Bullying prevention tips

These tips provide caregivers, educators, friends and community-based organizations with information about bullying and bullying prevention strategies which can help to create an environment where the entire school community works together to stop bullying.

Table of Contents

Adolescent bullying

It is not clear how often kids get bullied because of their race, ethnicity, or national origin. It is also unclear how often kids of the same group bully each other. Research is still growing. However, we do know that Black and Hispanic youth who are bullied are more likely to suffer academically than their white peers.

When youth who experience bullying talk about it, the language they use may vary. It differs according to age, sex, and level of education, as well as cultural and ethnic background.

Helping youth who experience bullying

Offer hope. The way you respond to someone who experiences bullying is critical. Start with letting them know you believe them and that you care about them. Normalize feelings. Ask questions. State plainly that you plan to be there to help them solve the problem. Expressing faith sometimes helps with a positive outcome.

Normalize seeking help. Many factors affect whether adolescents seek help. Encourage teens and youth to talk to trusted adults, caregivers, friends, counselors or therapists about bullying.

Translate evidence-based research into practice. Adopt the evidence-based practices listed in the resource section of the Anti-Bullying webpage developed by the MA Department of Public Health. Complete an evidence-based training. We recommend the Olweus Bullying Prevention Training for Community Youth Organizations.

Build skills. Work with school counselors and mental health partners to learn how you can support youth in distress.


Understanding Bullying Behavior What Educators Should Know and Can Do – Dr. Elizabeth Englander

Bullying and Bystanders: What the Experts Say PACER Center (video)

How to talk about bullying – StopBullying.gov How to support kids who experience bullying What You Can Do – StopBullying.gov

What Teens Can Do – StopBullying.gov

Spirit Day take a pledge against bullying – glaad.org Parent Events and Programs – MARC

Download Adolescent Bullying Prevention tips

Caregiver Engagement

Caregiver engagement can play an important role in bullying prevention.

A comprehensive multitiered bullying prevention model

Work in partnership with caregivers to build healthy and safer environments for youth and adults to thrive.

Bullying is a form of youth violence. The CDC defines bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youth who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or

is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.

Caregivers can:

  • Talk to their children about bullying to help them understand why it is harmful and how to respond
  • Help identify and monitor incidents of bullying behavior and reinforce bullying prevention strategies with their child at home
  • Build up a child’s emotional resources by underlining that there are people who love and care for them
  • Model how to treat others with respect
  • Help prevent and address bullying by using evidence-based best practices

Practicing equitable partnerships with caregivers

Treat caregivers as partners with shared decision-making and information exchange. Include them in the development and the revising of bullying prevention policies.

Resources for Caregivers

How to Manage Bullying Behavior Guide for Caregivers – Youth Village Stories

Talking with Teens about Bullying – Olweus Bullying Prevention (2011)

Download Caregiver Engagement tips


Bullying is a form of youth violence. The CDC defines bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youth who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm. Cyberbullying is bullying on a digital platform.

Cyberbullying – a complex form of bullying.

Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:

  • Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about any race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics online
  • Creating rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing
  • Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone
  • Pretending to be someone else online in order to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else
  • Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves
  • Doxing, an abbreviated form of the word documents, is a form of online harassment used to exact revenge and to threaten and destroy the privacy of individuals by making their personal information public, including addresses, social security, credit card and phone numbers, links to social media accounts, and other private data

Mentor youth: Encourage youth to talk to trusted adults about online bullying. If they share that they are experiencing cyberbullying, ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who

is involved. You may need to document the situation, report harmful behaviors, or provide additional support. Include them in the development and the revising of bullying prevention policies.

Talk to adults about bullying: Parents, teachers, and other adults may not be aware of all the digital media and apps that a child or teen is using. The more digital platforms that a child uses, the more opportunities there are for being exposed to potential cyberbullying. Talk to caregivers about digital awareness and what to do if cyberbullying happens.

