What do I do if I'm being bullied?

Being bullied can make you feel very alone. Sometimes it can feel like it will never stop, that no one can help you, or even that you deserve to be treated this way.

“Be proud of who you are. It’s okay to be a nerd – Einstein was a nerd, and look where he ended up. It’s their problem, not yours. Who you are is great.”

Finn, 10 

No one deserves to be bullied

All of us need a little extra help sometimes. Reaching out is a brave thing to do. Connecting with others can help you feel less alone, and empower you to start creating change.

It’s normal to feel frightened or even ashamed when you tell someone you’re being bullied. Don’t let this stop you from asking for help!

Find someone to talk to

Be mindful when choosing who to talk to. Figure out the best person in your community for you to approach. This might be your elders, a kaumatua, youth leaders, a parent, a friend or someone at school. The important thing is that you trust this person.

If the person that you talked to doesn’t help you, don’t give up, find someone else. We know that young people often report bullying as being more severe than adults perceive it. This sometimes makes it hard to connect with adults, but don’t give up. Silence doesn’t change anything. If you’ve experienced bullying, a good thing to do is write down the where, who and when of the occurrence. This can make it easier to talk to someone about what has happened.

You can also call a helpline. Helplines are staffed by trained volunteers who are there to listen to what’s going on in your life, and help you to find solutions to what’s bothering you.

More tips

  • Find safety in numbers – walk to, from, and around school with friends.
  • Stand up for yourself – this can be really hard, but sometimes showing your strength and telling people their behaviour is unacceptable can be very powerful. If it happens again, it can be really helpful to be able to tell your parents or school that you’ve tried to manage the situation on your own and let that person know that you don’t like how they’re treating you.
  • Walk away – often bullies thrive on attention. Starving them of attention by ignoring them and removing yourself from the situation is a powerful thing to do.
  • Write down what happened to you, as many details as you can remember.
  • Don’t attack others – you’ll just become a part of the problem.

How to protect yourself from cyber bullying

  • Share only what you would be happy to have shared (keeping in mind that other people may share your information, too).
  • Have strong passwords and keep them to yourself (and perhaps a parent).
  • Do not answer any emails/texts that you feel uncomfortable with.
  • Do not answer emails/texts/friend requests from people you don’t know.
  • Be careful what you write – do not respond to others if you are angry or frustrated.

What can I do if I am being cyber bullied?

  • Do not react – it gives the bully power. Don’t reply to text or online messages (we know this can be hard).
  • Print out or screenshot examples of cyber bullying and show them to someone else.
  • Report cyber bullying to social media sites, phone companies or internet companies.
  • Block the phone number/profile you are receiving the messages from.
  • Save what has happened to show parents, teachers or police.
  • Use assertive responses only if you need something to happen, eg, “Remove this post immediately".
  • Ask for help.

Getting through

While addressing bullying is a good thing, if you’re not ready, or you’re finding things tough, there are ways to make yourself feel better and boost your self-confidence.

We asked the members of Rainbow Youth’s Generation Queer group what they do to help themselves get through when they are being bullied:

  • Listen to music.
  • Share your story with an online community you feel safe in – such as Tumblr – and pay attention to the positive responses you get.
  • Play a video game and lose yourself in it for a while.
  • Text someone you love – like your mum or a friend, and just vent.
  • Let yourself be heard. It’s not always about finding solutions; sometimes it’s about being understood.
  • Talk to overseas/removed friends who aren’t involved in the situation and don’t know the people involved.
  • Write a long letter, then burn the paper it is written on as a way of release.
  • Writing a letter and giving it to your dean/principal to actually fix the problem rather than mask the symptoms.
  • Do some exercise – it will make you feel more positive and optimistic.

What people say...

“What helped me was music. Like motivational music, songs that helped me get through the pain and move on. Even though music is a huge part of my life. It just made me feel better. I know it might sound weird, but just listening to music for 30–45 minutes can sometimes clear your head.” Joel, 17
“Writing. Writing a journal of the darkest thoughts that might be running through your head or poetry. Even writing words and scribbling over them (sounds weird I know). You can then give it to someone to read if you feel you aren’t strong enough to talk or once you read it back to yourself you tend to see things in a different light.” Gemma, via Facebook
“I found going to church really helpful. It gave me some peace, I felt loved, I felt like I had a community I belonged to. It gave me a sense of calmness that helped me get through the rough times I was experiencing at school.” Alofia, 15
“I tried to make a list in my head of all the people who still loved me, even though I was suddenly a freak at school. My brother, my sister, my neighbours, my cousins, the other kids in the clubs I belonged to – they still thought I was pretty cool. I repeated that list over and over again, so I never believed them when they said I was a loser, because I had heaps of people outside of school who cared about me.” Hamish, 15
“Make friends online, in supportive communities like Tumblr, but be careful on the internet. You’ll encounter every viewpoint on there – you have to look after yourself and find the people you connect with and who will accept you for who you are.” Sasha, 17

Inspirational quotes

“Sometimes people are just trying to wind you up. I used to get really angry when people teased, and my face would go all red, and it just made them feel like they had power over me. When I started ignoring them, they went got bored and went away.” Kane, 18

“Tell someone. I thought my mum was kind of small and harmless, but when she found out I’d been hit, she was real scary. I guess I didn’t know how good it would feel to have her believe me, and fight to keep me safe.” Andrew, 15

“Make a plan with a friend – or even lots of friends – that if they see you getting picked on, they will come and stand beside you, even if they can’t stand up for you. Bullies like to make you feel alone, sometimes just having someone by your side can help you to be strong enough to walk away, and not let it get to you.” Chelsea, 17

“Find a safe space at school, and go there when you need some alone time to calm down and feel safe again.” Lucy, 13

“Talk to someone about it, never face it alone because there are people out there who love you.” Keszia

“Talking. Helplines are amazing!!! You know you are talking to someone professional without the uncomfortable face to face interaction and they are there when needed the most.” Gemma, via Facebook

“Talk to someone else about it – or talk to a friend, even friends can be very supportive, and often to take that step to come forward, you need a friend with you. Talk to a trusted friend, come to a teacher or a dean about it with as much detail or as much information as you can.” Jack Goodfellow, Dean, Linwood College

“Sometimes we underestimate the people we’re talking to – parents, teachers, police, or counsellors – we’re scared of a negative reaction and sometimes we get one! But in a lot of cases we underestimate the number of times those adults have dealt with these situations in the past. You might be surprised by how accepting, understanding, supportive, and helpful that person might be.” Adele White, Community Constable

“Effective bullying prevention involves the whole school community staff, students, parents and whanau. It means having well-planned responses in place for when bullying does occur.”

Mike Williams

Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand (SPANZ).