The Basics

Bullying is a form of abuse and can be physical, social and/or emotional.  It can also be online cyberbullying, which is a 24/7 threat.  Every day tens of thousands of teens wake up afraid to go to school. Bullying is a problem that affects millions of students.

Bullying is really just another form of abuse: it’s about teens using power to control other teens, with the intention to cause harm. It’s not an accident or joke—it’s a repetitive action that happens to a designated person or group over a period of time. 

Bullies dominate, blame and use others. They see weaker kids as their target, and don’t accept the consequences of their actions.  Teenagers bully for many different reasons.

There is no one characteristic or aspect that indicates who gets bullied.  However, the main reasons people are bullied revolve around being different – because of appearance, social status, disability, race or religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.

Bullying Can Cause Targets to Experience:

  • Fear
  • Depression
  • Loneliness
  • Anxiety
  • Low self-esteem
  • Physical illness
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Anger and impulsivity

Targets of Bullying Can Become:

  • Afraid to go to school
  • Afraid to ride the bus or walk to school
  • Afraid to use the school bathroom, hallway or other areas
  • Unable to focus at school and uninterested in school activities
  • Unable to get enough sleep
  • Unable to eat well
  • Isolated from friends and family
  • Uninterested in formerly enjoyable experiences

Actions to Take

There are primarily six sets of players involved in a bullying situation.  Each player has strategies they can use to prevent, stop or counter the bullying.  In most situations, it is a combination of players acting that makes the difference.  The players that can make the biggest difference in most situations are the Upstanders.

  1. The target of the bullying
  2. Bystanders
  3. Upstanders
  4. Parents
  5. The organization in which the bullying happens – usually schools
  6. Bullies


Standing up to bullies may be one of the hardest things you will do in life, but it’s almost always worth it.  It’s not easy and there is no recipe for doing it, but there are some guidelines and strategies that you can put together. 

My self-worth is not linked to your cruel words and action. My self-esteem is not affected by your deliberate attempts to destroy my character. You have no power over me. You will not silence me.



Bystanders are a major part of the bullying problem.  66-85% of bullying takes place in front of others.

I’ve realized that you become a bully if you are just watching someone get bullied and you don’t say anything.


There are different types of bystanders – some active and some passive.  They all reinforce the bullying and are part of the problem.

  1. Some bystanders participate in starting the bullying, for instance by prodding or encouraging the bully
  2. Some bystanders laugh or give attention to the bullying thereby providing an audience and encouraging the bully
  3. Some bystanders join in the bullying once is started, which can range from physically bullying the target to excluding them from a group or “piling on” in cyberbullying.
  4. Most bystanders are silent or turn away

There are a number of natural reasons that people choose to be bystanders vs. being upstanders.  These reasons have more power when a bystander feels like they would be acting alone.  Bullying can have serious consequences for bystanders, ranging from guilt and anxiety  to restricted emotions. 

Most bystanders want to do the right thing. If you as a peer, parent or educator want to help put an end to bullying and support the bystanders, the best strategy is to empower the bystanders to do what they know is the right thing.    


Bystanders contribute to the problem. Upstanders stop the problem. Research shows that others speaking out or taking action stops bullying behavior over half the time within seconds.

However, it takes courage to be an upstander. Upstanders are teenagers who do something that prevents or reduces the bullying behaviors they see or provides support to targets. Moving from being a bystander to becoming an upstander may not happen overnight. It can start with small actions and grow with experience and confidence.

Strong people stand up for themselves, but the strongest stand up for others.


Upstanders don’t have to do everything but they do need to some of the following: 

  1. Learn about bullying, from why bullies bully to how to intervene
  2. Don’t join in the bullying
  3. Take action by telling the bully to stop
  4. Stand with the victim and say something
  5. Take action by getting others to stand up as a group to the bully
  6. Challenge cyberbullying messages and add positive messages to the target
  7. Support the target in private—show your concern and offer kindness
  8. Encourage targets to take action and get help 
  9. Pay attention to those who are new or different and welcome them
  10. Take action by telling an adult who can help.  Do not worry – you are not ratting the bully out by telling an adult.  There’s a big difference between tattling and reporting a concern. Tattling is telling to get someone in trouble, reporting is telling to get someone out of trouble.

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring – all of which have the power to turn a life around.



Parents can play a critical role, but it’s not easy.  They can be available, listen and partner with their son or daughter to counter the bullying.  It’s important to be partners, not saviors.  There is a range of strategies that can be customized to meet the threat.  Parents can also be extremely helpful in working with other adults – from school and police to religious communities and neighborhoods.

Schools and Other Organizations

Schools are usually the critical environment and they have a range of strategies they can use to prevent and respond to bullying.  Those strategies range from policies and defined support roles to ways of supporting students to be upstanders.

Other organizations can also play key roles, particularly the police, internet service providers and any organization focused on teenagers (sports teams, religious communities, youth groups, etc.).

School administrators can’t say it’s up to the parents. Parents can’t say it’s up to the teachers. Teachers can’t say it’s not their job. And kids can’t say, “I was too afraid to tell.” Every single one of us has to play our role if we’re serious about putting an end to the madness. We are all responsible. We must be.

Megan Kelley

Bullies – Stopping

If you stop bullying it will be because you have found the integrity to match your actions to your values and because you have found the courage to stand up for yourself.  You can’t take pride in having bullied others, but you can certainly take pride in stopping because stopping is rarely easy.  That courage and pride will take you a long way in becoming a successful young adult.


There are a lot of resources at the end of this chapter – on both bullying and suicide.  They include hotlines/textlines, websites and videos.