Internet Safety 101

Cyberbullying Tactics – BullyingStop.gov

Cyberbullying Research Center - How to Identify, Prevent and Respond How to report Cyberbullying

Understanding Bullying Behavior What Educators Should Know and Can Do Cyberbullying – Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center

Download Resources for Cyberbullying

Bullying and gang culture

One of the worst effects of gang membership is the exposure to violence. Consequences of gang membership may include exposure to drugs and alcohol, age-inappropriate sexual behavior, difficulty finding a job because of lack of education and work skills, removal from one’s family, imprisonment, and even death.

Impact on violence

When children grow up in safe, stable, and nurturing relationships and environments, they learn empathy, impulse control, anger management and problem-solving— all skills that protect against violence. Children living in a persistently threatening environment are more likely to respond violently (fight) or run away (flight) than children who grow up in safe, stable, and nurturing environments. Fight- or-flight responses are survival skills that people are born with and often override other skills that enable non-violent conflict resolution, such as impulse control, empathy, anger management, and problem-solving skills.

Some children may choose to join gangs for:

  • A sense of connection or to define a new sense of who they are
  • Protection for themselves and their family
  • Access to make money

Or due to:

  • Exposure from growing up in an area with heavy gang activity
  • A history of gang involvement in the family (family members who are current or former gang members)
  • A history of violence in the home
  • Too little adult supervision
  • Unstructured free time, particularly during after-school hours and on the weekends
  • A lack of positive roles models and exposure to media (television, movies, music) that glorifies gang violence
  • Low self-esteem
  • A sense of hopelessness about the future because of limited educational or financial opportunity
  • Underlying mental-health issues or behavioral disorders, such as oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

The relationship between gang culture and bullying

The long-term effects of bullying are well documented. Research has shown that youth who experience bullying report more severe anxiety and depression symptoms than others. Experiencing bullying is linked to social anxiety, which often lasts into adulthood and increases the risk of developing personality disorders. Depression might lead to suicidal ideation and suicide attempts. Another severe consequence can be post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). If someone is struggling with anxiety, depression, or PTSD and has a history of being bullied, there may be a link between bullying and gang culture.

Support youth and prevent violence

Promote family environments that support healthy development
  • Early childhood home visitation
  • Parenting skill and family relationship programs
Provide quality education early in life
  • Preschool enrichment with family engagement
Strengthen youth’s skills
  • Universal school-based programs
Connect youth to caring adults and activities
  • Mentoring programs/After-school programs
Create protective community environments
  • Modify the physical and social environment
  • Reduce exposure to community-level risks
  • Street outreach and community norm change
Intervene to lessen harms and prevent future risk
  • Treatment to lessen the harms of violence exposures
  • Treatment to prevent problem behavior and further involvement in violence
  • Hospital-community partnerships


Youth Violence Resources | CDC

A Comprehensive Technical Package for the Prevention of Youth Violence and Associated Risk Behaviors | CDC

Download Gang Culture and Bullying tips

Bullying and masculinity

Did you know middle school-age children who adopt traditional male masculinity are more likely use homophobic language and sexual harassment behavior?

Findings have shown that bullying perpetration and homophobic teasing were significant predictors for sexual harassment over time.

  • Homophobic teasing: negative attitude and behavior directed toward individuals who identify or are perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered.(CDC)
  • Sexual harassment: includes comments, sexual rumor spreading, or grouping (CDC)
  • Traditional male masculinity: refers to a specific set of traits and behavior that are considered culturally appropriate for manhood, some of which can become harmful in certain cases

The role of male masculinity in bullying prevention

The research is starting to show the relationship between bullying, sexual harassment, and homophobic language is moderated by male masculinity.

