affected by bullying—either being bullied or bullying others. Recognizing the warning signs is an important first step in taking action against bullying. Not all children who are bullied or are bullying others ask for help.

It is important to talk with children who show signs of being bullied or bullying others. These warning signs can also point to other issues or problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Talking to the child can help identify the root of the problem.

Signs a Child is Being Bullied

Look for changes in the child. However, be aware that not all children who are bullied exhibit warning signs.

Some signs that may point to a bullying problem are: 

  • Unexplainable injuries
  • Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. Kids may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch.
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

If you know someone in serious distress or danger, don’t ignore the problem. Get help right away.

Effects of Bullying

Bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. It is important to talk to kids to determine whether bullying—or something else—is a concern.

Kids Who are Bullied

Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience:

  • Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
  • Health complaints
  • Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

Kids Who Bully Others

Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. Kids who bully are more likely to:

  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults 
  • Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults

Bystanders

Kids who witness bullying are more likely to:

  • Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
  • Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
  • Miss or skip school

Considerations for Specific Groups

Schools and communities that respect diversity can help protect children against bullying behavior. However, when children perceived as different are not in supportive environments, they may be at a higher risk of being bullied. When working with kids from different groups—including lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth and youth with disabilities or special health care needs—there are specific things you can do to prevent and address bullying.

LGBT Youth

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth and those perceived as LGBT are at an increased risk of being bullied. Families of and people who work with LGBT youth have important and unique considerations for strategies to prevent and intervene in bullying.

Youth with Disabilities or Other Special Health Needs

Children with disabilities or other special health needs may be at higher risk of being bullied. There are specific ways you can support these groups.

Race, Ethnicity, and National Origin

It is not clear how often kids get bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. It is also unclear how often kids of the same group bully each other. Research is still growing. We do know, however, that Black and Hispanic youth who are bullied are more likely to suffer academically than their white peers.

Although no specialized interventions have yet been developed or identified, some federal partners have developed campaign materials for specific racial and ethnic minority groups. For example, the Indian Health Service within the Department of Health and Human Services has developed a series of materials for American Indian and Alaskan Native youth called “Stand Up, Stand Strong.”

When bullying based on race or ethnicity is severe, pervasive, or persistent it may be considered harassment, which is covered under federal civil rights laws.

Religion and Faith

Very little research has explored bullying based on religious differences. Bullying in these situations may have less to do with a person’s beliefs and more to do with misinformation or negative perceptions about how someone expresses that belief. 

For example, Muslim girls who wear hijabs (head scarves), Sikh boys who wear patka or dastaar (turbans), and Jewish boys who wear yarmulkes report being targeted because of these visible symbols of their religions. These items are sometimes used as tools to bully Muslim, Sikh, and Jewish youth when they are forcefully removed by others. Several reports also indicate a rise in anti-Muslim and anti-Sikh bullying over the past decade that may have roots in a perceived association of their religious heritage and terrorism.

When bullying based on religion is severe, pervasive, or persistent, the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division may be able to intervene under Title IV of the Civil Rights Act

Often religious harassment is not based on the religion itself but on shared ethnic characteristics. When harassment is based on shared ethnic characteristics, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights may be able to intervene under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act.


The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide

Media reports often link bullying with suicide. However, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors. 

Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.

Assess Bullying at your Stow Creek Township School

Assessments—such as surveys—can help schools determine the frequency and locations of bullying behavior. They can also gauge the effectiveness of current prevention and intervention efforts. Knowing what’s going on can help school staff select appropriate prevention and response strategies.

Assessments involve asking school or community members—including students—about their experiences and thoughts related to bullying. An assessment is planned, purposeful, and uses research tools.

  • Know what’s going on. Adults underestimate the rates of bullying because kids rarely report it and it often happens when adults aren’t around. Assessing bullying through anonymous surveys can provide a clear picture of what is going on.
  • Target efforts. Understanding trends and types of bullying in your school can help you plan bullying prevention and intervention efforts.
  • Measure results. The only way to know if your prevention and intervention efforts are working is to measure them over time.

Develop and Implement an Assessment

Schools may choose to use school-wide surveys to assess bullying. There are several steps involved:

Choose a survey. There are many free, reliable, and validated assessment tools available. Choose a set of measures that covers the questions you want answered, is age appropriate, and can be answered in a reasonable amount of time.

Obtain parental consent as your district requires. Some allow passive consent, others require active consent. According to federal guidelines, at a minimum, each year the Local Education Agency (LEA), must notify parents about the survey and when it will be conducted. Parents have the right to opt their child out of the survey. Parents also have the right to inspect and review the surveys before they are given.

  • Administer the survey. School staff are best equipped to judge how to carry out a survey at school, but these tips can help:
  • Administer surveys early in the school year. Schedules surveys after students are settled in a routine but there is still time to use the findings in the school year’s prevention efforts.
  • Assess at least once every school year. Some schools like to survey students at the start and end of the school year to track progress and plan activities for the following year.
  • Decide which students will be surveyed to ensure statistically significant results. Schools may choose school-wide surveys or surveys of specific grades.
  • Plan to administer the survey when all students can take it at once. This will reduce the chance that they will discuss it and affect each other’s answers.

Protect student privacy. Many surveys are subject to the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment (PPRA) and the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Assure students that their responses will be kept confidential and that their answers can’t be tracked back to them.

  • Analyze and distribute findings.
  • Make sure you continue to protect students’ privacy by ensuring that no personally identifiable information is accessible.
  • Consider how the survey results will be shared with teachers, parents, and students.
  • Make sure that you are prepared to respond to the results of the survey. Have a clear plan for prevention and intervention in place or in development.

Find out what else you can do to help stop bullying at your school by visiting http://www.stopbullying.gov.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying happens when kids bully each other through electronic technology. Find out why cyberbullying is different from traditional bullying, what you can do to prevent it, and how you can report it when it happens.

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.

Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.

Why Cyberbullying is Different

Kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior.

  • Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone. It can happen any time of the day or night.
  • Cyberbullying messages and images can be posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a very wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
  • Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.

Effects of Cyberbullying  

Cell phones and computers themselves are not to blame for cyberbullying. Social media sites can be used for positive activities, like connecting kids with friends and family, helping students with school, and for entertainment. But these tools can also be used to hurt other people. Whether done in person or through technology, the effects of bullying are similar.

Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to:

  • Use alcohol and drugs
  • Skip school
  • Experience in-person bullying
  • Be unwilling to attend school
  • Receive poor grades
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have more health problems

Frequency of Cyberbullying

The 2008–2009 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) indicates that 6% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying.

The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey finds that 16% of high school students (grades 9-12) were electronically bullied in the past year.

Research on cyberbullying is growing. However, because kids’ technology use changes rapidly, it is difficult to design surveys that accurately capture trends.

Prevent Cyberbullying

Report Cyberbullying


Get Help Now

When you, your child, or someone close to you is being bullied, there are many steps to take to help resolve the situation. Make sure you understand what bullying is and what it is not, the warning signs of bullying, and steps to take for preventing and responding to bullying, including how to talk to children about bullying, prevention in schools and communities, and how to support children involved.

After reviewing that information, if you feel you have done everything you can to resolve the situation and nothing has worked, or someone is in immediate danger, there are ways to get help.