What is bullying?

Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated harmful acts, words, or other behavior such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning committed by one or more children against another. These negative acts are not intentionally provoked by the victims, and for such acts to be defined as bullying, an imbalance in real or perceived power must exist between the bully and the victim.

Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual in nature.

Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting, and excessive tickling.

Verbal bullying includes such acts as hurtful name calling, teasing, and gossip.

Emotional bullying includes rejecting, terrorizing, extorting, defaming, humiliating, blackmailing, rating/ranking of personal characteristics such as race, disability, ethnicity, or manipulating friendships, isolating, ostracizing, and peer pressure.

Is bullying against the law?

The definition of bullying in the Code of Virginia is “any aggressive and unwanted behavior that is intended to harm, intimidate, or humiliate the victim; involves a real or perceived power imbalance between the aggressor or aggressors and victim; and is repeated over time or causes severe emotional trauma. ‘Bullying’ includes cyber bullying. ‘Bullying’ does not include ordinary teasing, horseplay, argument, or peer conflict.” (Code of Virginia § 22.1-276.01)

Bullying is not considered a crime in the Code of Virginia. However, the acts that are most often associated with bullying are criminal offenses. These include:

  • threat;

  • harassment;

  • extortion;

  • assault and battery;

  • robbery; and

  • hazing.

The seriousness of bullying is recognized in Virginia law. (Code of Virginia § 22.1-279.6 (B)) requires school boards to include rules against bullying in their codes of student conduct as well as hazing and profane or obscene language or conduct.

Looking more closely at the criminal acts that are most often associated with bullying:

Threat means a communication that threatens to kill or do bodily injury to a person or any member of his family and places the person in reasonable fear of death or bodily injury.

Harassment means to repeatedly annoy or attack a person or group in such a way as to cause anxiety or fear for safety. Several different types of harassment are against Virginia law.

Extortion means obtaining property from another person by using or threatening to use violence or other criminal means to cause harm to a person, a person’s reputation, or a person’s property.

Assault and battery means physical, harmful contact.

Robbery is defined as the taking, with intent to steal, of the personal property of another, from his or her person or in his or her presence, against his or her will, by violence or intimidation.

Hazing means to recklessly or intentionally endanger the health or safety of a student or to inflict bodily injury on a student in connection with admission into a group.

Isn’t bullying just something kids do and no big deal?

Bullying is a big deal. Bullying and the harm that it causes are seriously underestimated. Bullying hurts everybody – not just the victim.

Schools are hurt because bullying interferes with learning and, when bullying is left unpunished, it contributes to a climate of fear.


  • Grades may suffer because attention is drawn away from learning.

  • Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy, or dropping out.

  • If the problem persists, victims occasionally feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon carrying, or even suicide.


  • may be afraid to associate with the victim for fear of lowering their own status or for fear of retribution from the bully and becoming victims themselves.

  • may fear reporting bullying incidents because they do not want to be called a “snitch.”

  • may experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not standing up to the bully on behalf of their classmate.


  • Studies have found that bullying in early childhood may be an early sign of the development of violent tendencies, delinquency, and criminality.

  • One study found that boys identified as bullies in middle school were four times as likely as their non-bullying classmates to have three or more criminal convictions by age 24.

If I see someone being bullied, what should I do?

Bullies usually threaten or hurt other young people when no adults are around to see them do it. They know that if an adult did see them, the adult would stop the bully and help the victim. Instead, bullies wait until recess, between classes, or the walk home to push other kids around. They usually do it where other young people can see them, though. Bullies like an audience. It helps them feel powerful.

Most people don’t like watching someone being bullied. When someone sees someone else being bullied, he or she can feel scared and powerless. That doesn’t have to be. When you see someone being bullied, remember the tips below and help stop a bully.

Speak up. Tell the bully what you think of what’s going on. By saying, “that’s not funny, let’s get out of here” or something similar, you can help stand up for another kid.

Be a friend. Young people are more likely to be bullied when they are not with their friends. If you see someone being bullied, even if you don’t know the person, be a friend and ask him or her to walk away from the bully with you.

Get an adult. If you see someone being bullied, get an adult. Either tell the adult what is going on or ask the adult to talk to the young person who is being bullied.

If I am being bullied, what should I do?

You can stand up to bullies if you know what to do.

  • Try to talk it out. Say, “Why are you being mean to me?”

  • Walk away from the bully.

  • Speak up. Say, “Stop picking on me!”

  • Make a joke. If you say something funny, even about yourself, the bully might laugh and forget to pick on you.

  • Stick with your friends.

  • Ask an adult for help.

  • Don't get physical.

Do not take action that will get you in serious trouble, such as carrying a weapon for protection.

How about cyberbullying?

  • Walk away. That tip you’ve heard about walking away from a real-life bully works online too. Knowing that you can step away from the computer (or turn off your phone) allows you to keep things in perspective and focus on the good things in your life. Ignoring bullies is the best way to take away their power. Sometimes ignoring a bully isn’t easy to do – just try the best you can.

  • Report it to your service provider. Sites like Facebook, MySpace, or YouTube take it seriously when people use their sites to post cruel or mean stuff or set up fake accounts. If users report abuse, the site administrator may block the bully from using the site in the future. You can also complain to phone service or e-mail providers (such as Gmail, Verizon, Comcast, and Yahoo) if someone is bothering you.

  • Block the bully. Most devices have settings that allow you to electronically block the bully or bullies from sending notes. If you don’t know how to do this, ask a friend or adult who does.

  • Save the evidence. Although it’s not a good idea to respond to the bully, it is a good idea to save evidence of the bullying if you can. It can help you prove your case, if needed. You don’t have to keep mean e-mails, texts, or other communications where you see them all the time – you can forward them to a parent or save them to a flash drive.