What Is Verbal Bullying And How Does It Happen?
Updated May 27, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Bullying is something that affects far too many children (and adults) in our society, and it desperately needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, it causes far more harm than hurt feelings or even physical injury. In fact, the effects of bullying can last a lifetime. That's why it's important to understand what it is and what we can do about it. In this article, we'll examine verbal bullying specifically and how to handle it.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is what happens when someone uses strength or influence to force another person to do what the bully wants them to do (and/or what the victim doesn't want to do). In 2017, one in five students between the ages of 12 and 18 directly experienced some type of bullying, and over 70 percent of students reported seeing bullying occur in their schools.
Unfortunately, there are several different types of bullying out there, and what's happening is not always obvious. Since physical bullying is the most common type of bullying, victims of verbal bullying and even social media bullying don't necessarily get the help or support they need. That's why it's important for parents who suspect bullying to seek help immediately.
What is Verbal Bullying?
Verbal bullying is intended to degrade or demean the victim in some way, so the bully feels powerful or strong. It can occur on its own or in conjunction with other forms of bullying. Though it happens more frequently among girls, this type of bullying can happen with boys as well, and it can be just as damaging as (or even more damaging than) physical bullying. A bully might target a specific child because of things like weight, gender, race, appearance or height or for some other reason entirely. If you suspect verbal bullying, please seek help as soon as possible.
What to Do if Your Child is Bullying Others
It's devastating to find out that your child is being bullied, but it can also be extremely difficult if your child is bullying others. If you know that your child is being a bully or you suspect that they may be bullying other children, it's important to take action right away. Your child may not realize how dangerous their actions can be, or he or she may feel like they're somehow justified for acting this way.
First, speak with your child about why bullying is not the answer and why it's wrong to treat others this way. Even if your child feels they've been wronged by another child, it's not okay to engage in bullying, and it's up to you to make sure your child understands this. You can help your child learn this lesson by modeling proper behavior long before bullying is even a problem.
To prevent it as best you can, you should also be sure to talk to your child about the negative effects of bullying before they ever engage in it. Help your child understand how to treat other people. When you speak nicely about others, even when they aren't around, your child will notice. When you are kind and respectful, your child is more likely to treat others with respect. What's even more important is how you treat people when you disagree with them or don't like them because your child is going to mimic that behavior as well.
What to Do if the Bully is an Adult
If you've been harassed by a nasty parent at your son's soccer game or hassled by a grumpy colleague at work, you might have been the victim of adult bullying. The first thing you should do is tell someone in authority; this might be a supervisor, a coach, or referee. Document the abuse, especially if it's ongoing, and know that this is ultimately their issue, not yours. Most bullies are unreformed childhood bullies, or they were bullied by others as children.
What to Do if Your Child is Being Bullied
When your child is a victim of bullying, how can you protect them? If it's occurring at school, start by reporting the bullying to school officials. When you do this, you're letting the school know exactly what's happening, and you're making it clear that you expect them to do something about it. If the situation doesn't improve, continue to report it. Encourage your child to report every incident that occurs as well. Your child deserves to be protected at school, and it's the staff's job to make sure that happens.
It's also important to talk about the bullying with your child. Let them know that they can always talk to you about anything at all and make sure they understand that you do not approve of bullying. They'll feel safer if they know you won't allow them to be bullied.
If you suspect bullying, talk to them about their day at school and watch for strange behavior, comments, or suspicious bruises. All of these things will let you know that something is going on and will allow you to help your child, even if they don't tell you they're being bullied.
It's important for your child to know that, even if they're being bullied, it's not okay to be a bully themselves. While an 8-year-old may think it's fair to retaliate against a bully by name-calling or saying/doing mean things, it's important that they understand why this is not okay. Encourage your child to defend him or herself from physical violence in a gentle but assertive way, and also encourage him or her to walk away as soon as they can. Walking away is going to keep them out of trouble, and it gives them the opportunity to talk to someone about what's happening.
What to Do if Someone You Know is Being Bullied
If you find out that someone is being bullied, reassure them that it's not their fault. No one deserves to be bullied, even as an adult. Offer them moral support and advice if they ask for it or stand up for them if you can. Knowing that a victim has a strong ally might be enough to ward off a bully. In general, be sensitive and supportive, but don't take over because the victim may not be ready or willing to tackle the issue aggressively.
