Verbal Bullying Is a Problem You Need to Deal With

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Is your child currently being exposed to verbal bullying? If so, you then need to take a look at the facts, statistics and examples we're about to share.

By understanding why this form of bullying is so dangerous and the kind of attacks your child may be exposed to. You’ll immediately have a better plan-of-action.

Verbal bullying is a global epidemic. Studies show us that it’s the most common type of bullying that most children will experience at school.

On average, 77% of all children are being verbally bullied in some way.

Yet, growing up, most of us were taught that physical bullying is worse.

Even the first anti-bullying campaign created in the 70s drilled it into our heads: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.”

This has misled us all. Words do harm!

Of the 77% of verbally bullied children – 14% will be left with severe mental health issues.

So, if you’re here to find out how to protect your child. Then, you have come to the right place.

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Verbal Bullying Definition

The classic verbal bullying definition is a person or groups of people that inflict intentional, repeated and hurtful words onto others.

Man being verbally bullied by peers

What sets this apart from a verbal fight, for example, is that a bully victim will have trouble defending themselves.

As long as the assaults are consistent, intentional and there is an imbalance of power – it is considered as verbal bullying.

It’s not always easy to notice as the attacks don’t have to be direct, they can be indirect as well. 

Direct verbal bullying is an open and confrontational attack. For example, threatening, degrading or teasing someone.

Indirect verbal bullying suggests the attacks are quite discrete. For example, spreading rumours or taunting.

However, a bully can threaten, degrade, or tease someone indirectly as well.

It does not have to be a direct attack to count as bullying.

Verbal Bullying Facts and Statistics

Verbal bullying facts are hard to process but important to know.

Knowledge is power.

And in this case, knowing the truth about verbal bullying gives you the opportunity to teach your child:

  • What to look out for,
  • Who to speak to, and
  • How to cope with a confrontation.

Almost all of us will be exposed to it at some point in our lives. In fact, the actual verbal bullying facts are staggering.

Stats Released in the USA

Man faces verbal bullying online
  1. Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied in the USA.
  2. 70.6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school–and over 71% say bullying is a problem.
  3. Most bullying happens in middle school. The most common types are verbal and social bullying.
  4. 86% of students disclosed in a survey that the primary reason teenagers turn to lethal violence, such as gun violence, is due to "other kids picking on them, or making fun of them or bullying them".

Stats Released in the UK

  1. 89% of children who claimed to have been bullied in the last 12 months (2018) said that they had been verbally bullied in some form or another. In the study, this included being called names, sworn at, insulted, ignored or having rumours spread about them.
  2. 88% of students claimed that they had witnessed verbal bullying in the last 12 months. However, only 17% admitted to stepping in and trying to help the victim.
  3. 52% of students were subject to false rumours online and 46% were threatened.
The next and final fact is something really important to acknowledge: 64% of students who are bullied do not report it. (Petrosina, Guckenburg, Devoe and Hanson 2010)
Woman faces verbal bullying online

woman being verbally bullied online

Of all the verbal bullying facts discussed here, the last one should stick in your mind the most.

Because a victim without any active defenders will automatically have less control over the situation than the bully.

If you look at the bully cycle, you’ll see that – out of everyone – the bystander’s actions matter most.

This is because bystanders can choose if they want to defend the victim. Or, if they want to ignore the situation and silently support the bully.

If you’re wondering what all of this look likes – that’s exactly what we’re going to discuss next.

Verbal Bullying Examples

Here are the true-life stories of 2 victims.

Each verbal bullying example shared is unique but severe. And It gives you an idea of just how different each case can be.

**Disclaimer: The following examples given are all true-life stories of children who were bullied and died by suicide.**

The content shared is not suitable for sensitive readers.

Case 1: Felix Alexander 

Often, there isn’t a clear-cut incident that triggers a bully victim to fall into depression.

It’s actually small issues that accumulate over time which do the most damage.

Imagine growing up in an environment where you were just labelled “the kid who everyone hates”.

For no reason whatsoever?

