This section pulls together fundamental information about bullying, including:

  • Definition
  • State of the Science
  • Statistics
  • Bullying and Suicide
  • Targeted Groups (e.g., LGBTQ)
  • Laws

Definition

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying for research and surveillance.1 The core elements of the definition include: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition. There are many different modes and types of bullying.

The current definition acknowledges two modes and four types by which youth can be bullied or can bully others. The two modes of bullying include direct (e.g., bullying that occurs in the presence of a targeted youth) and indirect (e.g., bullying not directly communicated to a targeted youth such as spreading rumors). In addition to these two modes, the four types of bullying include broad categories of physical, verbal, relational (e.g., efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and damage to property.

Bullying can happen in any number of places, contexts, or locations. Sometimes that place is online or through a cellphone. Bullying that occurs using technology (including but not limited to phones, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online posts) is considered electronic bullying and is viewed as a context or location.

Electronic bullying or cyberbullying involves primarily verbal aggression (e.g., threatening or harassing electronic communications) and relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors electronically). Electronic bullying or cyberbullying can also involve property damage resulting from electronic attacks that lead to the modification, dissemination, damage, or destruction of a youth’s privately stored electronic information.

Some bullying actions can fall into criminal categories, such as harassment, hazing, or assault.

Journalists and other content creators can use this definition to determine whether an incident they are covering is actually bullying. Media pieces often mistakenly use the word “bullying” to describe events such as one-time physical fights, online arguments, or incidents between adults. See more on related topics.

State of the Science

Bullying prevention is a growing research field that has made great strides in answering important questions. We now know much more about how complex bullying is, and how it affects youth at the time they experience it and even as adults.

Yet many questions remain. Journalists and other content creators can serve the public by representing the state of the science as transparently as possible.

What We Know

Conclusive research has shown:

  • Prevalence:
    • Between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. Many fewer have been cyberbullied. See more prevalence statistics
    • Most bullying happens in middle school. The most common types are verbal and social bullying.
    • There is growing awareness of the problem of bullying, which may lead some to believe that bullying is increasing. However, studies suggest that rates of bullying may be declining. It still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools.
  • Risk Factors:
    • Young people who are perceived as different from their peers are often at risk for being bullied. See more on who is at risk.
  • Effects:
    • Bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who see bullying going on. Some effects may last into adulthood. See more on the effects of bullying.
  • Group Phenomenon:
    • Bullying is not usually a simple interaction between a student who bullies and a student who is bullied. Instead, it often involves groups of students who support each other in bullying other students.
  • Changing Roles:
    • There is not a single profile of a young person involved in bullying. Youth who bully can be either well connected socially or marginalized, and may be bullied by others as well. Similarly, those who are bullied sometimes bully others. Youth who both bully others and are bullied are at greatest risk for subsequent behavioral, mental health, and academic problems.
  • Disconnect Between Adults and Youth:
    • There is often a disconnect between young people’s experience of bullying and what the adults see. Also, adults often don’t know how to respond when they do recognize bullying.
  • Promising Prevention Strategies:
    • Solutions to bullying are not simple. Bullying prevention approaches that show the most promise confront the problem from many angles. They involve the entire school community—students, families, administrators, teachers, and staff such as bus drivers, nurses, cafeteria and front office staff—in creating a culture of respect. Zero tolerance and expulsion are not effective approaches.
    • Bystanders who intervene on behalf of young people being bullied make a huge difference.
    • Studies also have shown that adults, including parents, can help prevent bullying by keeping the lines of communication open, talking to their children about bullying, encouraging them to do what they love, modeling kindness and respect, and encouraging them to get help when they are involved in bullying or know others who need help. See evidence-based programs.

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