Bullying is a form of aggressive, potentially violent behavior. Bullying can occur at school, online, in the workplace, or at home. It can also be grounded in prejudice.

Bullying is an aggressive behavior characterized by the following aspects:

  • The behavior is usually ongoing and repeated over time.
  • The person committing bullying often perceives an imbalance of power between themselves and the person they pick on.
  • The behavior occurs due to a desire to cause harm, fear, or distress.

A person may also choose to bully another person due to prejudicial reasons. It may be verbal, psychological in nature, or physical.

Keep reading for examples of bullying, what to look for, and ways to potentially overcome bullying.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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According to the National Center for Education Statistics, about 20% of students (1 out of 5) report experiencing bullying at school. About 41% of students believe bullying will happen at school again.

About 6% of males report physical bullying, while about 4% of females report physical bullying. Female students have higher rates of psychological bullying, such as rumors being spread about them or purposeful exclusion from activities.

About 13% of students reported being called names, insulted, made fun of, or being the subject of rumors. Other commonly reported forms included purposeful exclusion from activities or being pushed, spit on, or tripped.

Experiencing bullying at school can have long lasting effects. The findings of a 2021 study suggest that experiencing school bullying increases the odds of mental health problems. They found that males had a higher chance of mental health issues compared to females.

Learn how bullying and cyberbullying compare.

Cyberbullying is when bullying occurs online. It is a rapidly growing issue. Cyberbullying can occur alongside school bullying or potentially other types, such as workplace.

Unique characteristics of cyberbullying that can make it more pervasive include potential:

  • anonymity among perpetrators
  • lack of perceived consequences for perpetrators
  • ability to reach a mass amount of people quickly and easily

According to a 2022 report, about 46% of students ages 13–17 reported cyberbullying. Of those, about 32% reported experiencing offensive name-calling, and 17% reported receiving explicit images they did not ask for.

Females between the ages of 15 and 17 were found more likely to experience cyberbullying overall.

They noted that other studies reported between 9% and 40% prevalence of cyberbullying among students. They suggest that more efforts are needed to address cyberbullying to help improve school performance and decrease the risk of mental health issues.

A more recent study from 2021 noted that cyberbullying has increased significantly between 2015 and 2019. Despite the increasing rate, researchers suggest that cyberbullying remains understudied and prevention strategies still need exploring.

Another 2023 study explored cyberbullying in Saudi Arabia. They found a cyberbullying prevalence of about 42.8%.

About 68% of the total participants in the study were female students. However, they noted that the prevalence rate in males was slightly higher.

They noted that cyberbullying caused the following reactions:

  • 20% considered leaving their current school
  • 26.3% reported significant academic performance issues
  • 19.7% considered stopping all internet use
  • 21.1% considered harming themselves

Learn more about the effects of cyberbullying.

Workplace bullying is considered a persistent series of mistreatment of others in the workplace. It includes verbal criticism or direct personal attacks meant to humiliate or belittle those targeted by the bullying.

Like other forms of bullying, it can cause severe consequences for the individual. This can include increased anxiety leading to poor job performance as well as negative overall well-being.

Worldwide, studies show that workplace bullying affects about 15% of workers. The public sector — education, social and healthcare, and public administrators — have the highest rate. However, bullying can occur in private-sector jobs as well.

Learn more about workplace bullying.

Prejudicial bullying occurs due to learned or misguided beliefs that a person or group deserves to be treated differently due to ethnicity, culture, race, or other distinguishing factors. It may occur due to actual or perceived differences.

Individuals who engage in prejudicial bullying intentionally and repeatedly harass others using verbal attacks, social aggression, or physical means.

According to a 2023 systematic review, no empirical analysis to date has occurred to help researchers understand the factors and outcomes associated with racist bullying victimization. This leads to not understanding or knowing its prevalence or the best means to stop it.

In their own review, they found outcomes of prejudicial bullying are similar to other forms of bullying and can include:

  • development of mental health issues
  • poor academic performance
  • negative effects on physical health
  • feelings of isolation and withdrawal from social settings
  • increased involvement in activities that may be dangerous, harmful, or illegal

Learn about why people bully.

Bullying at home can occur between partners, parents and children, or between siblings. The home is also an interest to researchers who look into the effect of the home environment and bullying behavior in the outside world.

When spouses or partners bully each other, it often falls under verbal, emotional, or physical abuse. Many studies address and look at the effects of abuse on a person’s mental and physical, overall well-being, and other outcomes.

Less is known about how sibling aggression or bullying affects children. However, a study from 2014 found that nearly 46% of siblings experienced bullying and about 36% were involved in bullying behaviors, such as physical or verbal abuse, teasing, stealing, or a combination.

They found certain factors influenced the risk of sibling bullying, including:

  • male siblings
  • large family size
  • financial difficulties

Additionally, they found that harsh parenting increased the risk of bullying while gentle parenting helped to protect against it.

The home environment may also influence bullying behavior at school and other settings.

In a 2022 study, researchers looked at how the home environment influenced bullying behavior in Portugal. They found that children in medium to high income families had the highest prevalence of bullying — either being the victim, perpetrating the bullying, or both.

Additional risk factors associated with an increased risk of bullying include:

  • witnessing parental or intimate partner violence
  • being around household substance misuse
  • being a victim of physical violence

Learn more about parental bullying.

Several organizations are available to help people who experience bullying or witness it. The Crisis Text Line is one organization. A person can text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.

The organization also gives this advice to help with bullying:

  • Tell a teacher or other authority figure.
  • Find new friends to hang around with.
  • Take a break and take time to self-reflect, particularly for those engaging in bullying activity.
  • Reach out to organizations for help.

Other forms of bullying may have similar methods that help. Talking with a supervisor at work may help with workplace bullying. A person may find taking a break from social media may help with cyberbullying.

Bystanders — people who witness bullying — may be able to help as well. They can let a person engaging in negative behaviors know what they are doing is not acceptable. They can also offer a friendly, safe environment for people experiencing bullying.

Bullying is often a similar set of negative behaviors that can occur in several contexts — school, work, or home. It may be racially, ethnically, or otherwise motivated by differences in a person or group.

Bullying can involve both physical and verbal aggression. It may include social exclusion, such as excluding them from social events or spreading hurtful rumors.

Awareness and reaching out for help are often cited as ways to confront bullying behaviors. Future research may help to determine more effective strategies to help people who bully others as well as people who experience bullying.