The Bullying Problem: What You Need to Know

By The Understood Team

At a Glance

  • Bullying is when someone uses their power to control or harm someone else.

  • Not all bullying is physical—teasing or making fun of someone can be just as harmful.

  • Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be bullied.

When you were in school, did you ever see kids pick on other kids? Today, more than 70 percent of students say they’ve seen bullying at school. Kids who are bullied can feel a lifetime of hurt and self-doubt. It’s a big problem, but you can do something about it.

Read on to learn about bullying, and how to protect kids.

What Is Bullying?

All kids argue sometimes. At recess, one child may want everyone to play soccer, while another wants to play tag. Or a child may get jealous of a classmate’s new shoes and make a comment. This can lead to conflict. The kids may get upset, say mean things to each other, and even fight.

Bullying is more than conflict, though. Bullying is when someone uses their power to control or harm someone else. It’s aggressive and meant to hurt—like an attack. Bullies are often physically bigger or more popular in school than their victims, which gives them their power.

Not all bullying is physical. A bully may use words and insults to hurt someone. Bullying doesn’t have to be in person, either. With the internet, bullies can reach people almost anywhere, even at home on the computer.

Here are some examples of what bullying can look like:

  • Name-calling or harsh teasing 

  • Making fun of someone

  • Threatening harm

  • Hitting or kicking

  • Pushing, shoving, or tripping

  • Spreading rumors

  • Stealing or damaging belongings

  • Posting mean messages online in social media or texts, called cyberbullying

Kids bully for lots of reasons. Some want what others have (“Give me your lunch money!”). Often, though, bullies want to feel powerful. So they pick on kids they see as weaker or less able to defend themselves.

Why Kids Who Learn and Think Differently Are at Risk

Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to be bullied. This is often because they stand out from the crowd. They may have challenges in school, like trouble reading or sitting still. Or they may get special services, like tutoring.

Because of their struggles, they may also lack confidence and self-esteem. This can make them easy targets.

Not all bullying victims are timid, though. Some kids who are hyperactive or misbehave (whether they mean to or not) also get bullied. These kids may be aggressive toward other students, or they may get easily upset. This can lead other kids to target them. Sadly, victims of bullying may react by becoming bullies themselves.

Bullying is very harmful to kids. Students who are bullied tend to have lower grades and worse test scores than kids who aren’t bullied. They participate less in and out of class. And they’re more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.

Bulling can also cause mental health issues, like depression and anxiety.

How to Stop Bullying

You can take steps to help stop bullying. First, make sure kids feel secure enough to say something if they’re bullied. And encourage them to speak up if they see others being bullied. Ask them to report any bullying to school staff, or if they’re able and feel safe, to step in and stop the bully. 

Some people call this being an “upstander” instead of a bystander. Bullying often happens where adults can’t supervise kids, like the playground, hallway, or school bus. Kids who speak up can help stop the problem where it starts.

Another thing to do is teach and model good behavior. Kids take their cues from how adults act. If kids see adults making fun of or bullying someone who’s different, they may think it’s OK. They may even copy this and behave the same way with classmates.

Last, it’s important to know that all 50 states now have anti-bullying laws that require schools to report and investigate bullying. These laws are powerful tools to stop bullying. Bullying isn’t just wrong—it’s against the law. 

Did you see or hear about someone bullying a child? Learn what steps you can take if a child is being bullied at school. Raise awareness by sharing a one-page fact sheet on bullying.

Key Takeaways

  • Bullying can affect how kids do in school.

  • Victims of bullying may become bullies themselves.

  • Help stop bullying by encouraging kids to speak up if they see it happening.