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Family and Child Development > FCD Blog > Posts > Why they don't tell: Understanding why youth may not tell adults about bullying

Bullying is an increasing problem for schools in the United States. However, even with the rate of victimization increasing, children and adolescents do not always let adults know about the bullying they are experiencing.  Most researchers focus on asking adults why children choose to keep bullying a secret; instead, DeLara (2012) asked youth why they choose not to report being bullied.  Below are 8 reasons why victims of bullying choose not to talk about their experiences:

1. Bullying is Common

Bullying is increasing in schools and seems to be occurring all the time. Students responded that since bullying is so common, it has become normal to them. For this reason, they do not see the need to report it.

2. Shame

Bullying leaves children feeling powerless, weak, and ashamed. Several students reported that they were afraid they would be looked down upon if they reported being bullied at school, so they chose not to tell others.

3. Concerned that no one will believe them

Students may fear that adults or other peers will not believe that bullies are targeting them. They may have had bad experiences of reporting bullying before and therefore decide not to disclose.

4. Are not aware of the types of bullying

Sometimes, students may not realize that they are being bullied. Students also may not have the same definitions of bullying and therefore do not report every incident of bullying.

5. Feel like they deserve it

Sometimes students are aware of their faults that bullies tend to tease them about. Because of this, students may believe they deserve the bullying because they are critical of themselves too.

6. Helplessness

Based on their experiences with adults, students stated that they feel helpless because the adults tend to not believe students who report bullying or do something to help stop the bullying from continuing. If adults will not do anything about the bullying situations, what is the point in reporting?

7. Afraid the bully will retaliate

Sometimes students may believe that reporting bullying will not make the situation better, but will make the situation worse. They believe that the bullying would only increase for telling.

8. Self-Reliance

Almost ¾ of the students in DeLara’s study reported that they had a sense of responsibility in being bullied and that they could figure out a resolution on their own. Students believe that they need to be tough in difficult situation and need to fix it themselves.

Written by Kelcie Silva (HDFS graduate student)


DeLara, E. W. (2012). Why adolescents don’t disclose incidents of bullying and harassment. Journal of School Violence, 11, 288-305. 


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