Bullying Prevention 101

Educate your students about what bullying is what it isn’t; and the different types of bullying.


Although bullying has been identified as an important public health issue, inconsistencies in identifying and categorizing these behaviors remain. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention established a uniform definition in order to address the inconsistency and clearly distinguish bullying behaviors from conflict, harassment and other forms of aggression among youth. Specifically, bullying is defined as: “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.8


Cyberbullying is a specific form of bullying that involves technology. According to Hinduja and Patchin,9 cyberbullying is “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”

While the definition of cyberbullying aligns with the traditional definition of bullying, the likelihood of repeated harm from one cyberbullying incident is quite high. This is because instances of cyberbullying can be accessed by multiple parties, forwarded to or shared with others, saved copied, and archived, or linked to other sites/apps and revisited by targets of the aggression – resulting in never-ending exposure and repeated harm.

Relational Aggression

Bullying that affects a child’s social standing or status is a form of relational aggression.10,11 It can take many forms, including shunning, hazing, spreading rumors, excluding others or teasing. Contrary to popular opinion, both boys and girls engage in relational aggression.

Determining Bullying Behavior

It is not appropriate to characterize all aggressive behavior as bullying.12,13 Conflict is motivated by negative intent and takes place between students of relatively equal power or social standing. In cases of bullying, a power imbalance exists.

Bullying behavior:

  • Typically not friends
  • Generally repeated
  • Unequal balance of power
  • Intentional harm-doing
  • Mood is negative
  • Different feelings (mood/responsive) for victim and aggressor
Non-bullying behavior:

  • Can be friends or not
  • Often repeated (same players) or not
  • Relatively equal balance of power
  • No intent to harm or intentional harm-doing
  • Mood is friendly or negative, aggressive or tense
  • Mutual positive or hostile feelings

Types of non-bullying behavior.

Disagreeing, fighting, horsing around or joking, sarcasm, passive-aggressiveness, silent treatment, trolling, grieving.

Bullying and Conflict Intervention

It is not appropriate to treat all aggressive behavior as bullying. Intervention strategies are different for bullying and non-bullying behaviors.

“Strategies to intervene in abusive behaviors are very different from conflict resolution methods where individuals may be brought together to “work things out.”18

“It is important to consider the power dynamics between individuals within the school community. Bullying prevention researchers and experts caution against specific uses of conflict resolution or restorative practices, such as face-to-face meetings, in cases of bullying out of concern that more harm might occur as a result, especially to a person who has been victimized.18

Helpful Youth Strategies

According to The Youth Voice Project, the strategies bullied children identified as most helpful and least helpful are listed below.

Most helpful strategies:

  • Told an adult at home
  • Told a friend
  • Made a joke about it
  • Told an adult at school
  • Reminded myself that it was not my fault
Least helpful strategies:

  • Hit or fought back
  • Made a plan to get back at them
  • Told the person to stop
  • Did nothing, ignored it
  • Told them how I felt

Looking at these lists, the most helpful strategies are ones that involve getting help from an adult or a friend. The least helpful strategies involve being aggressive or ignoring it. It is important to communicate the importance that adults and bystanders appropriately support and respond to students experiencing bullying.

According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, here are the strategies that best work in online bullying incidents.

Role of Bystanders

Bystanders play an important role in bullying prevention and intervention. In most bullying situations, bystanders are by far the largest number of students involved. They see and/or hear what happens and are impacted by the behaviors. As a bystander, you witness injustice or cruelty, and then have to make a choice to stay silent or to do something about it. Bystanders can be the catalyst to effect positive change, and the goal should be to encourage everyone you know to stand up and do something to help a peer who is being targeted.

The Bystander Infographic

Students should be educated about the role of bystanders in bullying. The infographic can be a useful tool for helping students recognize that there different helpful actions that a bystander to bullying can take. Download a printable version.

of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools.

of school staff have seen bullying

witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month

witness bullying once a week or more

When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time.

What can we do to stop bullying?