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School-related Bullying

What is school-related bullying?

bullyingKids Helpline defines school-related bullying as the deliberate psychological, emotional and/or physical harassment of one person by another person (or group) at school or in transition between school and home. It can include exclusion from peer groups, intimidation, extortion, embarrassment, harassment and violence or threats of violence.

Bullying is the fourth most common reason why children and young people seek help from children's help services.[1] This is consistent with Kids Helpline's experience, with school-related bullying being in the top four concerns for children aged under 15 years. In 2010, our counsellors provided 2,099 counselling sessions to young clients who presented with school-related bullying concerns, equating to about six counselling sessions per day.

For concerns about cyber-related bullying and harassment and other forms of harassment or assault (ie, outside of a school or in the cyber context) you can refer to our Cyberbullying Hot Topic and Cyberbullying Info Sheet.

How often does school-related bullying happen?

An estimated 200 million children and young people around the world are being bullied by their schoolmates and peers.[2] A survey of schools in about 40 countries found that Australian primary schools were among those with the highest reported incidence of bullying in the world, where 25% of students in Year 4 are affected by bullying.[3] The rate peaks during the final years of primary school where 32% of students are targeted.[4] In general, primary school students suffer bullying at a rate of almost 50% above the reported international average.[5]

Who is involved in bullying?

Three main roles have been identified in bullying behaviour[6] - the bully, the bullied and the bystander.

The bully

  • The lone bully - someone generally motivated by a strong personal desire to control others and who may feel empowered to bully when bystanders appear to support their behaviour. They don't care about fairness or another person's feelings, and most had experienced abuse or neglect[6][7][8]
  • The bully victim - a significant number of young people who bully others have been bullied.[9] The bully victim might experience anxiety or depression[6]
  • The bully influenced by others - bullies often act when their peers are around and usually the victim suffers more intensely

Not all young people who bully have obvious behavioural issues. Some may be very skilled socially making it difficult to ascertain their involvement in bullying.

The bullied

No one deserves to be bullied. Bullying is driven by a desire to exert power over others. Research shows that perceived differences may increase the risk of being bullied.[6] These perceived differences include:[10]

  • Ethnicity and/or physical differences (eg hair colour, disability, developmental spurt/delay, accent)
  • Being new to an area or group
  • Sexual orientation
  • Resistance to peer norms to behave in a certain way
  • Achievements in class or school (someone who is easy to envy and resent) or the low achiever (someone who is easy to criticise)

The bystander

Bystanders can take the side of the bully or the victim, fulfilling different roles:[6][11]

  • those who see bullying as a positive thing and join in
  • those who cheer and encourage the bully but do not take an active part
  • those who dislike bullying but do nothing to help the victim. They believe they should do something and may resolve to help the victim in the future
  • victim defenders - those who do not approve of bullying behaviours and offer support to the victim
  • disengaged bystanders - young people who do not join in nor take a side, and may feel indifferent[6]

Why do people bully?

Some reasons why young people bully:[12]

  • Perceived power and strength gained from bullying others
  • As a way to be popular and get known at school
  • Because they are scared, so they try to scare others to hide their feelings
  • Because they are unhappy and take it out on others
  • Because they are being bullied themselves

Are girls any different from boys when they bully?

Boys and girls often express bullying behaviour differently. Boys may be more likely to engage in physical forms of bullying such as assault. In contrast, girls may be more likely to engage in verbal, emotional and social bullying including hurtful remarks, spreading malicious rumours and excluding someone from the group.

How would I know if my child is being bullied?

If a child is being bullied one or more of the following issues may be present:[6][13]

  • Unexplained cuts, bruises or pencil marks on the skin
  • Being quiet or withdrawn
  • Reporting vague headaches or stomach aches
  • Ripped, stained or soiled school clothes
  • 'Losing' lunch money or other things at school
  • Falling out with previously close friends
  • Being moody or easily distressed
  • Not wanting to leave the house or reluctance to go to popular places such as shops or parks (they may be trying to avoid the bully)
  • Not wanting to go to school
  • Difficulty sleeping at night
  • Worrying about a lot of things
  • Sudden changes in eating behaviour

What are the known impacts of bullying?

The impacts of bullying are varied and can include:[14]

  • Loss of motivation and concentration at school
  • Shyness, social isolation and/or the development of a social phobia
  • Poor self-esteem and loss of self-confidence
  • Physical health issues, anxiety or panic attacks, depression, suicidality and self-injury

Studies show those who have a history of being a bully are more likely to have contact with the criminal justice system by the age of 30,[1] as they are more likely to have been involved in anti-social behaviour compared to their non-bullying peers.[14] Former bullies are also more likely to develop antisocial personality disorders.[15]

Bystanders or witnesses to bullying may feel anxious and think they could be targeted next time. They may feel guilty for not helping the victim or stopping the bully. Bystanders may experience high psychological and physiological stress levels, similar to victims.[16]

What can parents or carers do to help?