How Does Verbal Bullying Affect People?
- Verbal bullying can affect children in different ways. First, it can affect their self-image in ways that persist in adulthood. It causes emotional and psychological harm, including low self-esteem and depression. It can also make it difficult for your child to focus and do well in school, and it can affect their friendships and their family life. Some victims may suffer physical harm alongside the verbal bullying, but the long-term effects can be serious even when there's no physical harm. In extreme cases, verbal bullying can even result in suicide attempts.
Many people understand how physical assault can be harmful and how it can affect a victim, but few recognize just how serious verbal bullying can be as well. The image that your child has of himself or herself is extremely important to his or her future. A strong self-image helps children grow up to be healthy and happy, so making sure they get as much help as possible is crucial. Don't underestimate the power of spoken words on your child's future.
- Verbal bullying can affect adults in the following ways:
- Increased risk of depression and anxiety along with feelings of sadness or loneliness
- Changes in sleep and eating habits
- Thoughts of suicide
- Loss of interest in activities and socializing
- Frequent sick days
- Muscle pain
- Thyroid problems
- Self-harming behaviors
- Gastrointestinal disorders
- Increased blood pressure
Long-Term Effects of Verbal Bullying
As mentioned previously, the effects of verbal bullying can carry over into adulthood. The things that people say about us are extremely important, especially during our formative years. An adult who suffered from verbal bullying as a child may continue to be affected by things that were said long ago. Those thoughts can impact the way they interact with others in both their personal and professional lives. They can cause long-term anxiety, depression, and other issues. In some ways, this type of bullying can be even harder to overcome than the physical pain of a hit or kick because it's internalized, potentially staying with the child throughout their life if it's not addressed.
Stop the Bullying on the Spot
There are many organizations dedicated to stopping bullying before it causes long-term damage. StopBullying, a government-sponsored website dedicated to ending the practice of bullying has some great advice for how to handle a bully:
- Confide in a trusted adult.
- Avoid spots where bullying occurs.
- Stick close to adults and other kids because most bullying occurs when other people aren't around.
- If you're not the one being bullied, stick up for the victim and be kind to them.
If your child is affected by bullying, it's important for them to see a mental health professional. It doesn't matter if your child is the bully or the victim; talking to a professional can help them sort through their thoughts and heal either way. Even after the bullying stops, a victim may need help processing and forgetting the things the bully said, so they don't internalize false and damaging messages. Similarly, a bully needs to learn other coping mechanisms and may have other pain to work through.
BetterHelp Can Help
BetterHelp can connect you with a licensed therapist who can support you helping your child through this difficult time. If your child is in between ages 13-18 years old, then BetterHelp offers counseling specifically for this age group at TeenCounseling. Below are some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.
"Sharon Valentino has helped me through so much! Since we started working together, just a few months ago, I already feel like I have more power and control over my life. I have let go of some very painful things, I have moved away from abusive relationships and really gaining skills and tools I need to keep myself safe and happy. She has taught me that I have the power to control my thoughts, my anxiety, and most of all my company. I really like how direct she is, it helps me get grounded and connect to myself. I can't wait to see where I am after working with her a year!!!"
"Dr. Torres is amazing with the things she is doing with my 13 year old daughter. My daughter has recently been bullied which caused her to be angry and lack of motivation skills was 0. No confidence in herself. She would not go anywhere or do anything. When my daughter spoke with Dr Torres for the first time, a few days later she picked up herself and started to go out and wanted to do things with me and by herself, she also wants to sign up for dance. I was completely amazed, everyone I spoke to was amazed. I'd also like to add that Dr. Torres is kind, patient, calm and very warm and friendly to me and my daughter. Every time I tell my daughter Dr. Torres is calling, a big smile comes on her face, it's so wonderful to see that. I know will still have a long journey to go, and I cant wait to see what happens next, I am so glad I signed my daughter up for this. Please keep up the excellent work."
If you believe your child is being bullied or you fear that he or she is being a bully, it's important to speak to the school to let them know what's going on. Even if your child is bullying others, you should still talk to the school administration to let them know that you do not approve of this behavior and that you want action taken if your child continues to bully other students. More importantly, talk to your child and get them help if they need it. The counselors are BetterHelp are here to support you both.