This is exactly what happened to Felix Alexander.

As a boy, his peers told him he was hated and worthless from a young age. It caused a hate culture that always followed him around.

Sad boy sitting by the window

Eventually, the life-long verbal abuse and torment triggered serious mental health issues. He started to hate himself.

Regardless of seeing a psychotherapist and being treated, Felix still didn’t believe his life was worth living anymore.

It ultimately led to his death by suicide at age 17. 

In a statement to the press, his mother Lucy shared the following:

"His confidence and self-esteem had been eroded over a long period of time by the bullying behaviour he experienced in secondary education.

"It began with unkindness and social isolation and over the years, with the advent of social media, it became cruel and overwhelming.

"People who had never even met Felix were abusing him.

"He was however so badly damaged by the abuse, isolation and unkindness he had experienced, that he was unable to see just how many people truly cared for him."

Case 2: Ben Vodden 

Don’t presume that all school bullies are alike. Sometimes, it’s not even the child that sparks the conflict.

If this story we’re about to share tells us anything about bullying at school, it’s that:

  • Young children can be just as detrimentally vulnerable and impressionable as teens.
  • Bullying doesn’t necessarily come from a student. It can be anyone around the students too.

In December 2006, 11-year-old Ben Vodden was found unconscious in his bedroom by his father, Paul.

Ben had died by suicide after he used his shoelaces to hang himself from his bunk bed.

Sad boy sitting in dark room

Before his passing, he spoke to his mother Caroline Vodden about the issues he was having at school.

He was being bullied. And although Mrs Vodden was actively looking to solve the situation.

The abuse had gone on long enough for Ben to become deeply unhappy.

"When Ben told us people were being horrible to him on the bus, we even suggested to him he sit near the driver where he would be safe,” said Mrs Vodden.

But the torment and name-calling didn’t come from the students, but by his school bus driver.

One day, Mrs Vodden received a call from the school saying that Ben was removed from the bus after breaking into a frustrated rage.

She tried to reach out to her son when he arrived home. But he was apparently very frustrated and would not tell his mother what the bus driver had said to him.

Mrs Vodden said she had never heard her son cry like he did that day after he resided to his bedroom. And when Mr Vodden arrived home, he found his son unconscious.

Later, Mr Vodden mentioned to his wife that Ben did share what the bus driver had called him earlier on:

"Ben felt unable to tell me, as his mother, because of the language used," said Mrs Vodden.

"Ben told his father, 'Brian the bus driver has been calling me "Masterbate" because he says "I'm a little wanker",' and he said everyone on the bus was calling him 'Masterbate'.

It’s important to remember that although these children died by suicide, most victims will never reach this point.

 What is important, is to realise just how serious each case is.  

Verbal Bullying Effects

Verbal bullying does not have the same visual impact that physical bullying does, but it can leave more damage than a broken arm.

Some verbal bullying effects include mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies.

Suicidal overdose

According to The National Center for Educational Statistics, bullying has a negative effect on:

  • How victims feel about themselves (19%),
  • Their relationships with friends and family (14%),
  • Physical health (9%), and
  • School work.

It’s clear that verbal bullying is destructive – and can leave anyone feeling emotionally hurt. But do we really understand why?

It doesn’t hurt like a broken arm. And it won’t heal if you put a plaster on it.

Instead, some effects of verbal bullying include: (Center for Disease Control)

  1. Difficulty adjusting at school,
  2. Difficulty sleeping,
  3. Headaches,
  4. Stomach aches,
  5. Anxiety, and
  6. Depression.

You may wonder why headaches and stomach aches are included in this list. And it’s actually quite simple: your brain and your stomach are very closely linked.

Visual representation of self hate

Think about it:

When you’re in love – you get butterflies in your tummy.

When you eat chocolate – it immediately makes you happier.

Or when you’re under pressure – you may get a stress headache.

Stress, anxiety and depression are all psychological issues that link with your gut. This is why bully victims are twice as likely to get headaches or stomach aches than kids who aren’t bullied. (Gini & Pozzoli, 2013).

