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This is one in a series of factsheets for parents, teachers and
young people entitled Mental Health and Growing Up. This
factsheet looks in detail at what bullying is and how it can affect
young people. It also gives advice for parents and teachers about
how they can help a young person who is being bullied.
What is bullying?
Bullying happens when a child is picked on by
another child or group of children. It is hurtful and deliberate.
Victims find it difficult to defend themselves. Bullying usually
happens again and again, and can go on for a long time unless
something is done about it.
It can happen in many different ways which
include physical, verbal or emotional.
Children who bully may:
Bullying is very common and can happen in all
schools. Surveys in this country have shown that half of primary
school pupils and one in 10 secondary school pupils in England are
Why does it happen?
There is no single reason why some children
become bullies or victims. Children who are aggressive are more
likely to become bullies. They pick on children who appear
different in some way - those who are quiet, shy, alone at
playtime, and unable to defend themselves. Children who have an
illness or disability or who are obese are also more likely to be
What effects does bullying have?
Who and what may help?
Being bullied can seriously affect a child's
physical and mental health. This can include:
These problems can carry on long after the
bullying has stopped.
Be open to the possibility that your child might be being
bullied. Some parents may not think of bullying as a possible
reason for their child's distress.
Children whose health has been affected may
benefit from some specialist help from their general practitioner,
school nurse, a social worker or an educational psychologist who
will be able to offer help and advice. Children with emotional
problems quite often need these to be treated directly, even if the
school has managed to stop the bullying. Your general practitioner
can refer your child to a child and adolescent mental health
Jax's story, aged 14
"I don’t know whether it has ever happened to
you? It started when Justine came into our class. I was friends
with Joanne and Justine wanted to hang round with us. It was OK at
first but then she and Jo began laughing about things and I didn’t
know what was funny. They had secrets they wouldn’t tell me. They
started nicking my things and pretending I had lost them. I stopped
hanging around with them and sat next to Lucy in English and
Science. She was my friend from primary school.
Then they started spreading rumours about me. They said I was a
slag and slept with Pete Smithson. They said I was pregnant. They
started sending me horrible text messages. They got everyone
against me. I didn’t want to tell her – but my Mum found out when I
told her because she found me crying in my room.
I wouldn’t go to school. Mum went to school and spoke to Miss
Ratcliffe but she said they, the teachers, hadn’t seen anything and
they couldn’t do anything about it. I got really down. My Mum went
to school and got angry because I was missing so much school. They
got everyone together and changed my form. They also gave me a
mentor. Things are better now but I still don’t speak to Jo and
Justine – although they aren’t friends anymore."
Bond L, Carlin JB, Thomas L, Rubin K, Patton
G. (2001) Does bullying cause emotional problems? A prospective
study of young teenagers. BMJ;
Gini G & Pozzoli T.
(2009) Association between bullying and psychosomatic problems: a
meta-analysis. Pediatrics; 123;
Vreeman RC & Carroll AE.
(2007) A systematic review of school-based interventions to prevent
bullying. Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent
National Institute for Health and
Clinical Excellence. (2008) Promoting children’s social and
emotional wellbeing in primary education (public health guidance
National Institute for Health and
Clinical Excellence. (2009) Promoting young people’s social and
emotional wellbeing in secondary education (public health guidance
Revised by the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Child and Family
Public Education Editorial Board.
Series Editor: Dr Vasu Balaguru
With grateful thanks to Dr Sarah Bates.
This leaflet reflects the best possible
evidence at the time of writing.
© March 2012. Due for review March 2014. Royal College of
Please note that we are unable to offer advice on individual cases. Please see our
advice on getting help.
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