Bullying | Symptoms & Causes

Who is at risk of being bullied?

Anyone can be a victim of bullying, however some children are at a higher risk of being bullied than others. Children that are less popular and have fewer friends tend to be victims of bullying while children that are popular are more likely to be bullies. Other risk factors associated with being bullied include:

  • having physical features that are different from peers e.g. being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or braces, having a physical disability, being from a different racial group, wearing clothes kids consider to be ‘uncool’.
  • having a cognitive disability
  • identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender
  • being seen as annoying
  • being seen as weak or defenseless and unlikely to fight back.
  • perceived as socially awkward and having few friends

However, having any of these characteristics does not automatically mean that a child will be bullied.

Disorders that increase the risk of bullying (either as a bully or a victim):

Who is affected by bullying?

Bullying affects both the victim and bystanders. Victims of bullying are at risk of having psychological disorders such as depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, eating disorders and substance abuse. Worsening feelings of isolation and depression can contribute to suicidal behavior and other forms of self-harm.

Bullying can have serious negative effects on bystanders and witnesses as well. They learn to perceive their school or environment as unsafe, may also develop anxiety or depression from witnessing it and may start to avoid school.

What are the signs your child may be a victim of bullying?

It is helpful to know what signs to look for if you suspect your child may be a victim of bullying. Some warning signs include:

  • He is reluctant to go to school or outright refuses to go.
  • She frequently reports headaches, stomach aches or feeling sick, but there appears to be no underlying medical reason.
  • He has trouble sleeping and frequent nightmares.
  • She shows little interest in hanging out with friends and avoids social situations.
  • He comes home with unexplained injuries.
  • She appears to have low self-esteem, shuts herself in her room, seems irritable.
  • He reports that books electronics or other belongings are lost or destroyed.
  • She eats less, sometimes skips breakfast or dinner, or binge eats.
  • His grades are declining, he seems uninterested in school.

Be aware that sometimes a child may not show any sign that they are being bullied. To stay tuned in to what is going with your child in school, talk to them regularly. Be interested in their school day and ask them specific questions about bullying. E.g. “Are there mean kids in your class? Who do they tend to pick on? Is anyone being mean to you?”

How can I tell if my child is being bullied or just involved in the disagreements?

Unlike the occasional argument, shouting match or scuffle, bullying happens repeatedly, it is not an isolated event. It involves a physical or social power imbalance between two people or two groups, with the perpetrator(s) having more power and the victim(s) having less. It also involves one person trying to intentionally harm the other. It can be physical (shoving, punching, kicking) or verbal (name-calling, gossiping, spreading rumors), and it can also happen through social media such as Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.