If your child is being bullied:

  • Regularly talk to your child about their school life and about emerging issues. Encourage your child to talk about any bullying they may be experiencing
  • Remain calm if the child discloses that they are being bullied
  • Believe what the child is telling you and explore how the child may be emotionally reacting to the bullying. Recognise that this is an important issue for the child
  • Tell your child that bullying is not acceptable and that it is not their fault
  • Help the child or young person understand the power dynamic involved in bullying. Discuss ways to not give the bully power, for example by walking away from the bully if possible
  • Reassure the child that you will help them to stop the bullying
  • Find out what, when and where it happened and if anyone was present, then contact the school and make sure the teacher is aware of the problem
  • Work with school staff to develop ways to stop the bullying
  • If the school has no bullying policy, suggest that they need to consider developing one
  • Discuss with the child your own experiences of being bullied and how you overcame this issue
  • Help boost your child's confidence by encouraging them to join activities they are good at eg sports, arts, music
  • Try to get support from other parents who have faced similar problems[17]

If your child bullies another child:

  • Acknowledge that your child is engaging in bullying behaviour but do not blame yourself for their misbehaviour
  • Do not threaten or get angry with your child. Remain calm and listen to what they have to say
  • Share your concern for the bullied child and firmly insist that the bullying stops
  • Discuss with the child why the bullying occurred and look at ways to reduce the likelihood of this behaviour happening again
  • Actively promote appropriate behaviour and respect for others and model this behaviour
  • Work with the teacher and school authority to solve the bullying problem[18]

If your child is a bystander and/or a witness:

  • Discuss with your child the ways they can make a difference (eg helping the victim or reporting the bullying to the teacher or school authority)
  • Let them know that you will support them if they decide to step forward
  • Give examples of how helpful bystanders have shown courage and made a difference in real-life bullying situations[19]

Who can I contact for more information?

You may wish to contact your local parenting help service/s for further information.


  1. Facts and figures about bullying. (2011). Retrieved from: on 26 September 2011.
  2. Kandersteg Declaration Against Bullying in Children and Youth. (2007). Retrieved from: on 26 September 2011.
  3. Mullis, I.V.S., Martin, M.O., & Foy, P. (with Olson, J.F., Preuschoff, C., Erberber, E., Arora, A., & Galia, J.). (2008). TIMSS 2007 International Mathematics Report: Findings from IEA's Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study at the Fourth and Eighth Grades. Chestnut Hill, MA: TIMSS & PIRLS International Study Center, Boston College.
  4. McDougall, B. & Chilcott, T. (2009). Bullying out of control in middle years of school. The Courier-Mail, June 01, 2009. Retrieved from: on 27 September 2011.
  5. Schoolyard bullying. (n.a.). Retrieved from: on 27 September 2011.
  6. Rigby, K. (2011). The Method of Shared Concern: A positive approach to bullying in schools. Australian Council for Educational Research.
  7. Rigby, K. (2008). Children and bullying: How parents and educators can reduce bullying at school. Malden: Blackwell/Wiley.
  8. Carter, S. (2011). "Bullies and Power: A Look at the Research." Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 34(2): 97-102.
  9. Solberg, M.E. & Olweus, D. (2003). Prevalence estimation of school bullying with the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire, Aggressive Behaviour, 29, 239-268.
  10. Price, M. & Dalgleish, J. (2009). Cyberbullying: Experiences, impacts and interventions as described by Australian young people. Youth Studies Australia, 29(2), pp51-59.
  11. Pepler, D.J. & Craig, W.M. (1995). A peek behind the fence: Naturalistic observations of aggressive children with remote audiovisual recording. Developmental Psychology, 31, 545-553.
  12. Kids Helpline Hot Topic for Grownups. (2011). Cyberbullying. Retrieved from: on 25 September 2011.
  13. Frost, L. (2004). Bullying_-Signs, Symptoms and Solutions. Kidscape. Retrieved from: on 27 September 2011.
  14. Renda, J., Vassallo, S. & Edwards, B. (2011). 'Bullying in early adolescence and its association with anti-social behaviour, criminality and violence 6 and 10 years later.' Criminal Behaviour and Mental Health. Retrieved from: 27 September 2011.
  15. Smokowski, P.R., & Kopasz, K.H. (2005). Bullying in school: An overview of types, effects, family characteristics, and intervention strategies. 2005. Children & Schools. 27,2: 101-110.
  16. Hazler, R.J. (2004). 'Impact of repeated abuse can be as severe for bystanders as victims': Penn State News Release. Retrieved from: 26 September 2011.
  17. Family Health. (2010). '10 signs your child is being bullied'. Retrieved from: on 26 September 2011.
  18. Walsh, E. (2011).My child is a bully. Retrieved from: on 26 September 2011.
  19. Eyes on Bullying. (n.a.) What Can You Do? Retrieved from: on 26 September 2011.

Published: 8 May 2012