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If you're being bullied, or know someone who is, there are lots of things you can say and do to make the bullying stop and to cope.

Teen girl at school wearing a back pack being pointed at by a large group of students around her

What is bullying?

Sometimes, people get confused about what is and isn’t bullying.

People can think that someone saying something they don’t like is bullying – but it’s not. Bullying is different from conflict or unkindness.

Bullying is mean, but being mean doesn't always mean bullying.

Bullying behaviours:

  • Are aggressive, unkind or mean behaviours
  • Are repeated behaviours (it must happen multiple times, in an ongoing way to be defined as bullying)
  • Happen on purpose
  • Must have a power imbalance – which means that people bullying and the people being bullied aren’t seen as being ‘equal’, e.g. older, bigger people picking on smaller, younger people, or ‘popular’ people targeting someone who they see as being ‘unpopular’, or who is struggling to make friends.


Some other serious types of behaviours, like discrimination, harassment and abuse, can overlap with bullying and are actually against the law.

Bullying is not the same as

  • Being rude – saying or doing something hurtful that wasn’t planned or meant to hurt someone, e.g. someone pushing in front of you in the canteen line
  • Being mean – doing something hurtful to someone on purpose once or twice, e.g. a friend refusing to play with you one day
  • Conflict – having a disagreement with a friend, e.g. two friends getting into an argument and saying mean things to each other
  • Respectful feedback on behaviours you're doing that aren’t ok, e.g. “It’s not ok roll your eyes every time they talk about sport.”
  • A friend putting in a ‘boundary’ e.g. “I don't like it when you keep telling me what to do.”
  • Natural consequences in socialising, e.g. a friend not trusting you because you shared their secret

Types of bullying

Bullying can be direct (happening to your face) or indirect (happening 'behind your back'), and overt (very obvious and observable) or covert (subtle and hard to prove). There are a few different types of bullying, including:

Cyberbullying - stuff like mean texts, emails, posts, images or videos

Verbal bullying – using words to make you feel upset, angry, embarrassed, etc. E.g. teasing, name calling, yelling, etc.

Physical bullying – stuff that hurts or harms your body, e.g. kicking, tripping, hitting. Physical bullying can also include things like damaging your possessions

Social bullying – stuff done to hurt your reputation. It can be verbal, like spreading rumours or playing mean jokes, or non-verbal like pretending not to hear a person when they speak or leaving them out

Find out how eSafety can help if you experience cyberbullying and how you can report a complaint.

I'm being bullied - what should I do?

These things can help stop bullying:

  • Stay calm - don't react emotionally (people who bully usually want you to get angry or upset)
  • Report it - tell trustworthy adults and keep talking to them until the bullying stops; reporting it helps keep people safe (and isn't the same as 'dobbing' which is about getting someone in trouble over nothing)
  • Get support - bullying can affect your mental health and self-worth - having the support of family, friends, teachers and/or professionals can make a big difference

"People who bully don’t want you to report it as they don’t want to get in trouble. Bullying rarely stops on its own – and keeping it secret often means it keeps happening."

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

How should I respond to bullying?

Because bullying is repetitive (it happens over and over again), you can plan what you might say or do next time it happens. Below are some examples of things you can try, which have worked for other people.

Before trying we recommend planning things you could say or do with a professional support like a Kids Helpline counsellor or a teacher.

  • Call it out, e.g. Frown and say, "Oh wow, that was actually really mean!"
  • Pretend to agree with them (to show you don't really care), e.g. "You're right, I am a loser. Thanks for being so open and honest with me."
  • Act unbothered, like you don't care, e.g. "Nice insult. A bit unoriginal though - I give it 3 stars out of 5. Better luck next time."
  • Use humour (if appropriate), e.g. Laugh, and say: "Haha, good one. I would insult you back, but I am not sure that you would get it."
  • Pretend you don't understand the insult and make them explain it to you - this works well for more subtle insults or when people act like, 'It was just a joke; lighten up'. e.g. "I don't get it. Explain it to me?"
  • Directly ask someone to intervene or help, eg. "Jordan, back me up here!"

My friend's being bullied - what should I do?

Be an upstander!

When you see bullying happening to someone else, you become a ‘bystander’. You can help stop bulling from happening by:

  • Show you disapprove, e.g. frowning at a mean joke, shake your head to show you don’t think it’s right
  • Interrupt the bullying by talking to the person being bullied, e.g. “Hey Jack, there you are!”
  • Give the person being bullied an excuse to leave the situation.  e.g. “The teacher is looking for you” or, “Hey, can you come help me with something for a minute?”
  • Let the person being bullied know that you saw the bullying, you don’t agree with it and offer support; do this in private/once the person is safe from the situation.  e.g. “I saw what was happening at lunchtime. It is not okay for them to act that way! Are you ok? How can I help?”
  • Report it to trustworthy adults, such as a teacher, parent or Kids Helpline. If possible, report it together - being bullied can be very lonely. Having a friend through a tough time can make a big difference to someone being bullied.

Stand up to the bullying

A great way to respectfully challenge bullying is to say, "We don't do that here."

This is powerful as you're making it really clear that the behaviours that are happening are not ok - and you're doing it respectfully too (leading by example).

"I was bullied a lot last year... I'm still sort of being bullied but I'm trying my very hardest to get through it and just be positive and just be myself."

How do I cope with being bullied?

Do things you enjoy. This can give you a mental break from the stress of bullying.

Get social support. Spend time with friends - or focus on making new friends who like you for you.

Focus on what you’re good at, your strengths, and how you are unique. Bullying can make you feel not good enough. Focus on celebrating the things that make you, you!

Know you aren’t the problem. People who bully often do so for personal reasons about themselves or personal problems they are facing/struggling with. This is never a ‘reason’ to bully someone or an ‘excuse’ for bullying.  

Get support. Bullying can be very hard to manage and you shouldn't have to try and solve it all on your own. Professionals can work with you to figure out the best things to try, based on your situation and who you are as a person (because every person and situation is different).

Know that things do get better. Bullying can be stopped and does stop. Lots of negative things come out of being bullied. But sometimes positive things can come out of it too. For some people, taking action against bullying helped them become emotionally stronger. For others, getting help for bullying taught them new skills and connected them with new supports or friends. Some people were inspired to help others or share their story about how they overcame bullying.

Toxic friends, bullying myths & facts, emotional abuse, cliques and more

We're always doing new content on socials about bullying and other useful topics.

Here are some self-help strategies that may help:

Bullying can be harmful for mental health.

You’re not alone – support is always available.

Bullying behaviour hurts everyone, including the people being bullied, those witnessing the bullying and those doing the bullying.

Bullying is not an individual or personal problem – which means it's not your fault if you’re being bullied. Bullying is a really complicated social problem – and it’s everyone’s’ responsibility to prevent and address bullying.

If you're being bullied, your friends are bullying someone, you're witnessing bullying or you think you might be bullying someone, give us a call, start a WebChat or check out My Circle today.

Wanna talk to people ✨just like you✨?

Join My Circle - the free, private, safe and anonymous social platform for 13-25 year olds. 

Sign up now to find your circle!

This content was last reviewed 31/03/2023

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