What is Bullying?

Bullying is a continuum of behavior that involves the attempt to gain power and dominance over another. Typically, bullying is repeated over time. Bullying can include:

  • Physical Pushing, kicking, hitting, fighting, pinching and other forms of violence or threats
  • Verbal Name-calling, sarcasm, spreading rumors, persistent teasing
  • Emotional Excluding, tormenting, ridicule, humiliation, spreading rumors
  • Racist Racial taunts, graffiti, gestures
  • Sexual Unwanted physical contact or abusive comments

Emotional bullying, like ridicule or exclusion, seems to be more common than physical violence, and from what most kids say, it can also be the most difficult type of bullying to cope with or prove. Technology makes it possible to use email, web sites and cell phones to intimidate or harass others.

Persistent bullying can result in:

  • Depression
  • Shyness
  • Poor academic achievement
  • Low self esteem
  • Threatened or attempted suicide
  • Isolation

Warning Signs of Bullying

While certain students may be more susceptible to becoming victims of bullying, such as those who are more insecure and anxious than others, it is critical that we realize that all students can be bullied and are capable of bullying others. Whereas boys tend to bully in physical ways (pushing, shoving, fighting), girls are more likely to bully in more relational ways (gossiping and rumor spreading). Both boys and girls victimize others by excluding or shunning others from social groups. This kind of bullying, known as mental or emotional bullying, has effects that can be most damaging and last a lifetime.

If your child exhibits one or more of these warning signs, he/she may be a victim of bullying – physical, verbal or emotional. Be aware that because many children, particularly in the upper elementary and middle school grades, experience shame about being a victim of bullying and may deny that it is happening. Talk with your child to explore further, and do your best to exercise patience.

  • Changes in appetite
  • Changes in sleep patterns – sleeps too much, too little, is exhausted
  • Frequently complains of illness – stomachaches, headaches, panic attacks
  • Displays mood swings; cries or is angered more easily than is usual for that child
  • Does not want to go to school; avoids school/skips classes
  • Feels isolated, alone, sad, rejected, not liked
  • Talks of running away or suicide

Tips for Students

  1. Talk to your parents or an adult you can trust, such as a teacher, school counselor, or principal. Many teens who are targets of bullies do not talk to adults because they feel embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful, and they believe they should be able to handle the problem on their own. Others believe that involving adults will only make the situation worse. While in some cases it is possible to end bullying without adult intervention, in other more extreme cases, it is necessary to involve school officials and even law enforcement. Talk to a trusted adult who can help you develop a plan to end the bullying and provide you with the support you need. If the first adult you approach is not receptive, find another adult who will support and help you.
  2. It’s not useful to blame yourself for a bully’s actions. You can do a few things, however, that may help if a bully begins to harass you. Do not retaliate against a bully or let the bully see how much he or she has upset you. If bullies know they are getting to you, they are likely to torment you more. If at all possible, stay calm and respond evenly and firmly or else say nothing and walk away. Sometimes you can make a joke, laugh at yourself, and use humor to defuse a situation.
  3. Act confident. Hold your head up, stand up straight, make eye contact, and walk confidently. A bully will be less likely to single you out if your project self-confidence.
  4. Try to make friends with other students. A bully is more likely to leave you alone if you are with your friends. This is especially true if you and your friends stick up for each other.
  5. Avoid situations where bullying can happen. If at all possible, avoid being alone with bullies. If bullying occurs on the way to or from school, you may want to take a different route, leave at a different time, or find others to walk to and from school with. If bullying occurs at school, avoid areas that are isolated or unsupervised by adults, and stick with friends as much as possible.
  6. If necessary, take steps to rebuild your self-confidence. Bullying can affect your self-confidence and belief in yourself. Finding activities you enjoy and are good at can help to restore your self-esteem. Take time to explore new interests and develop new talents and skills. Bullying can also leave you feeling rejected, isolated, and alone. It is important to try to make new friendships with people who share your interests. Consider participating in extra-curricular activities or joining a group outside of school, such as an after-school program, church youth group, or sports team.
  7. Do not resort to violence or carry a gun or other weapon. Carrying a gun will not make you safer. Guns often escalate conflicts and increase the chances you will be seriously harmed. You also run the risk that the gun may be turned on you or an innocent person will be hurt. And you may do something in a moment of fear or anger you will regret for the rest of your life. Finally, it is illegal for a teen to carry a handgun; it can lead to criminal charges and arrest.

If Someone Else is Being Bullied…

  1. Refuse to join in if you see someone being bullied. It can be hard to resist if a bully tries to get you to taunt or torment someone, and you may fear the bully will turn on you if you do not participate, but try to stand firm.
  2. Attempt to defuse bullying situations when you see them starting up. For example, try to draw attention away from the targeted person, or take the bully aside and ask him/her to “cool it.” Do not place yourself at risk, however.
  3. If you can do so without risk to your own safety, get a teacher, parent, or other responsible adult to come help immediately.
  4. Speak up and/or offer support to bullied teens when you witness bullying. For example, help them up if they have been tripped or knocked down. If you feel you cannot do this at the time, privately support those being hurt with words of kindness or condolence later.
  5. Encourage the bullied teen to talk with parents or a trusted adult. Offer to go with the person if it would help.Tell an adult yourself if the teen is unwilling to report the bullying. If necessary for your safety, do this anonymously.

