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Adolescent Bullying Basics

Did You Know?

Sad young woman apart from other people

Location (urban, rural or suburban), school size, and gender do not increase or decrease the risk of bullying.

Bullying is a behavior that many of us have experienced as the person being bullied, the person engaging in the behavior, or as a witness, in school or online. While bullying is far from new, it should not be considered a rite of passage for young people. 

Bullying is defined as aggressive behavior between school-aged youth when there is a power imbalance that is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.1 It can include many different forms of aggression:

  • Physical (e.g., pushing and shoving);
  • Verbal (e.g., teasing, threats);
  • Social behaviors (e.g., exclusion) 

Bullying can happen through direct (e.g., face-to-face) or indirect (e.g., rumor spreading) means, and can occur in a variety of places, including at school or online. 

Health and Life Impacts of Bullying

Bullying has been linked to serious negative consequences for those who are bullied, those who engage in the behavior, and even for those who witness bullying.2-4 

Young people who are both bullied and bully others are at the highest risk for negative outcomes such as:2

  • increased anxiety and depression
  • increased suicidality
  • increased substance use
  • decreased academic achievement, and 
  • diminished earning potential.2

In one study, over 60 percent of youth who reported experiencing cyberbullying indicated that it significantly affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.5

These outcomes may persist from childhood through adulthood.6 However, while media attention has often focused on the link between bullying and suicide, most youth who are bullied are not suicidal. Those who do engage in suicidal behaviors often have other risk factors such as underlying mental health issues which can be exacerbated by bullying. 

Bullying Trends

Over the past 10 years, rates of bullying have significantly declined: 21 percent of youth ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied in the 2014-2015 school year, a decrease of 11 percentage points from the 2006-2007 school year.7

Still, 21 percent of youth equates to just over 5 million students being bullied in a single school year. Within that number, some groups are significantly more likely to experience bullying. In a 2015 national survey, nearly 34 percent of high school students who identified as lesbian, gay or bisexual reported being bullied, compared to 19 percent of their heterosexual peers. These students also are at significantly higher risk of reported suicidal behaviors, substance use, and depression.8

Also, while the number of students who report experiencing cyberbullying (11.6 percent) continues to be lower than other forms of bullying, cyberbullying presents unique challenges, including the evolving nature of technology, the potential for anonymity, and the viral nature of online postings.2


1 Gladden, R. M., Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Hamburger, M. E., & Lumpkin, C. D. (2014). Bullying surveillance among youths: Uniform definitions for public health and recommended data elements. Retrieved 3/27, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-definitions-final-a.pdf
2 Rivara, F., & Le Menestrel, S. (2016). Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice: The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine. Retrieved 3/27, from http://www.apa.org/act/resources/webinars/bullying-bradshaw-flannery.pdf
3 Gini, G., & Pozzoli, T. (2009). Association between bullying and psychosomatic problems: A meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 123(3), 1059-1065.
4 Rivers, I., Poteat, V. P., Noret, N., & Ashurst, N. (2009). Observing bullying at school: The mental health implications of witness status. School Psychology Quarterly, 24(4), 211.
5 Patchin, J. W. (2017). Millions of Students Skip School Each Year Because of Bullying. Retrieved 03/27, from http://cyberbullying.org/millions-students-skip-school-year-bullying
6 Wolke, D., Copeland, W. E., Angold, A., & Costello, E. J. (2013). Impact of bullying in childhood on adult health, wealth, crime, and social outcomes. Psychological science, 24(10), 1958-1970.
7 Jill DeVoe, & Murphy, C. (2011). Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2007 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. National Center for Education Statistics,: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved on 3/27, from https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011316.pdf
8 Kann L, O. E., McManus T, et al. (2015). Sexual Identity, Sex of Sexual Contacts, and Health-Related Behaviors Among Students in Grades 9–12 — United States and Selected Sites. Retrieved 3/27, from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/ss6509a1.htm


Content created by Office of Adolescent Health
Content last reviewed on September 9, 2016