Victims of bullying include girls and boys of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. But some children are more likely than others to be victimized because they appear small, weak, insecure, sensitive, or “different” from their peers.  

Some children can reduce their risk of being bullied by dressing or acting in ways that make it easier for them to “fit in.” Yet children should not be expected to conform to avoid the threat of bullying. Every child’s individuality should be appreciated for the value it brings to the group, rather than suppressed to reduce the risk of victimization. Furthermore, not all children are able to alter personal characteristics that may place them at increased risk.

Victims tend to share these characteristics and tendencies:

  • Low self-confidence
  • Anxiety
  • Fearfulness
  • Submissiveness
  • Depression or sad appearance
  • Limited sense of humor
  • Below-average size, strength, or coordination
  • Feelings of helplessness
  • Self-blame for problems
  • Social withdrawal and isolation
  • Poor social skills
  • Low popularity
  • Few or no friends
  • Excessive dependence on adults

Children who are repeatedly bullied tend to be passive. They inadvertently reward the bully by crying, giving over their possessions, or running away in fear. Some victims also provoke negative responses from others by behaving in socially inappropriate ways. They may trigger conflict or ridicule and then overreact with anger and exasperation.

Potential victims can reduce their risk of being bullied by learning how to: 

  • Exhibit self-confidence
  • Avoid the bully’s tactics
  • Respond with assertiveness
  • Obtain support from others
Examining the Effects on the Victim

Victims of bullying suffer a wide range of harmful effects—both immediately and for years to come.
While under the influence of a bully, victims may show many signs of physical, emotional, and social distress. They often feel tense, anxious, tired, listless, and sad. Some children lose their confidence, become socially isolated, do poorly in school, or refuse to go to school. They may also show high levels of:

  • Headaches
  • Skin problems
  • Abdominal pain
  • Sleep problems
  • Bed-wetting
  • Crying
  • Depression

Victims’ painful memories of having been bullied linger as the victims mature into adulthood. Adults who were victimized as children may continue to show poor self-confidence and problems with depression.

In cases of extreme bullying, some tormented victims have resorted to violence toward themselves or others.
Suicide . . . Some victims of bullying have committed suicide. 

Children as young as nine may think about suicide as a way to escape their bullies.*

School Shooters . . . Other victims of bullying have used guns to take violent revenge in schools against their bullies and others who they believe have failed to support them. 

Many school shooters were bullied: In 37 incidents of targeted school violence between 1974 and 2000, almost three-quarters of the shooters reported being bullied, persecuted, threatened, attacked, or injured before the incident. Sometimes the experience of being bullied seemed to have influenced the shooter’s decision to make an attack at the school.**

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* van der Wal, M. F., de Wit, C. A. M., & Hirasing, R. A. (2003). Psychosocial health among young victims and offenders of direct and indirect bullying. Pediatrics, 111, 1312–1317.

** Vossekuil, B., Fein, R. A., Reddy, M., Borum, R., Modzeleski, W. (2002, May). The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. U. S. Secret Service and U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved October 25, 2007, from