When does typical teasing become bullying?

People tend to be aware that painful or embarrassing social experiences are part of the growing up process and that almost everyone has already been teased at least one time in their lives. Learning how to rebound from negative interactions is an important skill for children and adolescents to learn. However, being bullied or engaged in bullying activities as a child or adolescent is not something that should be overlooked because of the long lasting negative emotional effect it can have. Teasing and aggressive behaviors towards peers becomes bullying when:

  • There is a power difference. Bullying is done by someone who is in a position of power (e.g., higher physical strength, popularity, better economical status, etc.) and it is directed at someone who is perceived as less powerful.
  • There is intention to cause harm. Bullying can take the form of a physical or verbal attack characterized by threats, spreading rumors, or excluding someone from a group on purpose.
  • It is repeated. Bullying follows an ongoing repetitive pattern of hostile or aggressive actions directed at the child who is the target.
  • It does cause harm. A teasing or aggressive behavior becomes bullying when it impairs the wellbeing or daily activities of the child who is the target.


Children and adolescents don't usually bully because they are bad. Engaging in such behaviors is not a reflection of who they are as a person. Some of the reasons children and adolescents may be mean to others are:

  • They want to fit in with a group of friends who are picking on one classmate.
  • They are getting bullied at home or at school.
  • They are looking for attention from the teachers, parents, or classmates using this maladaptive behavior as a way to feel important.
  • They are more impulsive than other peers and have not found healthy ways to discharge their impulses.
  • They have the tendency to perceive other peers as hostile, even when they are not.
  • They don't really understand how their behavior can make the victim feel (especially younger children). Some children start by making fun of their peers without realizing the harm they are causing.


What is cyberbullying?

Bullying can be verbal, physical and more recently it can take place online. Nowadays, children and adolescents also interact and establish relationships with their peers through the internet via many different online social platforms. Not only the good aspects of peer interaction are extended to the virtual world, but also the negative ones. Cyberbullying is the contemporary online version of traditional bullying, and it refers to any act of psychological abuse, including intimidation, aggression, threat, humiliation, exclusion, or stalking carried out via the Internet repeatedly over a period of time, at regular or irregular intervals.

These aggressive acts are done by an individual or a group of individuals, through electronic means of communication (e.g., Facebook, e-mails, chat rooms) against a victim who is unable to defend himself/herself easily. The perpetrators do not come in direct contact with the victim, they are hidden behind the screen of their computer or mobile phone, and they usually use false identities. They can offend their victims whenever and however they want and even expose them to more viewers.


When should I be concerned that a student is being bullied? 

Even though most students who are bullied or practicing bullying don't ask for help or say anything, there are a few warning signs that may indicate that a child is being bullied or bullying others. Most of these signs are also present when a child or adolescent is being cyberbullied.


Signs a child or adolescent could be being bullied or cyberbullied:

  • Lost, torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings.
  • Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches.
  • Few, if any friends, with whom the child spends time with, or sudden loss of friends.
  • Seems afraid or avoidant to go to school and to participate in school activities, or finds and makes up excuses as to why they can't go to school.
  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness.
  • Declining grades and loss of interest in schoolwork.
  • Apparent sadness, anxiety, decreased self-esteem, irritability, or depressed mood.
  • Trouble sleeping or frequent bad dreams.
  • Changes in eating habits, either loss of appetite, or compulsive eating.
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide.


Signs a child or adolescent could be bullying or cyberbullying other children:

  • Getting into physical or verbal fights.
  • Having friends who bully others.
  • Being overly aggressive.
  • Getting sent to the principal's office or to detention frequently.
  • Having unexplained extra money or new belongings.
  • Blaming wrong actions on others.
  • Being competitive and worrying about their reputation or popularity.

What can I do to help a student that is being bullied or cyberbullied?

If you are a teacher and you are identifying possible bullying situations in your school, there are a few things you may attempt:

  • Talk to the students. Try to get a detailed picture of what is happening and understand by asking simple questions. Teachers should avoid acting over protective and taking on the problem's solution before understanding the context and the kind of help the students need.
  • Create and establish clear classroom rules regarding bullying. It is important for teachers to invite students to classroom discussions on how they should treat each other, what they should do if a bullying situation takes place, and what kind of consequences being involved in bullying has.

Once teachers have talked to the students and have a better sense of the context, there are some bullying advice they may consider on assisting students that are being a victim of bullying:

  • Be supportive and let students know what has been noticed. Teachers may let students know that they are noticing them and that they are there to help in any way they can.
  • Ask students what kind of help they think they need. Discussions with students on what could be done to help them allow for students to think about the way they wanted the situation to be handled.
  • Bring the concerns to a caregiver’s attention. A student’s caregivers need to know of anything concerning occurring in school. Caregivers may also be able to identify if concerns are present outside of school.
  • Seek help from a school mental health professional. In general bullying behaviors are a challenge to extinguish in the classroom, particularly if they are occurring regularly. Support from a school mental health professional is warranted in most situations when bullying takes place.
  • Seek support. With a caregiver’s permission, teachers may consult other professionals who specialize in helping children with behavioral difficulties.

Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful.

The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).


Where to find more information

Specific, detailed, and clinical information on Bullying can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].

If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.

You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.



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