How to talk to the young person in your life about bullying

What is bullying?

Bullying is any negative, aggressive behaviour that hurts, humiliates, demeans, frightens or excludes someone.

Bullying can come in many forms, including name-calling, rumour-spreading, pushing, shoving and more. Bullying can affect all aspects of a young person’s life, including their feelings, relationships, self-esteem and sense of safety. Bullying often occurs between young people who are close in age. Sometimes, people who engage in bullying behaviour experience bullying themselves.

Types of bullying

  • Physical bullying includes things such as pushing, shoving, kicking or pinching.
  • Emotional/psychological bullying includes things such as insults, derogatory comments, name-calling or teasing.
  • Social bullying includes things such as targeting someone in particular, spreading rumours or manipulating friendships to make someone feel left out.
  • Cyberbullying includes things such as spreading hurtful messages or emails, or creating websites to make fun of someone.
  • Discriminatory bullying includes things such as harassing someone based on sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender identity, religion or anything else perceived as making them “different.”

What are the signs?

If a young person is experiencing physical bullying, you may see visible signs on their body (e.g. scrapes, bruises, etc.). But other forms of bullying — emotional/psychological, social, online and discriminatory — can be more difficult to identify.

Young people who experience bullying may show changes in their behaviour. They may become angry or withdrawn, spend more time alone, seem unhappy or irritable, talk less or even have nightmares. If you notice a sudden change in behaviour or mood, it’s important to help the young person in your life by starting a conversation.

If you know a young person who is experiencing bullying

It’s important to remember that young people who experience bullying are often embarrassed about it and may not want an adult to get involved. Try to adjust your response according to the situation, what’s happening and how it’s affecting the young person. If the young person’s safety is at risk, let them know you’re concerned. Together, you can contact the necessary authorities — the school principal for example, or, in more serious cases, the police.

The most important things you can tell a young person who’s experiencing bullying include:

  • “It’s not your fault.”
  • “It can be stopped.”
  • “It’s OK to ask for help.”
  • “You have a right to feel safe — there are people who can help you get the support you need.”
  • “I will help you, or find someone who can.”

If you know a young person who is bullying others

Young people who bully others may be trying to deal with difficult feelings (e.g. anger, sadness, etc.) or painful experiences (e.g. trauma, neglect, etc.) of their own that they don’t know how to cope with positively. Many young people who bully are also experiencing bullying themselves. If you discover a young person has been bullying others, it’s important to talk to them about it.

Bullying is often about control and manipulation, and can take a toll on a young person’s well-being — both the person experiencing bullying and the person engaging in bullying behaviour. Encourage the young person who’s bullying to try to help others (instead of hurt them). This reinforces and helps to build skills in positive, empathic behaviour. You can suggest the young person get in touch with Kids Help Phone to talk about ways to address the behaviour. They can also learn more about bullying and its impacts on our website.

Help is out there

If you know a young person who’s struggling with a problem, big or small, you can encourage them to contact Kids Help Phone for support. We’re available 24/7/365.

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