Bullying can take a serious toll on a young person’s physical and mental health. Young people who are victims of bullying and cyberbullying are more likely to experience depression and anxiety. Even when the bullying stops, victims can suffer negative health effects. And while not all young people who are bullied are at risk for suicide, research suggests that victims of bullying are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and attempt suicide.
Bullying victims also struggle academically. According to stopbullying.gov, kids who are subject to bullying and cyberbullying have decreased academic achievement (GPA and standardized test scores) and school participation. They also are more likely to miss, skip or drop out of school.
Hear from an anti-bullying expert on how kids can help prevent bullying.
It is not only victims who suffer. According to stopbullying.gov, kids and teens who witness bullying are more likely to:
These bystanders also are more likely to experience feelings of helplessness and have suicidal thoughts, research suggests.
“I felt a little worthless, not knowing what to do. I felt really guilty for not helping that person being harassed, and I wish I could go back in time and fix that,” says a high schooler named Paul.
Many kids and teens believe bullying is hurtful and they should act to stop bullying; but when confronted with an actual bullying or cyberbullying situation, few intervene. Sometimes, kids and teens don’t get involved because they fear they may become the target.
“You feel like something bad could happen to you, or you could be the next one bullied,” Michael, a high school senior told Be Smart. Be Well. “You feel like you don’t have enough power that you can affect anything in the situation.”
Oftentimes, kids and teens do nothing simply because they don’t know what to do. “I’ve been a bystander before, and it makes you feel powerless,” agrees Shyler, a high school junior. “You don’t know what to do, so you choose not to do anything. It makes you feel like you can’t do anything, and it brings me down. ”
In reality, bystanders play an important role stopping bullying, according to Charles F. Hollendoner, a Chicago Police Department detective.
“Bystanders are the ones that can really help prevent bullying because they see what's going on a lot more than a parent or a teacher or anyone else would,” he explains. “Most kids that are being bullied won't tell anyone, but if a bystander sees it, they can go to a teacher or the parents or some other trusted adult, and that brings it more to the forefront.”
Because so many students experience bullying as bystanders, they are the ones who have the potential to change the culture at a school and make their environment a place where bullying is not OK, says Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center. “There's such power in students saying we will not accept bullying at our school,” she explains. “Instead of having bullying be accepted behavior, make it so that kindness and tolerance and inclusion become the norm.”