The term bullying refers to a set of social behaviors that appear to be characterized by repeated abuse and intentional abuse. It can be both physical and psychological, oppressive and persecutory, repeated over time and aimed at people considered easy targets and / or unable to defend themselves.

The term is mainly used to refer to phenomena that occur among the youngest, in school settings or in general, reserved for this age group.

The same type of behavior, in other contexts, is identified with other terms, such as mobbing in the workplace or hazing within the armed forces. Since the 2000s, with the advent of the internet, bullying has also emerged through social networks and, therefore, it was defined as cyberbullying.

Forms of bullying

Manifestations of abuse are divided into direct or indirect.

Direct ones can be physical or verbal:

  • direct physical bullying, manifests itself with physical aggression to the person or his personal objects
  • direct verbal bullying, it consists of threats, insults, offenses, racist insults, extortion of money and material goods, defamation

Indirect bullying is less obvious and more difficult to spot, but just as harmful. These are episodes that deliberately aim at exclusion from the group, isolation and the spread of gossip and slander about the victim.

Conversely, there are actions that cannot be considered as bullying such as:

  • lively games or peer struggles, particularly common especially among males, they cannot be considered forms of bullying
  • crimes, such as attacking a peer with a knife or other means, causing serious physical injury, engaging in sexual harassment or abuse, or engaging in other antisocial conduct

Characteristics of bullying

Bullying can be described according to general characteristics which include:

  • intentionality, the intention to offend, harm or harm another person is conscious
  • duration, bullying is repeated over time
  • inequality, there is an inequality of strength and power: one of the two (alone or in a group) always prevails and the other always suffers it, unable to defend himself and experiencing a strong sense of helplessness
  • lack of support, the victim feels isolated and exposed, is often very afraid to report bullying episodes because she fears reprisals and revenge or because she does not have, or believes she does not have, reference figures she can rely on

Protagonists and co-protagonists

Commonly, when we think of bullying we refer to the two protagonists involved: the bullies and the victims. In reality, there are co-stars, spectators who, even if they do not take an active part in the acts of bullying, assist and still play an important role in legitimizing such conduct.

The bullies who carry out the prevarications are distinguished in dominant and gregarious:

  • dominant bully, generally stronger and more robust than the average of his peers, has a strong need for power and has difficulty respecting the rules; being, in general, not very reflective and impulsive, he has an aggressive behavior and, apparently, seems strong and confident. He has little awareness of the consequences of his actions.His academic performance is usually average but tends to deteriorate over time. Instead, he has particular skills in sports and physical play activities. It is generally quite popular, especially among the little ones who consider it a model of power and strength
  • gregarious bullies, they make up a small group of two or three people who take on the role of instigators or followers of the dominant bully. Usually, they do not act, but carry out the "orders" of the "boss". These are anxious, insecure individuals with poor academic performance

Victims fall into two categories: passive / submissive and provocative:

  • passive / submissive victim, he is a weak person, tending to be isolated and unable to defend himself. She often shows anxiety and insecurity, has some academic difficulties and is usually not very skilled in sports and games, thus tending to be marginalized. Generally, she does not talk to anyone about the suffering and wrongs suffered and tends to blame herself
  • provocative victim, she has a particularly energetic temperament which leads her to resort to force or to fight back, albeit in an ineffective way, when she is attacked or insulted. It is usually a male, restless and hyperactive, sometimes clumsy and immature. Takes on behaviors and attitudes that cause tension in peers in general and, at times, also in adults, causing negative reactions generally to their detriment

The spectators are children and young people who witness the abuse, or are aware of it, and with their behavior they can favor or stop the spread of the phenomenon.

Possible signs of a victim of bullying

It is not always easy to understand if, and to what extent, children are involved in bullying. Often those who are victims do not report the fact, partly out of fear, partly because they tend to minimize what happened.There is a risk of falling into a vicious circle which, in extreme cases, can lead to suicide.

It is important to be able to recognize bullying, without confusing it with other types of behavior. The latter, in fact, can also be traced back to other reasons (something else that worries, the upcoming birth of a brother, a divorce or a separation between parents, etc.).

