First Steps to Stop Bullying and Harassment: Adults helping youth aged 12 to 17


Every young person has the right to feel safe at home, at school and in the community (UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1990). Bullying is not a normal part of growing up. It doesn't usually go away on its own and often gets worse with time.

Bullying needs to be dealt with directly. To stop hurtful behaviour we all need to respond when it occurs and take steps to prevent it. The first step is recognizing when there is a problem.

Here is some information to help you figure out whether a teen you know has experienced, seen, heard or taken part in bullying. This information will also help you take steps to stop the bullying and help the teen who is being bullied.

What is bullying?

Bullying is a form of aggression that unfolds within a relationship. The teen who bullies uses aggression and control to maintain a position of power over the victimized teen. As bullying evolves over time, the power dynamics and inequality in the relationship become stronger. The victimized teen gets caught in an abusive relationship. This problem can also happen between groups of young people.

The basic elements of bullying are:

Teasing, rough housing or even play fighting are not considered bullying when both teens are willing participants.

How does bullying change with age?

As children get older, the type and range of bullying behaviours increase. The nature of bullying often reflects important developmental changes and challenges. While physical, psychological and social bullying are present in children as young as four years old, other bullying behaviours emerge only as children move toward adolescence. For example, sexual harassment and dating aggression typically begin in middle school and increase in the high school years Footnote 1 when youth are experiencing physical changes and becoming interested in dating. Although individual patterns of aggression vary, the following table indicates general types of bullying behaviour for youth in middle school and high school.

Types of bullying by age Footnote 2
Type of Bullying Middle School
(Grades 6 – 8)
High School
(Grades 9 – 12)
Physical X X
Psychological – verbal X X
Psychological – social X X
Sexual harassment Emerging bullying behaviour X
Dating aggression Emerging bullying behaviour X
What are some of the types of bullying? Footnote 3
Physical Psychological
Verbal Social
  • [*] Dating aggression – physical or verbal actions including grabbing, pushing, punching, spreading rumours and name-calling
  • [**] Sexual harassment – occurs when a person or group hurts another person by taunting or discussing sensitive sexual issues, creating sexual rumours or messages, making homophobic comments, rating sexual body parts or name-calling, telling sexual jokes, and initiating unwanted sexual touching
  • [***] Ethnoculturally-based bullying – any physical or verbal behaviour used to hurt another person because of his or her ethnicity (culture, colour or religion)
  • Hitting
  • Kicking
  • Punching
  • Pushing/shoving
  • Stealing
  • Dating aggression [*]
  • Insults
  • Name-calling
  • Comments about how someone looks or talks
  • Threats
  • Sexual harassment [**]
  • Ethnoculturally-based comments [***]
  • Gossiping
  • Rumours
  • Ignoring
  • Not including someone in group activities
Can hurt the young person's body, damage belongings or make the person feel badly about himself or herself. Can make the young person feel badly about himself or herself. Can make the young person feel alone and not part of the group.


Cyberbullying refers to the use of communication technologies (e-mail, cell phones, pager text messages, Internet sites and instant messaging) to physically threaten, verbally harass or socially exclude an individual or group. Using these technologies to distribute damaging messages and pictures allows bullies to remain anonymous and bullying to become widespread.

How many youth are involved in bullying others?



How many teens are bullied? Footnote 10



Ethnoculturally-based bullying

How many teens witness bullying?

Not all youth are directly involved in bullying incidents, but many get involved in other ways – some watch, some encourage the bullying and some try to stop it.

When other children intervene – more than half the time, the bullying will stop within 10 seconds! – Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001

Together we can make a difference in bullying
This advice was compiled from a variety of resources on bullying and is to be taken as guidance on how to deal with most bullying-related problems. For additional guidance, please consult the resources provided at the end of this information sheet.

Adults helping youth: Practical advice

The young person who comes to you for help may need some reassurance along with practical advice on what to do. You could try some of the following, using your judgement about the particular circumstances:

If the teen is being bullied, you can suggest:

If the teen sees someone being bullied, you can suggest:

Some assurances you can give to the teen:

Your role: How adults can help

Bullying is not a problem that youth can solve themselves. It is a power struggle that is difficult to change without the help of an adult. In most cases, it will require only a few minutes to stop the behaviour, especially if you act immediately and in a consistent manner.

If you are there when the bullying occurs, talk with the youth who are being aggressive. Explain the hurt they are causing and have them make amends to those who were harmed. This can break the cycle.

However, most bullying happens when you are not looking. When you are told about it, take it seriously since young people usually go to adults with these problems as a last resort.

In a small number of cases, bullying behaviour is a chronic problem requiring the involvement of families and the assistance of a health professional.

If you are a parent or guardian

If you are an adult responsible for young people (e.g. a teacher or coach)

If you are a leader of an organization responsible for young people (e.g. a school principal or manager of a sports team or other youth program)

The NCPS wishes to acknowledge the support and assistance of Drs. Pepler and Craig, through the Canadian Initiative for the Prevention of Bullying, in the development of this document.

You may also find the following Web sites helpful:



Parents and guardians

General sources for all


  1. 1 Pepler , Craig, Connolly, Yuile, McMaster & Jiang, 2005.
  2. 2 Pepler & Craig, 2000.
  3. 3 Craig & Pepler, 2000; Connolly, Pepler & Craig, 2003
  4. 4 Pepler, Craig, Connolly, Yuile, McMaster & Jiang, 2005
  5. 5 Ibid.
  6. 6 Pepler, Jiang, Craig & Connolly, 2004
  7. 7 Pepler, Craig, Connolly, Yuile, McMaster & Jiang, 2005
  8. 8 Ibid.
  9. 9 Pepler, Jiang, Craig & Connolly, 2004
  10. 10 Craig, 2004
  11. 11 Ibid
  12. 12 Pepler, Smith, Craig & Connelly, 2002
  13. 13 Craig & Pepler, 1997; Atlas & Pepler, 1998
  14. 14 Craig & Pepler, 1997; Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001


Visit our page for contact information for your region and for further information on the funding programs of the National Crime Prevention Centre (NCPC) or call the NCPC: 1-800-830-3118.

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