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Dealing with Bullying

What Teens and Kids Can Do

Bullied teen boy

Bullying affects thousands of kids and teenagers like you every day. You could be targeted because of your clothing or shoes, the color of your skin, your sexual orientation, or even because of who you’re related to, but often you could be picked on for no real reason at all, other than to make a bully feel superior. When you’re bullied, you feel powerless, humiliated and alone, and you may not want to go to school, sports practice, or get on the bus. Whether the bullying is new or has been going on for a while, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and help friends who are being bullied.

What you can do

  1. Tell a trusted adult, such as a parent, teacher, or guardian
  2. Respond to the bully firmly and act confident
  3. If you can, make a joke out of a bully’s comments and laugh at yourself
  4. Turn and walk away, or even run if you have to
  5. Surround yourself with supportive friends and stay in groups
  6. If you can, avoid places where you are bullied

How can I get a bully to stop picking on me?

When you are being bullied, all you want is for it to stop. Immediately. You don't care why you're being targeted or what's going on in the bully's home that makes him or her pick on you; all you care is that it ends.

What you can do to avoid being bullied

Tell a trusted adult. Don't worry about being called a "tattletale" or worse. An adult can talk to the bully directly, to his or her parents, or to your teacher, and this has the highest success rate of ending bullying. If you don't feel like talking to the adult face-to-face, you can always write a letter explaining what is happening.

Don't walk alone. Whenever possible, ask your friends to walk with you. If a friend isn't around, either ask an adult to walk with you, or wait until an adult is walking in the same direction and walk next to them.

Avoid places where bullying happens. If a bully pushes you when he or she sees you in the hallway, try to stay out of that hallway at the same time. If you get picked on when you're sitting in the back of the bus, sit up front and near the driver. Stay away from unsupervised areas of the school and make sure you're not alone in the bathroom, a classroom, or the locker room.

Do not show you are upset. Don't get angry, don't cry, and don't show that the bullying bothers you in the slightest.

Leave your valuables at home. Don't bring expensive items to school, like jewelry, electronics, or your best shoes or jacket.

Label what's yours. Use a permanent marker to label your items so that there is no question who it belongs to.

What can I do when I'm cornered by a bully?

Telling an adult about bullying and avoiding a place where a bully hangs out are very good strategies, but what do you do when you're cornered and there are no adults around? What do you do when the bully gets physical?

What you can do while you're being bullied

Ignore the bully and walk away. Walk right on by and act as if you don't hear what the bully is saying. Bullies want a reaction, so don't be the one who gives it to them.

Run. Fighting back will most likely make things worse. If you can, run to a place where an adult is present.

Respond to the bully firmly. Stand up straight and tall, act confident, and tell the bully to stop with an even voice. Say things like, "I'm tired of you bullying me and I want you to stop," "Leave me alone," or simply, "Stop."

Make a joke and laugh at yourself. If a bully makes fun of your jacket, say "Yeah, it's kind of a weird jacket, and thats why I like it." If they make fun of your hair, say something like, "Well, I got it caught in the vacuum cleaner this morning." You're taking away the bully's power when you laugh along with him or her.

Try to instill respect and fear in your bully. Put on your best aggressive face and threaten to make your bully eat through a straw for the next month. You don't mean it, but many bullies will back off if they are threatened back.

When fighting back is your only option

Always avoid fighting your bully—you don't know if he or she has a weapon—but if you are in a situation where you must fight back to avoid serious injury, try to remember these tips:

  • Strike your bully in the shins or shoulders to get away. Never hit someone in the head or nose or throat as hits to these places could cause death.
  • Don't use high kicks to the groin because the bully can easily grab your leg and pull you down.
  • If you are put in a headlock, use both of your hands to give the bully a “Chinese burn” until you are let go.
  • If you're able to hurt your bully, do not make it a show and do not get carried away. Your goal is to get away, not to be in a fight.
  • If you win the fight, keep your cool and do not brag. Bragging could entice others to want to fight you next.

What can I do when the school doesn's stop the bullying?

It can be extremely frustrating when you tell your teachers and school administrators about a bullying situation and they don't do much about it. Your teacher may sit you and your bully down for a conversation, but then the very next day the bully is back at it, pushing you around.

Actions you can take when your school doesn't help

Start an anti-bullying program. Recruit your friends, teachers, and family to participate, and then together decide what you want to accomplish with the program. Do you want to change current school rules and punishments? Are you looking to create a support network for kids who are being bullied? Once you have settled on your goals, look for sponsors like the local police department to help you get your word out.

Ask for anti-bullying presentations by professional speakers. Approach your teacher or principal about bringing in a professional speaker to talk to the whole school about the dangers of bullying. If your teacher or principal is unresponsive, collect signatures from fellow students to show that there is a demand for such a presentation.

Report ineffective school response to bullying to a newspaper or news program. If the school continues to be unresponsive to the bullying taking place, you can reach out to a local newspaper or news program to investigate the problem. School administrators will be quick to change their attitudes if they think they might look bad in the news.