A change in behavior, such as a reluctance to go to school and / or a decline in overall academic performance, can be a sign of something wrong. The clues that parents need to be able to grasp to understand if their child is being bullied can be different. In most cases, they manifest themselves through sleep difficulties or frequent nightmares, eating or psychosomatic problems such as, for example, frequent headaches or tummy, depression, repeated calls to parents from school to go home, avoiding school social events, unjustified loss of money or personal items, low self-esteem - all these signs must suggest a form of discomfort experienced by the boy.

If a boy or girl exhibits one or more of the following disorders, it is good to try to open a dialogue, to encourage them to talk. In any case, never underestimate these signs and never leave them alone to face any kind of problem.

Bullying affects health and well-being

The problems that bullying creates in children and adolescents can persist into adult life. Keeping them inside and feeling burdened by a trauma that is difficult to overcome can have serious consequences, especially on a psychological level, limiting personal, social and work fulfillment. Fear, depression, anxiety, physical discomfort, sleep disturbances, low self-esteem, drop in academic performance are just some of the devastating effects that a person who is bullied can experience.

Bullying also affects bullies both in the immediate and in the course of life: the oppressors violently manifest their psychological distress, which becomes difficult to interact with others. Recent studies have shown that children and adolescents bullying in the course of their existence are at greater risk of drug use, school problems, violence and depression while growing up.

What to do to help bullied victims

If you find yourself having to help someone who is being bullied, it is important to support them by communicating their willingness to listen and to give concrete help.

Due to the psychological characteristics that belong to the victim's profile, it is common for the person being bullied to find it difficult to talk about it. Initially, a child may not have a clear idea of ​​what is happening to him. It is possible that the adolescent then makes it more complicated by deciding that he wants to do it alone. In this case, it is good that he is aware of the fact that he can count on other people, who can talk to him or her (adults, teachers, counselor scholastic, psychologist).

The questions of others can be stressful, often becoming a real questioning that many children, and young people, cannot stand. The topic should be addressed with a focus on more general questions. Ask what happens during the break at school, in the corridors before entering the classroom, or on the way to school. Show genuine interest in him and his friends and, in general, in his life.

If you are very worried and are not receiving satisfactory answers, it is helpful to stop by school to talk to someone you trust. Even if the teacher is unable to tell what is going on, this intervention should put him on the alert, prompting him to try to understand more.

If the bully is your own child

Bullying may not stem from a single cause, but stem from a number of different factors. Although it is normal to feel disappointed and bitter in learning that your child is directly involved in a bullying situation, it is good to stay calm, and take some time to reflect on how to concretely intervene:

  • calmly explain that what he is doing is incorrect and not acceptable
  • to make it clear that it is his behavior, not him in himself, that must be condemned and corrected
  • discuss the consequences of his behavior, and ask how he would feel if he were to suffer the same treatment from others. Sometimes kids don't realize that some of their behaviors fall into bullying
  • explain how you plan to act, for example if the school is alerted; how he is expected to behave (for example, apologize to the person he harassed or attacked or write him a letter)
  • ensure that there is adequate time and space to reason with family and / or with an expert (psychologist) on their own behavior

Remember that ...

  • manifestations of bullying are not part of the normal growth of a child or adolescent, but these are negative behaviors that must always be condemned
  • it is not true that the victim must learn to defend himself, such attitudes should not be faced alone. Support from family, teachers and friends is necessary and important
  • bullying does not concern only the suburbs of large cities or the disadvantaged or less well-off classes, but it can involve all social classes
  • bullying doesn't just happen in the school environment, but also in sports centers, oratories, gyms, work areas etc.


The Internet has opened up new possibilities for information and interaction.The other side of the coin, however, is represented by the risks associated with improper use of this tool: among these is cyber-bullying.

The cyberbullying is the term that indicates a type of continuous, repeated, offensive attack carried out through the use of means and social networks. Compared to traditional bullying, characteristic of real life, the cyberbullying it is implemented online (virtual environment), often with much greater damage.

