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What is Bullying?

Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. The aggressive behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.

  • Bullying can be physical, involving hitting or attacking another person or their possessions.
  • Bullying also can come in the form of verbal aggression, including teasing, name calling, verbal threats, inappropriate sexual comments, taunting, putting someone down, and threatening to cause harm.
  • Bullying can also come in the form of social aggression, which involves hurting someone’s reputation or relationships. Social bullying can include leaving someone out on purpose, declaring them as different, telling other children not to be friends with someone, spreading rumors about someone, or embarrassing someone in public.

Bullying can be in person, but it can also come in the form of electronic aggression (e.g., cyberbullying using the Internet or cell phones). It can include threatening, embarrassing, or insulting emails, texts, or social media posts.

Bullying is most common among peers, but children with disabilities also experience being treated differently by teachers and other adults.

What are the effects of bullying?

Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to:

  • Be depressed, lonely, anxious;
  • Have low self-esteem;
  • Experience headaches, stomachaches, tiredness, and poor eating;
  • Be absent from school, dislike school, and have poorer school performance; and
  • Think about or plan suicide.

Bullying can cause serious, lasting problems, not only for the children who are bullied but also for the children who bully and those who witness bullying. Children who bully others may do so to gain social status or as a reaction to being bullied.

Legal rights There are laws to protect children from bullying by peers, school personnel, or other adults.

Disability harassment is discrimination that violates section 504 and its regulations. Under Section 504 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, disability harassment in schools is defined as:

“Intimidation or abusive behavior toward a student based on disability that creates a hostile environment by interfering with or denying a student’s participation in or receipt of benefits, services, or opportunities in the institution’s program. Harassing conduct may take many forms, including verbal acts and name-calling, as well as nonverbal behavior, such as graphic and written statements, or conduct that is physically threatening, harmful, or humiliating.”

Find more information about federal laws related to bullying on


  1. Charania SN, Danielson ML, Claussen AH, Lebrun-Harris LA, Kaminski JW, Bitsko RH. Bullying victimization and perpetration among US children with and without Tourette syndrome. J Dev Behav Pediatr. Published online May 26, 2021.
  2. Ricketts EJ, Wolicki SB, Danielson ML, et al. Academic, interpersonal, recreational, and family impairment in children with Tourette syndrome and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Child Psychiatry Hum Dev. 2021; published online January 1, 2021.

Last reviewed: June 1, 2021

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All articles and posts that list the Administrator as the author were reprinted, with minor editing, from the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Institute of Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the Centers for Disease Control, or other government organizations. That information is in the public domain.

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