Transfer schools. This should be one of your last options, but if the bullying is too difficult to take and your school doesn't seem to be taking your fears seriously, then you should consider changing schools.

What can I do about cyberbullying?

The Internet can be a very welcoming place, connecting you with people your age who enjoy the same hobby, video game, or sports team, but it can also be a very ugly place where hate runs rampant. From the comfort of their own bedroom, a cyberbully can attack you anonymously, or share embarrassing photos, stories, or screenshots of private conversations, all with the intent to humiliate or threaten you.

If you are targeted by cyberbullies, it's important not to respond to any messages or posts written about you, no matter how hurtful or untrue. Responding will only make the situation worse and provoking a reaction from you is exactly what the cyberbullies want, so don't give them the satisfaction.

Don't seek revenge on a cyberbully by becoming a cyberbully yourself. Again, it will only make the problem worse and could result in serious legal consequences for you. If you wouldn't say it in person, don't say it online.

Instead, respond to cyberbullying by:

Preventing communication from the cyberbully, by blocking their email address, cell phone number, and deleting them from social media contacts.

Reporting threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police. In many cases, the cyberbully's actions can be prosecuted by law.

If you are being cyberbullied, remember:

Don't blame yourself. It is not your fault. No matter what a cyberbully says or does, you should not be ashamed of who you are or what you feel. The cyberbully is the person with the problem, not you.

Try to view cyberbullying from a different perspective. The cyberbully is an unhappy, frustrated person who wants to have control over your feelings so that you feel as badly as they do. Don't give them the satisfaction.

Don't beat yourself up. Don't make a cyberbullying incident worse by dwelling on it or reading the message over and over. Instead, delete any cyberbullying messages and focus on positive experiences.

Get help. Talk to a parent, teacher, counselor, or other trusted adult. Seeing a counselor does not mean there is something wrong with you.

What can I do about bullying outside of school?

It's not only kids at school who can be your bully; there are often bullies on your sports team, in your neighborhood, at the park, and sometimes even in your own home.

Many parents overlook the signs of sibling bullying as nothing more than their kids bickering. The truth is, though, that your older (or younger) brother or sister can be a bully, and they can cause a lot of anxiety, depression, and fear, making your own home an unsafe place to be. When one child consistently harms or humiliates his or her sibling, it needs to be addressed. If your parent brushes it off as just another family squabble and you know that it is more dangerous than that, then reach out to another trusted adult, such as your teacher, grandparent, or family friend.

There are plenty of kids on the playground who are territorial of certain equipment, basketball courts or baseball diamonds, or areas of the park, and they will do whatever it takes to be sure you don't interfere with whatever game they're playing, or planning on playing. If there isn't an adult to help or supervise, it's wise to avoid these sections of the park, or to find a different playground in the area.

If you are being bullied on your sports team by another player, tell your coach, parent, or another adult. Also, reach out to your team captain as it's his or her responsibility to be sure the team is working well as a team.

How can I help someone who's being bullied?

It takes strength to stand up to your bully, but sometimes it takes even more strength to stand up for someone else who is being bullied. After all, you don’t want to draw the bully’s attention to you and become victimized yourself, but by doing nothing to help you are making the bully even more powerful.

Ways you can help someone who is being bullied:

Do not stand around and watch. By becoming a bystander to someone being bullied, you are empowering the bully because you are giving him or her an audience, which is often what they want. Do not cheer, heckle, or record the situation with your phone

Tell the bully to stop. By stepping forward and telling a bully to stop, you are letting him or her, and everyone else around, that this is not okay. Once you speak up, others probably will, too. When bullies find out they are outnumbered by people who think what they are doing is not cool, they are more likely to stop.

Do not step in to fight the bully yourself. It may seem like a good idea to take on the bully yourself, especially if you are older or bigger, but you don’t know if the bully has a weapon, or how this may humiliate the person being bullied and make things worse.

Report the bullying to an adult. If the kid being bullied is too scared or ashamed to tell an adult, tell someone you trust immediately.

Befriend the victim and stay close. If someone is bullied at lunch, sit with him or her in the cafeteria. If they are bullied in the bathroom, offer to stand outside or check inside first. Walk home with the victim, stand with him or her at the bus stop, or offer to help them online if they are being cyberbullied.

Related HelpGuide articles

Resources and references

Bullying – A wealth of information on what bullying is, what kinds of bullying girls tend to experience and what they can do to stop it. (GirlsHealth.gov)

How to Stop Bullying – Tips including illustrations for dealing with a bully, helping someone who is being bullied, and how to ask for help from adults. (wikiHow)

StopBullying – Information and tips for recognizing and preventing bullying. (stopbullying.gov)

Bullies: How to Handle It – Pratical tips for kids dealing with different bullying situations. (PBS Kids)

Dealing with Bullying – Information for teens on what bullying is, how to survive bullying in the moment, and what you can do when you see or experience bullying. (Teens Health)

Authors: Greg Boose, Robert Segal, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last updated: December 2016.