Why Are the Effects of Verbal Bullying So Serious?

People are speaking about mental health more openly now.

Since scientific research is teaching us so much about what mental health really is. It’s not seen as a taboo topic for many anymore.

Basically, your mental health is not only shaped by genetics, but by your environment as well.

This is especially true when you are a child. Your brain is still developing and you are so impressionable.

If you experience something traumatic as a child and it has a lasting effect on you. This is known as an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE).

Over 10% of students who drop out of school do so due to getting bullied repeatedly.

Statistics suggest that revenge [due to bullying] is the number one motivator for school shootings in the U.S.

87% of students surveyed report that bullying is the primary motivator school shootings.

According to the YMCA England and Wales’ new research report, ‘In Your Face’: “Comments and criticisms of young people’s appearances have become part of everyday life.”  And 55% of children are affected.

53% of that youth who experience verbal bullying based on their appearances experienced mental health issues.          
  • 29% became anxious and/or depressed
  • 10% developed suicidal thoughts
  • 9% practised self-harm

An anonymous 14-year-old from London told The Telegraph: “If you wear certain makeup you get called like, a whore and a slag. If you wear no makeup then you’re ugly, and then you’re trolled.”

Woman overeating and insecure

How to Deal with Verbal Bullies 

Dealing with verbal bullying takes time and patience. However, there are 4 things you can do right now that will simplify the process.

Control: Take Control Back From the Bully

In most cases, verbal bullies attack victims because it helps them get control of difficult situations that they don’t know how to process rationally. 

Some bullies feel guilty after their attack, others feel powerful.

Everyone’s motive is different. The key thing to remember is that a bully wants to feel in control at that moment when they bully someone else. 

Studies show that victims are usually more sensitive and empathetic individuals who tend to internalise their emotions.

And this makes sense, because in order for the bully-victim relationship to work.

The victim needs to behave submissively when they are being attacked.

So, if your child is a victim of verbal bullying – how can they take the control back?

Start by looking at the times and places that the bully is likely to attack. Especially when there are no defenders nearby.

You want to stop your child from feeling vulnerable at school.

See if there are any extra-curricular activities your child would like to take part in.

That way they can build a new skill, improve their confidence, step away from dangerous situations and potentially find new friends with similar interests.

Building a support structure at school allows your child to have more defenders nearby.

It is much easier to shift the balance of power from the bully to the victim.

When the victim has the confidence and protection to shut an attack down from the beginning.

Group of people riding bicycles

Talk: Encourage Your Child to Confide in You

One of the biggest issues with bullying is that it’s rarely reported to an adult – or any supporter – who can help.

Proper communication means that vital information is shared. At the right time, to the right people.

If your child is feeling threatened, unhappy or stressed – it’s important that you know about it.

Especially since it gives you the chance to find a solution together.

By showing your child that their anxiety, anger or frustration is valid. You show them that they don’t have to face their fears alone.

Something that often blocks communication between you, as a parent and your child is relatability.

We quickly forget what it’s like to be a child. We remember those carefree and innocent moments.

But the things that used to upset us become irrelevant over time. And if you feel that it’s harder to relate to kids today – you’re right!

Father and son playing football

Our kids are growing up in a different time to us, and we need to take the time to learn about what that actually means.

Relatability is something that needs to be nurtured. Everyone has a voice, and each one should be heard.

  • Ask your child what they need.
  • Show them that you want their opinion and input on issues.
  • Teach them that it’s okay to have an opinion and to disagree with others without being rude or disrespectful. It’s about being assertive, not aggressive.

Most importantly – be truthful to yourself and your child throughout the process.

Because the way we talk to our child becomes their inner voice as they grow up.

“Education begins the moment we see children as innately wise and capable beings. Only then can we play along in their worlds.” ~ Vince Gowmon
Mother embracing her daughter

Do: Show Your Child How to Handle a Bullying Incident

If your child is being bullied – finding the right way to take action is tricky. But it’s very important that some kind of intervention takes place.