The research suggests:

  • Middle school age children who adopt traditional male masculinity are more likely to bully others which often leads to homophobic language and sexual harassing behavior
  • There is a pervasiveness of anti-gay language in schools that suggest most (not all) school environments are hostile for LGBTQIA+ students and create a negative environment for heterosexual peers

Intervention strategies:

  • Teach about the negative effects of traditional masculinity
  • Create brave and safe spaces for preadolescents, adolescents, and older youth to talk with adult mentors, why children use homophobic language, the consequences of discriminatory and bias language and how to create a culture of inclusion and belonging
  • Talk to preteens, teenagers, and older youth about gender socialization and multiple masculinities from a cultural and historical perspective
  • Redefine strength. Being strong is not just about physical strength. It is about showing compassion, empathy, and taking risks to speak up, even in the moment it might cause some awkward interaction with your friends.
  • Teach adolescents life and social support skills, not just knowledge about bullying

Download Toxic Masculinity tips

Unhealthy relationships

Bullying is a complex phenomenon that can be difficult to understand. Learn the signs of unhealthy behaviors in friendships.

It is important to recognize signs of unhealthy relationships before they escalate. This includes:

  • Control: one person makes all the decisions and tells the other what to do.
  • Digital monitoring or “clocking”: one person uses social media sites like Instagram and Snapchat to keep tabs on the other person. They constantly message or text the other person and demand quick responses.
  • Disrespect: one person makes fun of the other or talks about them behind their back.
  • Harassment: one person uses unwanted, unwelcome, and uninvited behavior to make the other feel unsafe.

How to recognize power imbalance and social status between peers:

  • Examine power and social status imbalance. Social status reflects a broader categorization of peer acceptance than simple friendships. An example of unhealthy use of power is knowing a person’s vulnerabilities and using those against them.
  • Look at how the group of children in a dominate culture group respect and value the nondominated culture’s norms.

How to distinguish bullying from friendships:

  • If someone is experiencing treatment from a friend that hurts them and they have asked that friend to stop, but it continues, then that is not healthy friendship. The behavior could be bullying.

How to respond to unhealthy friendships:

  • Model positive behavior. Build expectation of kindness, respect, and empathy and cultivate an environment where everyone feels connected.
  • Encourage open, honest, and thoughtful reflection. Talk openly with youth about healthy friendships. Ask about their values and expectations for healthy relationships. Don’t dismiss their ideas, encourage discussion—this will help them come to their own understanding.
  • Discuss safety and signs of unhealthy behavior. Encourage youth to talk to a trusted adult or connect them with resources in your community if you suspect that someone may be in an unhealthy or abusive relationship of any kind.


Respectfully Campaign – mass.gov

Recognizing the signs of an unhealthy relationship – mass.gov

Healthy relationship tools and resources for youth | mass.gov

Can a friend be bullying me – National Bullying Prevention Center

Download Unhealthy Friendship Relationships tips

Youth who bully

Bullying is a form of youth violence. The CDC defines bullying as any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.

Helping youth who bully

  • Take all accusations of bullying seriously. Violence is a learned behavior. So, what is learned can be unlearned.
  • Communication is key. Every individual is unique and there are many factors that can contribute to bullying behavior. Talk with youth who bully to see why they engage in the behavior. Routinely talk with youth and caregivers about solutions to bullying.
  • Ask yourself if someone at home is bullying the youth. Often, kids who use bullying are mistreated themselves by a parent, family member, or another adult.
  • Get help. Ask a teacher or a school counselor if youth who bully are facing any problems at school, such as struggling with a particular subject or has difficulty making friends. Ask them for advice on how you can help.
  • Teach coping skills. Establish partnerships with mental health professionals and individuals who are trained to help youth regulate EBD. Help youth develop social-emotional skills. Encourage help-seeking behaviors.


Why Some Youth Bully – Stopbullying.gov

The Roles Kids Play in Bullying – StopBullying.gov

Prevention and Intervention: Multi-tiered Approaches to Bullying - StopBullying.gov

Social and Emotional Learning Bullying Prevention- StopBullying.gov

Teach kids not to bully – Kids Health Helping Students Who Bully - Preventnet

Download Youth who bully tips

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