Bullying in the Early Teen Years

Young teen being bullied

When most people think about the stereotypical bully, they often imagine a loner that lashes out because of poor self-esteem. Or maybe they picture a big, mean kid who uses physical force, makes threats or calls people names to get his way. Although these descriptions are accurate, they paint an incomplete picture of the typical middle school bully. In fact, research shows that the most popular and influential kids also bully others.

During the early teen years, bullying is a form of social power. Kids in middle school bully others to protect their image and improve their social status. As a result, they often take advantage of peers that are more socially vulnerable in order to feel accepted.

Trends in Middle School and Early Teen Bullying

Although bullying can start as early as preschool, by the time kids reach middle school, it has often become an accepted part of the school. In fact, bullying increases around fifth and sixth grade and continues to get worse until around ninth grade.

Bullying occurs more often in the middle school and early teen years because kids are transitioning from being a child to an adolescent. They have a strong desire to be accepted, to make friends and to be part of a group. As a result, they experience peer pressure and want to look and act like their peers.​

This desire for acceptance leads to bullying because kids are intensely aware of what it takes to fit in. As a result, they easily spot others who do not fit the accepted norm and zero in on that. Kids tend to bully others who look, act, talk or dress differently.

Bullying also is a way to fit into a clique or the cool crowd. Kids who are not popular or do not have a high social status may bully others as a way to gain power and social acceptance. They may also bully others to counter the bullying that is directed towards them.

Nearly 30% of kids in grades six to 10 in the United States are estimated to experience bullying either as a victim, a bully or both.

Still, this figure may not reflect the complete picture. Researchers have found that about half of all bullying incidents go unreported.


Bullying victims often suffer academically. Their grades may drop and they may miss school with health problems like headaches, stomachaches, and difficulty sleeping. When bullying occurs over a long period of time, this leads to lowered self-esteem, anxiety, depression, loneliness, and even suicidal thoughts. What’s more, depression and self-esteem issues caused by bullying can last into adulthood.

Meanwhile, kids who witness bullying struggle with anxiety and may fear that they will become the next target. They also feel guilty for not stepping in and helping the person being bullied. As a result, these feelings distract them from schoolwork and lead to poor academic performance.

Even bullies are affected. They are more likely to display antisocial behavior and violence later in life. They also are prone to alcohol and drug abuse. And research shows that bullies are more likely to commit criminal acts. In fact, research shows that bullies are four times more likely than non-bullies to be convicted of crimes by age 24. And 60% of bullies will have at least one criminal conviction in their lifetime.

If your teen is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.


When it comes to addressing middle school bullying, parents and teachers must think long-term. Short-term solutions like punishment, conflict resolution and counseling will not solve the problem. Instead, educators must foster a school climate that discourages bullying. They also need to provide students with a variety of ways to report bullying. Comprehensive bullying prevention programs are the best place to start.

When bullying does occur, school administrators need to respond quickly, consistently and firmly. The idea is to deter bullying by having steep consequences for the behavior. Students will continue to bully others if nothing significant happens. Additionally, bullying escalates over time if it is not addressed.

Be sure you address each and every bullying incident. When you ignore bullying or brush the behavior under the rug because you do not want to deal with it, then you are creating an atmosphere where all students believe that nothing significant will happen when bullying occurs.

Meanwhile, parents of bullies need to focus on spending quality time with their children. They also must set firm limits, institute consequences and support school discipline when bullying occurs. And parents of bullying victims should help their children report incidents and ensure that the issue is resolved. Counseling also might be needed to help the victim regain self-confidence.

Remember, children cannot handle bullying on their own. They need help from school staff, their parents and sometimes even the community. Be sure you understand the issue and are doing your part.

6 Sources
Verywell Family 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.
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  2. DeVoe JF, Bauer L. Student victimization in U.S. schools. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

  3. Shetgiri R. Bullying and victimization among childrenAdv Pediatr. 2013;60(1):33–51. doi:10.1016/j.yapd.2013.04.004

  4. Rivers I, Poteat VP, Noret N, Ashurst N. Observing bullying at school: The mental health implications of witness statusSchool Psychology Quarterly. 2009;24(4):211-223. doi:10.1037/a0018164

  5. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Prevention at school.

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By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.