What Are the Different Types of Bullying?

Cyber bullying at high school

Ridofranz / Getty Images

Table of Contents
View All
Table of Contents

Bullying is most often recognized as a form of physically and verbally aggressive behavior that school children endure from their peers. However, there are actually six different kinds of bullying: physical, verbal, relational, cyber, sexual, and prejudicial.

These types of bullying overlap and a bully may use more than one form to abuse a victim. Moreover, bullying isn't limited to kids and teenagers. Adults can also be guilty of bullying.

This article will start by providing a general definition of bullying and discuss its prevalence and consequences. It will then explain each of the six types of bullying.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying is defined as any intentional, repeated aggressive behavior directed by a perpetrator against a target in the same age group.

Power Imbalances

One of the most noteworthy components of bullying is an imbalance of power between the bully and their victim.

Sometimes the power imbalance is obvious when, for example, a bigger, stronger kid bullies a weaker, smaller kid or when a group of people bullies a single individual. However, sometimes the power imbalance is more difficult to discern because it involves less obvious factors, such as differences in popularity, intelligence, or ability, or knowledge of the information the victim finds embarrassing.

Bullying Statistics

Bullying is widespread and can negatively impact both bullying victims and the bullies themselves.

A 2019 survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 19.5% of ninth through twelfth graders were bullied on school property in the 12 months prior to completing the questionnaire.

Moreover, a study by the World Health Organization (WHO) conducted in 2013 and 2014 in 42 countries in Europe and North America found that, on average, 14% of 11-year-old boys and 11% of 11-year-old girls were bullied at least twice in the previous two to three months.

Mental Health Effects of Bullying

People who are bullied can experience a plethora of short- and long-term problems, including depression and anxiety, social withdrawal, substance abuse, difficulties at school or work such as underachieving and poor attendance, and even suicide.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

In addition, children who are targets of bullying may become victims or perpetrators of violence later in life. Meanwhile, those who bully others are more likely to get into fights and vandalize property, abuse drugs and alcohol, have criminal convictions in adulthood, and abuse their romantic partners and children.

Even people who simply observe bullying can experience issues, including mental health difficulties and increased substance use.

Types of Bullying

Bullying falls into six categories, some of which are more obvious than others. They include:

  1. Physical bullying
  2. Verbal bullying
  3. Relational bullying
  4. Cyberbullying
  5. Sexual bullying
  6. Prejudicial bullying

Physical Bullying

Physical bullying is the most obvious type of bullying and what many people think of when they imagine this kind of aggression.

Physical bullying involves any assault on a person's body, including hitting, kicking, tripping, or pushing. It can also extend to inappropriate hand gestures or stealing or breaking a victims' belongings.

Physical bullying is perpetrated by an individual or group of individuals who are bigger or stronger than the individual being targeted.

If a physical altercation happens between two people of similar size and strength, it's not considered physical bullying.

Studies have shown that males are more likely to be involved in physical bullying than females. For example, a study of children between 7 and 14 years old found that boys were more likely to be hit, punched, or kicked and to have their belongings taken than girls.

Another study of children between 7 and 10 years old showed that boys were more likely to be the perpetrators of physical bullying than girls.

Verbal Bullying

Verbal bullying involves using spoken or written words to insult or intimidate a victim. It includes name-calling, teasing, and even threats.

Research indicates that verbal bullying using insults is the most common form of bullying experienced by 7- to 10-year-old children and that boys are more likely to be verbally bullied than girls.

Verbal bullying isn't always easy to recognize because it often takes place when authority figures aren't around. Moreover, a bully can pass it off as good-natured ribbing between friends. As a result, it can be difficult for the victim to prove. Therefore, this form of bullying can become a long-term source of stress and anxiety.

Relational Bullying

Relational bullying, which is also referred to as relational aggression or social bullying, involves actions intended to harm a victim's reputation or relationships. It can include embarrassing the victim in public, spreading rumors, purposely leaving them out of social situations, or ostracizing them from a group. Unlike more overt types of bullying, it is especially sly and insidious because it involves social manipulation.

Relational bullying is often associated with so-called "mean girls." However, while research has shown girls are more often the victims of relational bullying than boys, both boys and girls are equally likely to be perpetrators.

On the other hand, studies suggest that girls who engage in relational bullying have worse adjustment problems, including issues maintaining fulfilling and positive relationships.

Relational bullying can lead to isolation, loneliness, depression, and social anxiety, yet research indicates that school counselors tend to feel relational bullying is less serious and have less empathy for victims of relational bullying than victims of physical and verbal bullying. This may be because the severity of relational bullying is more challenging to detect.

Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is bullying that happens via electronic devices like computers, smart phones, and tablets. It can take place over text messages, social media, apps, or online forums and involves posting or sending harmful content, including messages and photos, and sharing personal information that causes humiliation.

Research by the Cyberbullying Research Center shows that 15% of 9- to 12-year-olds and 37% of 13- to 17-year-olds have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives.

In-person bullying is still more prevalent than cyberbullying but cyberbullying is a growing problem. Not only are perpetrators of cyberbullying less likely to be caught, but the online nature of cyberbullying can also be especially damaging to victims.

People have their devices on them all day, every day, so if they're being cyberbullied, they never get a break, even in their homes.

Similarly, targets of cyberbullying may be constantly reminded of the online bullying they've endured because, even if they block the cyberbully, others may see and share the evidence.

Sexual Bullying

Sexual bullying is online or in-person bullying that involves sexual comments or actions, including sexual jokes and name-calling, crude gestures, spreading sexual rumors, sending sexual photos or videos, and touching or grabbing someone without permission.

Sexual bullying and harassment are remarkably widespread. A 2019 study found that 81% of women and 43% of men experienced sexual harassment or assault at some point in their lifetime.

Meanwhile, sexting, sending or receiving sexually explicit messages or images between electronic devices, is becoming increasingly common.

Research shows that among kids between the ages of 11 and 17, 15% of them sent sexts and 27% received sexts; the prevalence of the behavior increases as adolescents age.

When sexts are sent without consent, such as when private nude photos or videos of an individual are widely shared among a peer group, it can lead to sexual bullying and even sexual assault.

Prejudicial Bullying

Prejudicial bullying involves online or in-person bullying based on the target's race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation. It is based on stereotypes and is often a result of the belief that some people deserve to be treated with less respect than others.

Though prejudicial bullying has been studied less than other types of bullying, research indicates that ethnic and sexual minorities are more likely to be bullied than their peers.

However, ethnic minorities that attend more ethnically diverse schools experience less bullying than those in schools that are more ethnically homogenous.

Was this page helpful?
17 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Olweus D. Bullying At School: What We Know And What We Can Do. Malden, Mass: Blackwell; 2005.

  2. Arseneault L. Annual Research Review: The persistent and pervasive impact of being bullied in childhood and adolescence: implications for policy and practiceJournal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 2018;59(4):405-421. doi:10.1111/jcpp.12841

  3. StopBullying.gov. What Is Bullying?

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. YRBSS | Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System | Data | Adolescent and School Health. Cdc.gov. 2019.

  5. World Health Organization. Health Behaviour In School-Aged Children (HBSC). 2016.

  6. StopBullying.gov. Effects of Bullying.

  7. Iossi Silva MA, Pereira B, Mendonça D, Nunes B, Abadio de Oliveira W. The Involvement of Girls and Boys with Bullying: An Analysis of Gender DifferencesInt J Environ Res Public Health. 2013;10(12):6820-6831. doi:10.3390/ijerph10126820

  8. Lansford JE, Skinner AT, Sorbring E et al. Boys’ and Girls’ Relational and Physical Aggression in Nine CountriesAggress Behav. 2012;38(4):298-308. doi:10.1002/ab.21433

  9. Centifanti LCM, Fanti KA, Thomson ND, Demetriou V, Anastassiou-Hadjicharalambous X. Types of Relational Aggression in Girls Are Differentiated by Callous-Unemotional Traits, Peers and Parental OvercontrolBehavioral Sciences. 2015;5(4):518-536. doi:10.3390/bs5040518

  10. Jacobsen KE, Bauman S. Bullying in Schools: School Counselors’ Responses to Three Types of Bullying IncidentsProfessional School Counseling. 2007;11(1):1-9. doi:10.1177/2156759x0701100101

  11. StopBullying.gov. What Is Cyberbullying?

  12. Patchin JW, Hinduja S. Tween Cyberbullying in 2020. Cyberbullying Research Center. 2020.

  13. Patchin JW. 2019 Cyberbullying Data. Cyberbullying Research Center. 2019.

  14. Graber D. Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology. HarperCollins Leadership; 2019.

  15. Stop Street Harassment. National Studies.

  16. Madigan S, Ly A, Rash CL, Van Ouytsel J, Temple JR. Prevalence of Multiple Forms of Sexting Behavior Among Youth: A Systematic Review and Meta-AnalysisJAMA Pediatr. 2018;172(4):327-335. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2017.5314

  17. Menesini E, Salmivalli C. Bullying in Schools: The State of Knowledge and Effective InterventionsPsychology, Health & Medicine. 2017;22(sup1):240-253. doi: 10.1080/13548506.2017.1279740