What is bullying?
During 2016/17, Childline engaged in 24,571 counselling sessions with children about bullying*, making it one of the top 3 concerns (alongside mental and emotional health, and family relationships).
Bullying is behaviour that hurts someone else – such as name-calling, hitting, pushing, spreading rumours, threatening or undermining someone.
It can happen anywhere – in a club, at school, at home or online (cyberbullying). It’s usually repeated over a long period of time and can hurt a child both physically and emotionally. Bullying behaviour can often stay confined to ‘bullying hotspots’, which are locations in a school, club or venue that might be more secluded or have fewer witnesses, such as changing rooms.
Bullying can take many forms including:
- Physical – hitting, pushing, kicking or other physical assault
- Verbal abuse – offensive name-calling, insults or gossiping
- Non-verbal abuse – offensive hand signs or text messages
- Racial, sexist or homophobic – racist remarks, sexist jokes or comments, or homophobic, transphobic or gender-related jokes or comments
- Sexual – abusive sexualised name-calling, inappropriate and uninvited touching, or an inappropriate sexual proposition
- Indirect – spreading nasty stories or rumours about someone, intimidation, exclusion from social groups, manipulating or constantly undermining someone
*Source: Childline annual review 2016/17: Not alone anymore. NSPCC (2017).
Bullying and disability
Children and young people with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to bullying behaviour for a variety of reasons. Recent research suggests that they are twice as likely* as other children to experience persistent bullying.
These added risks for deaf or disabled children can include:
- the increased likelihood of social isolation
- having fewer outside contacts than non-disabled children, and perhaps having limited access to someone to disclose bullying to
- an impaired capacity to resist, avoid or understand bullying
- being viewed as a ‘safe target’ for people displaying bullying behaviour
If your sport is accessible to all, disabled young children could be more vulnerable than if participating in a disability sport, so it's important to consider creating a positive and accepting environment for all players.
*Source: Doubly disadvantaged? Bullying experiences among disabled children and young people in England. Stella Chatzitheochari, Samantha Parsons and Lucinda Platt. IoE (2014).
Homophobic and transphobic bullying
Nearly half (45%) of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans (LGBT) young people reported being bullied for being LGBT at school according to a recent report by Stonewall.
Homophobic and biphobic bullying is where people are discriminated against and treated unfairly by other people because they are lesbian, gay or bisexual or are perceived to be such.
Transphobic bullying is where people are discriminated against because their gender identity doesn't align with the sex they were assigned at birth or perhaps because they do not conform to stereotypical gender roles or 'norms'.
Sometimes athletes witness homophobic or transphobic bullying but may be reluctant to report it in case the participants, coaches or other adults assume they are also homosexual, bisexual or trans, even if this isn't the case.
We've produced a briefing paper on homophobic bullying in youth sport, which offers guidance on how to support LGBT young people who have been subject to bullying of this kind.
*Source: The school report 2017. Stonewall (2017).
Cyberbullying is a form of bullying behaviour that takes place on social media, in online games and through mobile phones. Cyberbullying can have just as much of an impact on children and young people as more direct, face-to-face bullying and is often harder to escape in the 24-hour online world.
In 2015/16, Childline reported that contacts about cyberbullying to their helpline increased by 13% on the previous year and 88% in the previous 5 years,* suggesting that this form of non-direct behaviour is becoming ever more prevalent.
Some of these online behaviours include:
- 'trolling' – sending upsetting messages through social media, chat rooms or online games
- creating and sharing hurtful images or videos
- sending explicit images, also known as 'sexting'
- sending abusive text messages
For more information, take a look at the NSPCC pages on bullying and cyberbullying.
*Source: The experiences of young people contacting Childline about bullying 2015/16. Childline. (2016)
Body image and bullying
Body image can be a risk factor in the development of eating disorders, sometimes stemming from throwaway comments from peers or coaches about a person’s size or body shape. Children who struggle with how they see and accept their bodies may be particularly vulnerable to comments, jokes and humiliation about their body.
Some children may be taking part in sport as an approach to combating weight issues or eating disorders. Bullying can disrupt or even stop their participation, slowing their journey to a healthier lifestyle and enjoyment of physical activity. Such disruption can have a lasting affect into adulthood and prevent children from living an active, healthy lifestyle as adults too.
More information about body image and bullying and be found on the BEAT website.