Literature Involving Bullying

Suggestions for Middle School Readers

The Misfits by James Howe – What do a 12-year-old student who moonlights as a tie salesman, a tall, outspoken girl, a gay middle school student, and a kid branded as a hooligan have in common? Best friends for years, they’ve all been the target of cruel name-calling and now that they’re in seventh grade, they’re not about to take it any more.

Define Normal by Julie Peters – In this middle-school drama, two girls who seem totally opposite become friends and discover they are not such opposites after all.

Drowning Anna by Sue Mayfield – Anna Goldsmith finds herself in a serious situation when she suddenly becomes the butt of another girl’s diabolical behavior. The stress forces fifteen-year-old Anna to sink into a mind/body disconnect that leads to acts of self-mutilation and, eventually, to attempted suicide.

Hidden Talents by David Lubar – When thirteen-year-old Martin arrives at an alternative school for misfits and problem students, he falls in with a group of boys with psychic powers and discovers something surprising about himself.

Inventing Elliot by Graham Gardner – Elliot, a victim of bullying, invents a calmer, cooler self when he changes schools in the middle of freshman year, but soon attracts the wrong kind of attention from the Guardians who “maintain order” at the new school.

Lucy the Giant by Sherri L. Smith – At fifteen, Lucy Oswego is six feet tall and stocky of build. She lives in Sitka, Alaska, with her drunken father and daily contends with the taunts of her classmates. She runs away and discovers both hardship and friendship posing as an adult aboard a commercial fishing boat.

More Than a Label by Alicia Muharrar – Based on a survey that the teenaged author created and sent out across America while she was a member of Teen People’s News Team, this book examines the role of labels and cliques in teen lives.

On the Fringe edited by Donald R. Gallo – This powerful anthology explores the teen outsider experience in electrifying, never-before-published stories by eleven of today’s most acclaimed YA authors.

Perfect Snow by Nora Martin – Martin’s novel provides a remarkably revealing and disturbing view of just how easily vulnerable kids are lured to and indoctrinated by hate groups.

The Revealers by Doug Wilhelm – Three bullied seventh graders at Parkland Middle School use their smarts to get the better of their tormentors by starting an unofficial e-mail forum in which they publicize their experiences.

Shadow Place by Carol Tanzman – Lissa’s neighbor and best friend, Rodney, has always been strange, but now he’s buying guns over the Internet. If Rodney acts on his threats of violence, who will be the victim; his abusive father or one of his taunting classmates?

Stargirl – by Jerry Spinelli–Leo Borlock follows the unspoken rule at Mica Area High School: don’t stand out-under any circumstances! Then Stargirl arrives at Mica High and everything changes-for Leo and for the entire school.

Starting School With an Enemy by Elisa Carbone – – It’s bad enough that Sarah has to start fifth grade in a new school in Maryland, far away from her old life and friends in Maine. To make things worse, she makes an accidental enemy of Eric, a sixth-grade boy who immediately sets about making her life miserable.

Stitches by Glen Huser – This novel follows Travis and Chantelle, the weird kids in their rural Canadian town, through junior high. They initially join together because no one else will befriend them, but they grow inseparable and their oddball families also become connected.

Who the Man? By Chris Lynch – Thirteen-year-old Earl Pryor is much too big for his age, and much too powerful for the anger that rages within him when classmates tease him, the girl he likes disappoints him, or his parents’ problems get too real.

Other suggestions:

  • The Girls (by Catherine Cookson)
  • Staying Fat for Sarah Byrne(by Chris Crutcher)
  • Joshua T. Bates in Trouble Again (Susan Shreve, 1997)
  • The Outsiders (by S.E. Hinton)
  • Freak the Mighty (by Rodman Philbrook)
  • Chernowitz! (by Fran Arrick)
  • The Skin I’m In (by Sharon Flake)
  • Tangerine (by Edward Bloor)
  • Maniac Magee (by Jerry Spinelli)
  • Feather Boy (by Nicky Singer)
  • The Chocolate War (by Robert Cormier)

(*) Note: Bullying Prevention expert Stan Davis advises against choosing books in which the target of the bullying has to do all or most of the work in changing the situation, or ones in which the books just show how bad bullying is with no resolution. However, such books may also serve as catalysts for discussion about a different approach.)

Bullying & Suicide

Suicide is violence directed towards oneself. In Massachusetts, twice as many people die by suicide than homicide. For young people between the ages of 15-19, suicide is the second leading cause of death.

There is an established link between being a victim of teen dating violence and teen suicide. According to researchers at the University of Minnesota, 50% of youth reporting both dating violence and rape also reported attempting suicide, compared to 12.5% of non-abused girls and 5.4% of non-abused boys.

“Bullycide” is the term used when suicide is the result of bullying. In past years, MAAV has brought John Halligan to speak with students in Melrose about the dangers of cyberbullying. His son Ryan tragically killed himself after being relentlessly bullied at school and online by his peers.

Our bullying prevention trainings for staff, parents and students address the issue of bullycide, particularly in the context of anti-gay bullying.

Since 2002, at least 15 schoolchildren ages 11 to 14 have committed suicide in Massachusetts.

Suicide rates among 10 to 14-year-olds have grown more than 50 percent over the last three decades. (The American Association of Suicidology, AAS)

In 2005 (the last year nationwide stats were available), 270 children in the 10-14 age group killed themselves. (AAS)

If you or anyone you know is suffering from depression due to bullying or teen dating violence, please visit the following websites which provide information and 24-hour hotlines for help:

Teen Dating Abuse Helpline

The Trevor Project


Below are some useful links to more information on bullying, cyberbullying and bullying prevention programs: