What is bullying?

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It starts with the adults!

By being positive role-models, we create a society for our children which promotes openness and an understanding of differences.

All adults must take responsibility for the right of children not to be bullied, irrespective of whether they are parents, work with children or interact with children in other contexts.

It is also important that all our work is based on the children’s own feelings and experiences. Their participation and influence are essential for ensuring that the work we undertake is relevant and effective.

Some questions that you can ask yourself:

How do I behave online? Consider how you act on social media. What are your online comments like? What kind of pictures do you post?
How do I talk about other people when my child is present? Speaking negatively about someone you are having a disagreement with will have an impact on the people around you. Instead, speak directly with the person concerned.
How do I stand up for social values? Actively taking a stand and speaking out when you hear or see something that you think is wrong can give your child the courage to do the same.

Our definition

Friends usually defines bullying as the systematic degrading treatment of a child. A child may be subjected to several different forms of degrading treatment, such as assault, ostracism and malicious comments. The term bullying highlights the fact that there is a pattern to the degrading treatment the child is subjected to. But just calling a pattern of degrading treatment bullying, and not looking at each individual event, means that we ignore the underlying causes that help us understand why bullying really happens, which in turn means that efforts to prevent and stop bullying will be less effective.

Questions and answers about degrading treatment, bullying and sexual harassment


Unfortunately, there is no simple answer. Each case is unique and it is important to study the situation from different perspectives. It could be about the individuals involved, the group, the home environment, the climate and the culture at the school or social norms.

Norms are invisible rules, ideas and expectations that are based on concepts about what is “normal” and what is deviant. Norms determine who has power. Following the norm is often rewarded by inclusion. Deviating from or opposing the norm may be punished by anything from silence to violence. Norms are everywhere. They tell us what to think, what to look like and how to behave in different contexts. To understand what bullying is and why it happens, it is important to examine what it is that provides status and power, and what norms risk leading to someone being punished. For that reason, it is important to ensure that everyone feels included and respected, as it reduces the risk of someone being subjected to bullying.

Psychological bullying: Ostracism and subtle methods like grimaces, gestures, ignoring someone, avoiding someone, sighs and looks.

Verbal bullying: Malicious comments, gossip, rumours, slander and exaggerations.

Physical bullying: Blows, kicks, shoving, sabotage and tormenting someone.

Friends normally defines degrading treatment as a person doing something to another person that causes them to feel hurt, sad and less valued.

Cyberbullying means that someone is subjected to repeated degrading treatment by one or more individuals through social media, text messages or email. It may be several different forms of degrading treatment, or that a degrading comment/picture/film is shared or widely distributed. Cyberbullying can take place at school as well as outside of school.

Sexual harassment can mean that someone gropes you, caresses you or touches your body against your will. It may also involve sexual innuendo, comments, wolf whistles, rumours or looks that cause discomfort and a feeling of vulnerability.

When a pupil feels that they are being subjected to degrading treatment, the school has a duty to report, investigate and, if necessary, take action. Everyone who works in schools must intervene when they find out that a pupil feels that they have been subjected to degrading treatment.

What you should do and how you speak out depend on the situation. If your own friends are being verbally abusive, you may be able to speak out yourself, but if you see someone being beaten, it is better to go and get an adult. The most important thing is to do something. If you have the courage to intervene, you have an opportunity to change someone’s life.

Support for children and young people

Have you experienced bullying? Have you been the target of malicious comments, been pushed or felt alone and excluded? Or have you been mean to someone?

Read about support for children