Bullying affects lots of people and can happen anywhere – at school, travelling to and from school and on the internet. There is no legal definition of bullying but it is usually defined as repeated behaviour that is intended to harm someone else physically or emotionally. This can often be aimed at certain people because of their race, religion, appearance or disability. It can often involve a power imbalance where someone uses their power such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information or popularity, in order to control or harm others.
Bullying can take many forms such as:
This involves hurting someone’s body or possessions including:
Hitting, kicking or pinching
Tripping or pushing
Taking or breaking someone’s things
Making mean or rude hand gestures
This is saying or writing mean things and can include:
Threatening to cause harm
Cyberbullying refers to any bullying that occurs online; this can mean that it happens 24/7 as the internet is always there. In a recent survey by Bullying UK, 56% of young people said they have seen others being bullied online and 42% said that they felt unsafe online.
The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and TikTok
Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices
Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet
Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit
Online gaming communities
This includes hurting someone’s reputation or relationships such as:
Leaving someone out on purpose
Telling other children not to be friends with someone
Spreading rumours about someone
Embarrassing someone in public
Threatening behaviour can be verbal or physical and can include:
saying to someone that if they tell someone what is happening that something will happen to them like getting beaten up or attacked
acting aggressively towards someone such as invading their personal space
grabbing someone’s arm to make them think they are going to be hurt
There is a strong link between bullying and mental health; the diagram below shows how young people with mental health difficulties are more likely to be bullied, as well as young people who are bullied are more likely to experience mental health difficulties.
Children who have experienced bullying are more likely to self-harm and are more likely to avoid school which could lead to Emotionally Based School Avoidance (EBSA). More information about EBSA can be found in our piece about worry and anxiety.
As well as understanding the impact of being bullied, it is equally important to consider why someone becomes a bully. It may sound strange, but there are negative effects from bullying for the bully themselves. Research tells us that around one third of individuals who bully have been bullied themselves and that bullies are twice as likely to have a criminal conviction than their peers in the future. Sometimes a bully can hate what they are doing to another person but their behaviour seems justified to them as they may have experienced traumatic events themselves. This feeling can override the sense of empathy for the victim and the competition between the two feelings can lead to a sense of stress – which can make the bully do it more.
Research has also shown that bystanders to bullying are also at increased risk of developing mental health difficulties such as anxiety or depression. This was the case for bystanders who supported the bully, as well as bystanders who supported the victim. The former may feel stress or guilt for not supporting the victim, and the latter may fear retaliation on them for getting the bully into trouble.
Recent research has shown that if you are bullied as a child or teenager, you are twice as likely to use mental health services in the future. Bullying can be a form of trauma as prolonged release of stress hormones on the body can physically alter brain development.
As with all matters of wellbeing taking time to focus on areas such as bullying helps to build an outlook that feeds into the interactions a teacher has with the young people they support. Whilst we are preparing ourselves to help others we must also look after ourselves, we’ve got some advice and guidance on this in the teacher wellbeing section
Working preventatively can help to stop bullying from happening in the first place. Teachers can do this through the ground rules within their classroom and through PSHE, ensuring the children understand what bullying is and how to stop it.
Preventative measures may not always stop bullying from happening though. It can often be very challenging for a young person to tell someone that they are being bullied as they may fear this will make the situation worse. Therefore, it is important to look out for potential signs of bullying such as:
Being anxious or withdrawn
Skipping lessons or school altogether
Not having many friends
Lost or destroyed clothing or belongings
Complaining of feeling sick
If there are concerns over a child or young person’s mental health, then it is important for teachers to provide emotional support for them. It is important for teachers to listen to children and young people who may have mental health difficulties so that they feel understood and valued. They could also be offered more targeted support such as having a key worker with whom they have a strong relationship, so they feel comfortable to talk about what’s going on. We’ve pulled together some tips on how to engage young people in discussions about mental health that might help with these tough conversations.
If there are ongoing concerns over a child’s mental health, schools can refer them to support services such as CAMHS or Educational Psychology, for more specialist support.