what is social bullying
Sep 13 2023

What Is Social Bullying and How to Prevent It?

Positive Action Staff
Families. Classmates. Pals. The gang from work. We humans are social animals and relationships are vital to our health.

Few things can affect us quite as strongly as the strength, length, and health of our personal relationships.

Which is what makes social bullying so devastating.

And so dangerous.

Today, we’ll provide the information you need to identify and prevent social bullying. We’ll be covering:

The Types of Bullying

The four types of bullying include:

  • Physical bullying — using violence to cause physical harm
  • Verbal bullying — using words to cause emotional harm
  • Social bullying — using various means to damage the victim’s social reputation or relationships
  • Cyberbullying — using digital means to bully

Why Do Children Bully?

Bullying is the product of a power imbalance. The child who bullies another perceives themself in a position of power over the victim(s) and uses this power aggressively.

However, bullies simultaneously struggle with feelings of inferiority, often leading them to bully in the first place.

Children who bully generally feel:

  • Insecure — low self-esteem, low social/academic standing, physically insecure from abuse or neglect
  • Powerless — bullies are often bullied themselves and exert any power they have by lashing out
  • A need to control others — with powerlessness and insecurity comes the need to wield whatever control they can because they lack control over their own lives
  • A need for recognition or reward — bullies often gain attention, good or bad, from others for their bullying (including adults)

What Is Social Bullying?

Social bullying is the use of various means to damage or destroy someone’s social relationships. For this reason, it’s often called relational aggression or relational bullying.

It’s an insidious form of bullying because it takes many forms.

Social bullying can occur in person and as a form of cyberbullying.

In-Person Bullying

In-person social bullying looks like this:

  • Physical bullying is meant to publicly embarrass, like tripping someone in the lunch line
  • Verbal abuse, such as encouraging others to engage in name-calling or telling a child they’re not welcome in a group
  • Passive physical behaviors, such as ignoring another child or turning away from them
  • Passive verbal behaviors like telling others to ignore/exclude someone or spreading nasty rumors


Relational cyberbullying includes:

  • Posting embarrassing photos of the victim on social media
  • Spreading rumors using social media, texts, and chats
  • “Unfriending” and encouraging others to remove the victim from their online connections
  • Posting negative comments and insults on the victim’s social media
  • Excluding or insulting on gaming platforms
  • Using humiliating nicknames in gaming platforms and other online groups and encouraging others to do the same

The Most Likely Victims of Social Bullying

The purpose of relational bullying is to damage or destroy the victim’s reputation, social standing, or both. This explains why social bullying is most prevalent among young teens and tweens.

Developmentally, the years between 9 and 12 are when we become aware of who we are in relation to others. Our social reputation, social relationships, and what those outside of our family think of us gain primary importance.

Tweens become self-aware, placing importance on appearance, fitting in with others, and privacy.

Tweens also begin to become aware of their own and others’ sexuality. They often face conflicts in dealing with the emotions and behaviors of their first crush or attraction.

Cyberbullying behavior is a big issue for tweens. They are often considered “old enough” to have cell phones and to be active on websites like Facebook, YouTube, gaming platforms, and others with less parental supervision.

This means that every child between the ages of 9 and 12 is a prime target for a social bully.

The Effects of Social Bullying

Being socially bullied has serious negative effects on the victim’s mental health. They can include:

  • Loneliness
  • Depression
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Social anxiety and avoidance
  • Physical distress like headaches or stomach aches, eating disorders, and sleep disruption
  • Behavioral problems such as acting out, withdrawing, and displaying inappropriate emotions in social situations

These effects, especially those on the victim’s mental health and social behaviors, can continue into adulthood.

Equipping Children to Deal With and Prevent Social Bullying

Fostering an atmosphere of trusted communication, relaying to students that they can talk to you about anything, is vital in dealing with bullies.

Define what is happening. Give them words to share their experiences.

Helping victims recognize that it’s not their fault and that bullying is wrong, and not just mean, is also key.

Help them “save face” by bringing attention to the bully’s behavior. Also, remind them that some of their favorite celebrities have been victims, too.

Foster a school-wide environment that helps everyone feel safe, secure, and valued. By removing feelings of insecurity within the school community, children will be less likely to turn to bullying.

How Positive Action Can Help

Equip you and your students with defenses against social bullying and create a more positive school environment through our dedicated bullying prevention curriculum.

A more peaceful, productive society is within reach for your students.