Bullying and Cyberbullying

Bullying isn’t a new problem. It has been going on for years. And it affects almost everybody at some point in their lives. According to StopBullying.gov, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. This guide is meant to shed some light on today’s bullying and list resources available to you if you or someone you know is being bullied.

What is Bullying?

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), the core elements of the definition include: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.

Bullying can happen directly and indirectly. It can be physical, verbal, relational (efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and/or damage to property.

Bullying that takes place over digital devices is considered cyberbullying. It is a growing concern in today’s world of social media and smartphones.

Anti-Bullying Laws

There is no federal anti-bullying law; however, every state has some type of law and/or policy against bullying. When bullying is also harassment, it does break federal law. While all states have anti-bullying laws, not all states have special statutes that apply to cyberbullying (Ohio’s anti-bullying law does cover cyberbullying). For a list of all state anti-bullying laws and policies, click here.

Ohio’s anti-bullying law applies to all public school districts in Ohio, including charter schools.  The law does not apply to private schools.  The Ohio law requires public school districts to have an anti-bullying policy and to communicate this policy to students and parents on an annual basis.  The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland has published a guide to help parents learn more about Ohio’s law and what it requires Ohio public school districts to do.

Want to talk to your child about bullying? Below is a list of resources for how to help your child deal with bullying.

Bullying and Children with Disabilities

Students with disabilities are more likely to be bullied than their non-disabled peers. (Disabilities: Insights from Across Fields and Around the World; Marshall, Kendall, Banks & Gover (Eds.), 2009 ) It is easy for children to target people who are different from them. The Office for Civil Rights (ORC) and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have stated that bullying may also be considered harassment, making it a federal offense, if it is based on one’s disability.

So how can we prevent the bullying of children with disabilities?

1.      Talk to your children about differences. Explain how no two people are the same. Everyone is different, and some differences are more noticeable. Try to use something your child can relate to so they understand. At the same time, make it known that being different isn’t a bad thing. It’s OK to be different.

2.      Emphasize what the children may have in common. A child in a wheelchair may still love sports, and that’s something your child may have in common with her. Although a child with a disability may look or act differently, they often have the same interests. You can use compatible interests to schedule play dates too.

3.      Inclusion is key. Encourage your child to reach out and befriend someone different from them. Bullying is more likely to stop when children become familiar with what is new to them.

4.      Make an effort on your own to learn about the child, and reach out to the child’s parents. Maybe that parent could explain their child’s interests....or how to accommodate a play date. They can even let you know what simple words or phrases work best if your child wants to communicate with theirs. For example, maybe their child doesn’t speak, but he makes a loud sound when he’s excited. That information can help you explain to your child how to be understanding of a child’s special needs.

Additionally, the following resources can help parents teach their children about children with special needs and disabilities:   

What Can Parents Do?

Adults play the most important role in their children’s lives when it comes to bullying, so awareness is key. Ask your child questions about what’s going on at school. Be open to the fact that they might actually be the person bullying others.  Take the time to learn the warning signs that your child may be affected by bullying. By staying aware of what’s going on, you can help prevent and end bullying. Know when to seek help from behavioral health professionals or the school.  If you find the bullying situation is not getting any better, or is getting worse, you may wish to ask for assistance.

Red Treehouse can help you learn more about bullying.  Check out these tools and organizations.


This guide was developed as part of a project made possible by a grant from the Ohio State Bar Foundation.  The views expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the Ohio State Bar Foundation.

Lead researchers/authors: Tia Garcia, J.D. Candidate, 2019, RedTreehouse.org Legal Intern; Helen Livingston Rapp, Esq., RedTreehouse.org volunteer

Jeanine Carroll