Young girl being bullied at School

Bullying is defined as a form of unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-age children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance and that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.


What does power imbalance and repetition mean?
  • Imbalance of power: An imbalance of power involves the use of physical strength, popularity, or access to embarrassing information to hurt or control another person.
  • Repetition: Bullying typically repeated, occurring more than once or having the potential to occur more than once.
What does bullying look like?

There are three broad forms of bullying, including physical, verbal, and social bullying.

  • Physical bullying is a form of intentional aggression that involves injuring someone or damaging their property. Examples of physical bullying include hitting, kicking or punching, spitting, tripping, pushing, taking or breaking someone’s belongings, or making mean or rude gestures.
  • Verbal bullying is a form of intentional aggression that involves saying or writing things that are mean or hurtful to others. Examples of verbal bullying include teasing, name-calling, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments, or threatening to cause harm to another person.
  • Social bullying is a form of intentional aggression that is used to damage someone’s reputation or relationships. Examples of social bullying include leaving someone out on purpose, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, or embarrassing someone in public.
What is Cyberbullying?

The term cyberbullying refers to bullying using electronic devices, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets, or other communication tools, including social media sites, text messages, chat rooms, and websites.


A positive school climate can mitigate bullying.

Numerous studies have confirmed that elements of a positive school climate reduce bullying behaviors, and mitigate negative outcomes for students who have been bullied. For example, more positive (trusting, warm) teacher-student relations lower aggressive behaviors including bullying. For students who have been bullied, maintaining engagement in school mitigates potential negative effects on the victim’s academic achievement and social interaction. Schools that provide a safe learning environment where staff model positive behavior they can mitigate the negative effects of bullying. Positive student-teacher relationships promoted lower levels of student aggression.

Prior to the Columbine school shootings in 1999, no state had legislation addressing bullying in schools. Since 2000, more than 160 new state bullying laws, or revisions to current laws have been passed or revised; all states currently have laws concerning bullying in schools.

Though virtually all states now have laws concerning school bullying, these laws vary significantly in their provisions. The most commonly covered components in legislation are requirements to develop district policies, statements of scope defining school jurisdiction over bullying acts, definitions of prohibited behavior, and disciplinary consequences. Procedural components in laws (e.g., how bullying incidents are to be identified, reported, investigated, and resolved) are more likely to involve direct mandates, whereas programmatic components (e.g., training and prevention) are often prescribed using discretionary language. A major difference in state laws is the degree to which they specify policy content required of local districts, and some states simply require district policy without specifying content at all.

Stopbullying.gov provides a database on State and local policies across the country. Stay updated on the latest news in policies in your area by accessing the Laws & Policies page.

Bullying behaviors are common in schools and are widely perceived to be an important problem.

Recent data focusing on school-age youths ages 12–18 asks students if they had been bullied at school at any time during the past school year (Robers, et al., 2010).  Twenty-one percent of those surveyed reported that they had been made fun of by their peers, 18 percent had been the subject of rumors, 11 percent had been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on, and 6 percent had been threatened with harm. These findings are comparable to other nationally representative surveys of high school-age students, which indicate that over a 12-month period as many as 20 percent of students experience bullying on school property (CDC, 2010). Similarly, for the 2009-2010 school year, another study found that 23 percent of schools reported that bullying behavior occurred on their schools campuses on a daily or weekly basis (Nieman, 2011). A large national survey of teachers and other school support staff found that 43 percent of school personnel consider bullying to be moderate or major problem for their schools and 41 percent reported witnessing bullying interactions at school once a week or more (Bradshaw, et,al., in press).

Bullying behavior is a complex social interaction that takes a variety of forms and is heavily influenced by the social context in which it takes place. 

Reducing bullying behavior in schools requires a multi-faceted approach, including prevention, immediate response, and appropriate consequences and support for serious incidents. Bullying occurs along a continuum that ranges from occasional mean behavior to a ,”single interaction falls on this continuum, and many students, particularly in the middle school years, engage in these behaviors at some point. Nonetheless, all of these interactions can be hurtful and harm both individual youth and their learning environment. The current spate of state legislation addressing bullying in schools tends to emphasize the definition of bullying behavior that requires reporting, investigation, and consequences for the student who bullies. Many laws recommend that schools undertake prevention programs, but provide little support (e.g., these recommendations are universally unfunded).

Recognizing the importance of comprehensive prevention to address the broad lower range of the bullying continuum is important to managing the bullying problem (Bazelon, 2013). It is also important to provide guidance to teachers and school employees concerning intervention in behaviors at the lower end of this continuum. As the noted bullying researcher Dan Olweus noted (1997) “if its mean, intervene” (Oweus, 1997). Providing a range of school responses gauged to particular behaviors will keep a manageable problem driven by many contextual and child development issues into an overwhelming disciplinary problem (Bazelon, 2013).


Bazelon, E. (2013). Sticks and Stones: Defeating the culture of bullying and rediscovering the power of character and empathy. New York: Random House

Bradshaw, C.P., Wassdorp, E., O’Brennan, T., Linday, and Gulemetova, M. (2011). Findings for the National Education Association’s Nationwide Study of Bullying: Teachers’ and Education Support Professionals’ Perspectives. National Education Association.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). YRBSS 2009 National Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Overview. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Accessed March 2011. http://www.cdc.gov/HealthyYouth/yrbs/index.htm.

Henry, D. B., Farrell, A. D., Schoeny, M. E., Tolan, P. H., & Dymnicki, A. B. (2011). Influence of school-level variables on aggression and associated attitudes of middle school students. Journal of School Psychology, 49, 481–503. doi:10.1016/j.jsp.2011.04.007.

Neiman, S. (2011). Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings From the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2009–10 (NCES 2011-320). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education.

Olweus, D. (1997). Bully/victim problems in school: facts and intervention, European Journal of Psychology of Education 12: 495-510.

Robers, S., Zhang, J. and Truman, J. (2010). Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2010 (NCES 2011-002/ NCJ 230812). National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and Bureau of Justice Statistics, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC.

Seeley, K., Tombari, M. L., Bennett, L.J., & Dunkle, J.B. (2011) Bullying in schools: an overview. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. Juvenile Justice Bulletin.

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development, Policy and Program Studies Service, Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, Washington, D.C. 2011.



Featured Resources

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Discusses key findings from the Technology Harassment Victimization study that the National Institute of Justice sponsored. It is a follow-up study to the second National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence (NatSCEV II). The study, conducted between December 2013 and March 2014, examined technology-involved harassment within the context of other types of youth victimization and risk factors to improve current policy and practice regarding the issue.

Kimberly Mitchell, Ph. D; Heather Turner, Ph.D., ; Dara Blachman-Demner, Ph.D,; Kristen Kracke, M.S.W
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Includes two modules trainers can use to address bullying in classrooms.  Specifically, it is designed to assist teachers in cultivating meaningful relationships with students while creating a positive climate in the classroom.

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Describes how social bullying is defined, what distinguishes it from other types of aggression, how commonly it occurs in schools, and what factors contribute to social bullying involvement. It also summarizes research findings concerning the impacts of social bullying on individual social development and adjustment and identifies implications for school learning environments. The last section describes school-based approaches for preventing and reducing social bullying.

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