The Bullying Epidemic: Here’s Everything You Need to Know

You’ve heard the word bully tossed around before, and the term alone carries a heavy weight. In some cases it’s warranted, and in others, it can seem a bit over the top. So, what exactly¬†qualifies as bullying, anyway? With so many descriptions floating around, it’s important each and every child, teen, and adult has a grasp on the real meaning of the word.

First, let’s take a look at classic bullying behavior. In the following three points, we’ll cover what it means to be a bully.

Intentionally aggressive behavior

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message On Mobile Phone

No one deserves to be bullied. | iStock.com/omgimages

This first point is probably a given, but it needs to be mentioned, as it’s one of the hallmark signs of what makes a bully a bully. The Huffington Post says, “Experts agree that bullying entails three key elements: an intent to harm, a power imbalance and repeated acts or threats of aggressive behavior.” (More on those other two in a minute.) Furthermore, the publication goes on to say those who intentionally cause harm to others feel little or no remorse for their wrongdoing.

An imbalance of power or strength

Lying down and sad

Bullies often prey on those weaker than they. | iStock.com/Marjan_Apostolovic

When people think of a bully, they often picture a mean, bad-news kind of kid at school. But in reality, it goes much deeper than that. In the case of bullying, there’s a clear imbalance of strength, insofar as the bully has some sort of undeniable power — whether it be physical, emotional, intellectual, or otherwise — over their victim.

Furthermore, Dan Olweus, creator of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program¬†and author of Bullying at School, writes, “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one of more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.” A person’s inability to defend themselves could make them a prime target in the eyes of a bully.

Behavior that’s repeated over time

The cast of HBO's Big Little Lies

Big Little Lies is the latest hit to explore themes of bullying and abuse. | HBO

We’ve already mentioned that bullying involves a certain kind of behavior, and it’s important to know that this behavior is typically repeated over time. As opposed to a one-off act of cruelty, like saying something mean and hurtful to another person, bullying behavior isn’t just a fleeting moment of passion. Olweus’s definition explains, “Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.” So, if you’re concerned your child, or someone you know may be the victim of bullying, be sure to talk to them about the pattern of behavior they’re being subjected to.

Now that we’ve covered things from a bully’s perspective, let’s take a look at some telltale signs you can spot in others to see if they’re the victim of such behavior.

Faking sick or changes in eating habits

call in sick

If sick days suddenly become all too common, there’s probably a reason behind it. | iStock.com

Especially in the case of children, these can be red flags flags that they’re being bullied at school. According to StopBullying.gov, signs a child is being bullied include “frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking sick,” and “changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating.” If you start noticing these subtle signs, don’t let them fall by the wayside.

Self-destructive behavior

Hannah stands in front of a row of school lockers in 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why showcases the impact of teen suicide. | Netflix

While we’re on the subject of bullying among kids, StopBullying.gov also says declining grades at school, a sudden loss of friends, and self-destructive behavior are not to be ignored, either. Acts such as running away from home, self-harm, or talks of suicide or feeling depressed most certainly warrant a serious conversation with your child.

Inexplicable injuries

Sad woman lying on the couch at night

There’s the potential for bullying to go beyond jeers and taunting. | iStock.com/tommaso79

While most people would probably jump to investigating possible abuse by a partner first, bullying may be the real source. Because one manifestation of bullying is physical (we’ll get to that next), it’s no wonder StopBullying.gov says injuries, along with “lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry,” could also signal potential foul play.

Now that we’ve covered some of the signs to look out for, let’s move on to the different types of bullying.

Different types of bullying

woman and man at home typing on laptop

Bullying today looks much different than it used to. | iStock.com/BernardaSv

You know the innate characteristics of what defines a bully, so now it’s time to learn a bit more about the various ways this cruel behavior can be carried out. According to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, the main types of bullying include verbal, emotional/social, physical, sexual, and cyber. Verbal bullying is quick and direct, and can include teasing, name calling, or gossiping. Emotional/social bullying is often very calculated, and can include exclusion, social manipulation, and spreading rumors.

Physical bullying, as the name implies, is often the easiest to spot, as visible marks, bruises, or other injuries can be apparent. Sexual bullying, however, can be even more difficult to understand, especially for young people. And while sexually charged comments, targeted sexual jokes, and inappropriate physical contact is often considered sexual assault for adults, for children, these kinds of behaviors can still fall under the bullying umbrella.

Lastly, cyberbullying is the latest form of bullying in recent years, given the rise of the Internet and technology platforms available right at kids’ fingertips. And it’s pretty scary; now a bully can hide behind a screen with little to no ramifications. As Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center puts it, “The Internet has become the “new bathroom wall,” a place where children can post mean and inappropriate comments about their peers.”

While bullying is often associated with school-aged kids, it really can happen to anyone, which is why having open and honest conversations with the entire family is key. If you’re afraid to speak out yourself, or are curious about how to get the conversation started, visit StopBullying.gov for helpful tips and more information.