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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

A Closer Look At: Bullying

“Knowing what's right doesn't mean much unless you do what's right.”

― Theodore Roosevelt

While bullying seems to be the hot topic in schools right now, I have been noticing several clients are reporting being bullied when in fact it is someone making a rude comment instead. The Huffington Post wrote an article in November of 2012 and updated it in August of 2014 that helped differentiate between being rude, being mean, and bullying someone:

*Rude = Inadvertently saying or doing something to hurt someone else.

*Mean = Purposefully saying or doing something to hurt someone once (or maybe twice).

*Bullying = Intentionally aggressive behavior, repeated over time, that involves an imbalance of power.

Another online source adds teasing and conflict to these categories:

*Teasing = Everyone is having fun, no one is getting hurt, and everyone is participating equally.

*Conflict = No one is having fun, there is a possible solution to the disagreement, and an equal balance of power.

So why does it matter? It matters because we need to know the difference and how to classify interactions and behaviors so we know when we need to intervene and how. Bullying is a very serious issue. It can be considered a life and death matter as a study done in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying. A study by Yale University also found that victims of bullying are between 2-9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. This is significant, and a problem, caused by bullying which again is intentional, repeated, aggressive behavior that involves an imbalance of power. While a child being rude or mean once or twice, whether on accident or on purpose, should be confronted, it is something different entirely.

If you’ve determined that your child is in fact being bullied, it can be in different forms such as physical aggression, verbal aggression, relational aggression, or cyber bullying.

  • Physical Aggression = Hitting, punching, kicking, slapping, spitting, tripping, hair pulling, damaging someone’s property, or pushing someone into the wall or their locker.

  • Verbal Aggression = Name calling, picking on, or making fun of someone. While we used to believe if we ignored the person and followed the, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” mentality, things would be fine. We now know that this is not the case and that these words can have a lasting impact on children. Again this is different from teasing as there is an imbalance of power, it’s happening repeatedly, and it’s not mutual teasing where both parties are having fun.

  • Relational Aggression = Using friendship or a threat of losing the friendship as leverage, also including social exclusion, shunning, hazing, or spreading rumors. This is more common with females.

  • Cyberbullying = Bullying involving technology where the bully repeatedly uses social media or electronic devices to text or email hurtful things to the victim or where a large number of peers can see the post or hurtful words about the victim. reports the following warning signs that your child is being bullied:

  1. Unexplainable injuries.

  2. Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics, or jewelry.

  3. Frequent headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or pretending to be sick in order to stay home from school.

  4. Changes in eating habits such as skipping meals or binge eating.

  5. Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.

  6. Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school altogether.

  7. Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations.

  8. Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.

  9. Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, self-harming, or talking about suicide. also reports the following warnings signs that your child may be the bully:

  1. Getting into physical or verbal fights with peers.

  2. Having friends who bully others.

  3. Increasing aggression.

  4. Gets sent to the principal’s office or has detention frequently.

  5. Has extra money or new belongings with no explanation as to why.

  6. Blames others for their problems.

  7. Doesn’t accept responsibility for their actions.

  8. Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity.

While the bully is clearly in the wrong, children who stand by and watch or don’t tell an adult are also to blame. Here are some things you can teach your child to do if they are witnessing bullying:

  1. Refuse to be a part of the audience watching bullying take place.

  2. Help the victim leave the scene.

  3. Tell a trusted adult. If the child is concerned they’ll be viewed as a tattle tale, they can do this anonymously.

  4. Offer support and friendship to the person being bullied.

  5. Set a good example by not bullying others.

Bullying can have a lasting impact on kids including depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, decreased academic performance, loneliness/isolation, and physical health complaints. Due to the lasting impact true bullying can have, it may be necessary for the child to talk to a mental health professional. Please call our office if you are concerned that your child is suffering from bullying.

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