One of the most important aspects of leadership is to provide a safe and welcoming climate for your students or clientele.  This can be a challenge for some leaders who may not be aware of the many forms bullying and intimidation may take.

“Bullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” according to, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems.”

At least one in five students is bullied in the United States. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 21 percent of students ages 12 to 18 experienced bullying. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of students in grades nine to 12 reported being bullied on school property within the previous 12 months.

Adults are notified in less than half –  40 percent – of bullying incidents. Educators and parents should be familiar with the different types of bullying.

Types of Bullying

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying is a direct form of bullying that involves hurting a person’s body or possessions. Examples include actions like hitting, kicking, pinching, spitting, tripping and pushing. It can also include taking or breaking someone’s belongings, as well as making mean or rude hand gestures.

Cuts, scrapes and bruises are signs of physical bruising. Children may make excuses to avoid events and environments where physical bullying begins, such as recess, lunch, the school bus or certain classroom activities. Withdrawn or depressive emotions can indicate physical bullying.

Verbal Bullying

Verbal bullying is the most common and a direct form of bullying, according to the Journal of Adolescent Health. It includes actions like name calling, teasing, insults, homophobic or racist remarks, taunting, sexual comments and threats to cause harm. Verbal bullying can begin harmlessly but quickly escalate to dangerous levels.

Victims may feel disliked or have feelings of not belonging. They may try to avoid going to school or want to change schools. Abrupt changes to eating and sleeping habits are other warning signs of verbal bullying.

Become a School Leader

Discover the techniques and concepts that empower you to create a classroom based on social justice, fairness, and equity.

View Degree Details

Social Bullying

Social or relational/covert bullying is the second most common type of bullying. It involves a wide range of activities that undermine someone’s reputation or relationships, including:

  • Lying and spreading rumors about someone
  • Playing jokes that humiliate someone
  • Embarrassing someone in public
  • Excluding and/or encouraging others to exclude someone
  • Telling others not to be friends with someone

Social bullying can result in significant damage to a child’s self-esteem. Victims may lose friends and experience changes in their social circles, as well as avoiding social situations.


Cyberbullying is a newer form of bullying that involves “sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else,” according to “It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.”

Since cyberbullying takes place digitally — including social media (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter), text messaging, instant messaging (on devices and within apps) and email — there are special concerns due to strangers as well as acquaintances being able to view content. There are three concerns in particular.

  1. Persistent: Digital devices and services allow individuals to interact in real-time, 24 hours a day. Victims can struggle to find relief from abusive actions.
  2. Permanent: Electronic information is often permanent and public, and can impact college admissions, employment and other areas of life.
  3. Hard to Notice: Teachers and parents cannot easily overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, compared to physical, social or social bullying. It is more difficult to recognize.

Warning signs of cyberbullying include stopping computer and smartphone use, becoming shy of cellphone cameras and exhibiting shyness or withdrawal.

Becoming a More Effective Educator

Children who are bullied typically experience health issues, emotional problems like depression and anxiety and have decreased academic achievement. Bullies are more likely to end up in student fights, have risky sexual behavior, use drugs or alcohol at a young age and get into trouble as adults.

School leaders, administrators and teachers can address bullying and violence by understanding the causes and warning signs of bullying and by creating an action plan to implement policies based on sound, research-based strategies. Learn how to be a more effective educator with the fully online Master of Education in Instructional Leadership degree from West Virginia State University.