Stats show us that:

  • The most common type of bullying witnessed is verbal bullying. (Ditch the Label, 2018)
  • 91% of victims told a family member about being bullied, and 86% were satisfied with the support (Ditch the Label, 2018).
  • More than half of bullying incidents (57%) stop when a peer intervenes and stands up for the student being bullied. (Hawkins, Pepler, & Craig, 2001)

Everyone’s circumstances are different. But these are the most important things to do if your child is being verbally bullied:

1.    Roleplay

Get your child to play out the attacks they have been in. Or predict they may have in the future.

Not only does this help you understand what the verbal bully is saying, but it helps you develop and practice better responses.

Parents having a conversation with child on couch

Together, discuss calm, assertive and realistic ways for your child to respond to the verbal attacks.

It’ll help them feel better prepared and protected when they are on their own at school.

2.    Build self-confidence

Reciting daily affirmations is an effective way for anyone to retrain their brain. If you tell yourself that you are stupid and ugly every day – it builds your self-doubt.

But if you regularly remind yourself of your good qualities – it builds your confidence.

Having a positive mantra is an important way to tackle every day with conviction.

Start by sitting with your child and getting them to write down everything they dislike about themselves.

Once they’re done, show them how each point is only the bottom end of a good feature.

For example:

Dislike: “I suck at sports.”
Feature: “Sports isn’t my best quality. But I am very good at (music / art / chess / debating).
Dislike: “I am shy, weird and quiet.”
Feature: “I am sensitive to other’s needs, I am empathetic, and I am a good listener.”

Once you’ve built a strong mantra, encourage your child to needs to recite it every day.

It may help if you do it together, and you create a mantra for yourself as well.

Know: Help Your Child Know Who They Are 

“Knowing” is the hardest of the four steps. But, if you can get through steps 1-3 – this one should be easier.

Father and son working with computers

The reason why the 4th step is so tricky is that it involves introspection.

We naturally form opinions on others based on how they act. It’s much harder to reflect on our own behaviour.

It’s a big part of growing up – especially when it comes to forming successful relationships.

In this context, being self-knowing means that your child can recognise:

  1. What coping skills they use, and if they are effective.
  2. Their behaviour towards the bully. Are they submissive in confrontations?
  3. Why they are targeted as the victim.

You’ll know this task has been successful if your child can be:  

  1. Rational and realistic about their virtues and flaws.
  2. Logical when trying to find solutions.
  3. Focused on a better outcome for themselves.
Child at psychologist with mother

We are not saying that the bully needs to be ignored, or that they should not be held accountable for their actions.

Yes, it’s important to break a bully-victim relationship. However, the idea is to shift the focus from the bully’s punishment… to the victim’s self-growth.

Bullies are found everywhere – work, school, home, and the list goes on. However, if a bully can’t find a suitable victim (i.e. someone they can get emotional control over.), their abusive behaviour stops.

So even if you interfere between a bully and their victim.

If the victim cannot learn to identify why they were attacked, and how to improve the way they handle bullies.

They will remain vulnerable to more attacks throughout their lives.

To this day, verbal bullying is the most documented and witnessed form of bullying in the world.

It is almost always paired together with all the 6 types of bullying:

It leaves no blood or scars on your skin, but it can irreparably damage your mental wellbeing in life. It’s invisible but destructive.

Children standing together in embrace

If you’re going to help your child overcome verbal bullying, you need to:

  1. Accept that it’s a serious concern,
  2. Listen to your child, and
  3. Find a solution that your child is comfortable with.

Mental health needs respect. And the more people stand together as defenders, the better off a victim of verbal abuse stands a chance to be.


References: Bullying Statistics and Facts

1. Department of Education, UK: https://www.gov.uk/bullying-at-school

2. Ditch the Label UK: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/research-papers/the-annual-bullying-survey-2018/

3. National Center for Education Statistics US: https://nces.ed.gov/pubs2017/2017064.pdf 

4. National Center for Injury and Control US: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-factsheet508.pdf

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