Bullying and cyberbullying Signs, symptoms and effects
It can be hard for adults, including parents, to know whether or not a child is being bullied. A child might not tell anyone because they're scared the bullying will get worse. They might think that they deserve to be bullied, or that it's their fault.
You can’t always see the signs of bullying. And no one sign indicates for certain that a child’s being bullied. But you should look out for:
- belongings getting “lost” or damaged
- physical injuries such as unexplained bruises
- being afraid to go to school, being mysteriously 'ill' each morning, or skipping school
- not doing as well at school
- asking for, or stealing, money (to give to a bully)
- being nervous, losing confidence, or becoming distressed and withdrawn
- problems with eating or sleeping
- bullying others.
If you think a child is being bullied, please see our tips for parents and carers to help children deal with bullying and cyberbullying.
Things you may notice
If you're worried that a child is being abused, watch out for any unusual behaviour.
- suddenly behaves differently
- problems sleeping
- eating disorders
- wets the bed
- soils clothes
- takes risks
- misses school
- changes in eating habits
- obsessive behaviour
- thoughts about suicide
Find out more about the signs, symptoms and effects of child abuse.
The impact of bullying and cyberbullying
Bullying can have devastating effects which can last into adulthood. At its worst, bullying has driven children and young people to self-harm and even suicide.
All children who are affected by bullying can suffer harm – whether they are bullied, they bully others or they witness bullying.
Mental health problems
Children and young people who are bullied are more at risk of developing mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. Children at the highest risk are those who are both bullied, and who bully others (Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2013; NICHD, 2012).
Children who are bullied also:
- have fewer friendships
- aren’t accepted by their peers
- are wary and suspicious of others
- have problems adjusting to school, and don’t do as well.
Effects on children who bully others
Children and young people who bully are at increased risk of:
- substance misuse
- academic problems
- violent behaviour in later life.
Effects on children who witness bullying
Children who witness bullying may show similar signs as children who are being bullied. They may:
- become reluctant to go to school
- be frightened or unable to act
- feel guilty for not doing anything to help.
Further information and advice
Every call is a chance to stop abuse. Support the NSPCC helpline and help us stop children suffering in silence.
It's Time to demand change
Up to 90% of children who've been abused will develop mental health issues by the time they're 18.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) (2012) How does bullying affect health and well-being. Bethesda, MD: National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD).
Victoria Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (2013) The impact of bullying. Melbourne: Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.