The main features of this phenomenon are:

  • impact, it is not possible to fully control the dissemination of material via the internet and it is not possible to predict its dissemination and duration limits (even if the situation improves, videos and images may remain online)
  • possible anonymity, those who offend online could try not to be identified by remaining hidden behind a false name (nickname). In reality, this anonymity is illusory; any electronic communication still leaves traces. However, it is difficult for the victim to trace their abuser alone
  • absence of spatial boundaries, cyberbullying can take place anywhere, also invading personal spaces and depriving the individual of his refuge spaces (the victim can also be reached at home)
  • absence of time limits, a characteristic of cyberbullying is precisely that of having no time limits. While in traditional bullying, if you move away from the context in which it is carried out, you can find another environment, serene and welcoming; there is no respite in cyberbullying, because social media remain active at any time of day or night
  • absence of empathy, not seeing the victim's reactions to the attacks suffered, the cyber-bully is never fully aware of the consequences of his actions. This fact hinders even more the possibility for the bully to identify with the victim's emotions and to feel remorse afterwards.

Putting a "like" on a social network, commenting on or sharing a photo or video that targets someone or simply keeping quiet, despite having full awareness of what is happening, places boys and girls in the position of being to some extent responsible for the "happened.

The Italian Parliament approved (May 18, 2017, Law 71/2017, "Provisions for the protection of minors for the prevention and contrast of the phenomenon of cyber-bullying ") a law for the protection of minors for the prevention and fight against cyber-bullying, which envisages measures mainly of an educational / re-educational nature.

In particular, the law provides:

  • information to families, unless the fact constitutes a crime, the headmaster who becomes aware of cyberbullying acts promptly informs the parents or guardians of the minors involved and activates adequate educational actions. The law gives the school an important role in the prevention and management of the phenomenon and each school must identify a point of reference among the teachers with the task of coordinating the initiatives to prevent and combat cyber-bullying.
  • warning, the warning procedure provided for in this area has been extended to cyberbullying stalking. In the event of insult, defamation, threats and unlawful processing of data committed via the internet by minors over the age of fourteen against another minor, if there has been no complaint or complaint, the procedure for warning from the questore (the questore will summon the minor, together with at least one parent or whoever exercises parental responsibility)
  • darkening, the minor who is at least 14 years old and the parents or whoever has a role of responsibility over the minor, can forward to the data controller or the website or social media manager an "application for the obscuring, removal or blocking of any other personal data of the minor, disseminated on the internet. If this is not done within 48 hours, the interested party can contact the Privacy Guarantor who intervenes directly within the following 48 hours

Tips to prevent

Parents play a vital role in providing instructions on appropriate internet use for their children. Here are some general tips.

  • communicate with children, let them feel that they can ask for advice at any time. If they fear punishment or negative consequences, it will be more difficult for them to confront or ask for advice or help
  • internet and smartphones / mobile phones must not replace "real" life, the more adolescents identify with what they share on the internet, the more they can be affected by those who attack them
  • educate them to respect, it is important that they understand "the other's point of view", so that even online they can always engage in behavior that is respectful of the opinions of others
  • talk about privacy issues, they must also know how to manage it online and must follow the rules established together. They should never post personal data, or too much information, photos, videos about themselves, sexually explicit text or images, via the internet or mobile phone (sexting). Cyberbullies may use this material to offend, blackmail, discredit, etc. Depending on the age of the kids, you have to personally make sure that the privacy settings are correct
  • empower, “He who speaks wins!”. Sharing a system of values ​​based on listening to and respecting the other, against violence (physical and psychological) and silence.Cyberbullying finds consensus and spreads in a public context unable to take a stand or scared

In-depth link

Commissariat of P.S. online. Helpdesk for the safety of web users. Cyberbullying. What is Cyberbullying?

Ministry of Defence. Carabinieri. Bullying

National Institutes of Health (NIH). Bullying

Informagiovani-Italy. The consequences of bullying

European network against bullying in learning and leisure enviroments (ENABLE). Bully proof. Guide for parents - get well informed to act better

Ministry of Education, University and Research (MIUR). Connected generations

Law 29 May 2017, n. 71. Provisions for the protection of minors for the prevention and contrast of the phenomenon of cyberbullying. (Official Gazette General Series n.127 of 3 June 2017)

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