What is bullying?

A bully is someone who threatens or hurts another person through their words or actions. Bullies use power over another person—such as popularity, physical strength or knowledge of embarrassing information—to control or harm another person.

Bullying may occur once or repeatedly over time. It can happen at school or outside of school hours, such as on the bus or in your neighborhood.

Bullying can look like:

  • Hitting, pinching or kicking
  • Pushing or tripping
  • Spitting
  • Stealing or breaking someone’s belongings
  • Making mean or rude hand gestures
  • Purposely excluding someone from a group
  • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Telling other people not to be friends with another person
  • Making threats
  • Spreading rumors
  • Making inappropriate sexual comments
  • Teasing
  • Name-calling
  • Threatening, humiliating or spreading rumors about someone online (also known as cyberbullying).

Bullying can make you feel like you can’t be yourself or even make you feel unsafe.

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Signs someone is being bullied

If you’re concerned your friend (if you’re a teen) or child (if you’re a parent) is being bullied, here are some warning signs to watch for:

  • Decreased self-esteem
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Unexplained injuries
  • Declining grades
  • Sudden loss of friends
  • Avoiding social situations
  • Loss or destruction of their books, clothes, jewelry or digital devices
  • Faking illness
  • Frequent stomachaches or headaches
  • Sudden changes in eating habits, such as overeating, undereating or coming home from school hungry because they didn’t eat lunch
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Nightmares
  • Running away from home
  • Harming themselves
  • Talking about suicide

What to do if you’re being bullied

You have the right to be safe and respected. You don’t deserve to be bullied or harassed, whether in-person or online. If you’re being bullied:

How to help someone being bullied

If you see someone being bullied, there are several things you can do to help:

  • Get an adult involved. Tell an adult—like a parent, teacher, coach or neighbor—who can intervene.
  • Befriend them. Sit with the person being bullied in the cafeteria, walk with them to class or sit with them on the bus.
  • Interrupt the bullying. For example, ask the person being bullied to sit with you or go for walk.
  • Speak up. If you’re in a very public place, feel safe and have other friends (and, ideally, an adult) around, you could speak up to the bully and tell them to stop and leave the person alone. Keep in mind, it’s not always safe to intervene. If you’re not sure, find an adult and tell them what happened.

No one deserves to be bullied. If it’s happening to you or a friend, get help.

Need more info? Ask an Expert.

StopBullying.gov: What Teens Can Do
StopBullying.gov: What Is Bullying?
StopBullying.gov: Warning Signs for Bullying
AMAZE.org: What Is Bullying?
AMAZE.org: Bullying: How to Safely Help Someone

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