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Does bullying happen more often than adults think?

60-second answer

There are many different types of bullying a student may experience, such as physical, verbal, emotional, or cyber. While all forms are equally hurtful, many behaviors harm students emotionally rather than physically, or happen in online environments versus the physical world — making it harder for adults to identify.

Physical bullying is often easier for adults to detect because the behavior is overt or signs are left behind (bruises, broken bones, damaged belongings). However, the words, gossip, rumors, or shared secrets that constitute verbal and social bullying don’t leave a physical trail of the emotional pain.

Bullying in online environments usually happens outside of adults’ view as well. While it often leaves behind an electronic trail of hurtful words or images, adults don’t know it is happening unless the student tells someone or an adult is monitoring their online activity.


When students were asked, “Does bullying happen more often than adults think?” they responded with:

  • Yes, so much more than they know
  • Bullying happens mostly online
  • It happens secretly
  • Kids don’t tell anyone, and when they do they tell just part of the story

There are different types of bullying, such as physical, verbal, emotional, or cyber. While all forms are equally hurtful, some harm students emotionally rather than physically — making it harder for adults to identify.

Physical bullying may be easier to recognize as it can leave behind bruises, broken bones, or damaged personal property. Cyberbullying is another form of bullying that may be easier to recognize because of the electronic trail of saved texts, screenshots, or social media posts.

Yet, if a student doesn’t share the cyberbullying with an adult or the online behavior isn’t being monitored, it can be difficult to recognize these hurtful behaviors that are happening in the online world rather than the physical world.

Cyberbullying, along with emotional (social) and verbal bullying, do not leave behind physical damage; instead, there are emotional scars that are harder for adults to see.

Emotional (social) bullying is the most sophisticated of all the types of bullying. It is generally done in secret without the target present, is very calculated, and often done in groups. It can include manipulation, gossip, rumors, threats of sharing secrets, or social exclusion. It’s difficult to detect for the casual observer, as they don’t have full knowledge or access to the nuances or social structures surrounding the behavior, such as cliques or inside jokes.

Verbal bullying can also be difficult to detect as it is often quick and direct. It’s the easiest to inflict on other children, and includes teasing, name calling, intimidation, making threats, and gossip. Like social bullying, this doesn’t leave any physical scars, but can be used in a powerful, covert way to hurt and harm students.

Additionally, adults may be unaware of any bullying that happens because many students don’t tell them. Research shows that 57 percent of children who are bullied do not notify an adult at school— making these subtle, but hurtful behaviors even harder to detect. This lack of reporting may be due to a fear of retaliation, a feeling that the bullying is their fault, or worrying about the situation getting worse. Students have also shared that even when they do tell an adult, they often minimize the extent of the behavior, as it can sometimes be difficult or embarrassing to share.

Identifying bullying is not as simple as seeing one student physically strike out against another student. It’s important for adults to have continued conversations with children about what bullying is and isn’t, as well as tips on what they can do to address bullying situations. It’s important that children know they can tell a caring adult, and that when they do, they will feel supported.

When the doors of communication are open, your child will be more likely to recognize when someone’s behavior is inappropriate, know that it’s not their fault, tell an adult about it, and take action steps to prevent it from happening again.

Learn more about helping your child if they experience bullying here.

Posted April, 2017

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