Why kids don’t report bullying to adults

Sep 12, 2023, 6:00 PM | Updated: Sep 15, 2023, 12:56 pm

Image of two teen girls sitting on steps, looking at a cell phone....

A nationwide study surveyed the number of young people bullied, and how many of them tell an adult. A Utah expert weighs in with the local numbers. (Canva)


SALT LAKE CITY — The Boys & Girls Clubs of America surveyed more than 130,000 kids and teens ages 9-18 this year and found 40% (52,000) of kids say they were the victims of bullying on school property in the past year and 38% didn’t tell an adult, while 18% (23,400) of kids experienced cyberbullying, and of those, 55% didn’t tell an adult.

Tom Golightly, assistant director of Athletics, Counseling and Psychological Services at BYU, talks to Dave & Dujanovic about why kids may not report bullying and how to support them.


Dave Noriega said he was bullied in seventh grade when a group of ninth-grade boys piled on top of him. He told his mom and his mom told the principal. Dave said he was never abused by the same bullies again.

Bullying and unsafe schools

Golightly said bullying — a learned behavior — is about power and control over another. He added it’s not just the victim who is disempowered — it is the kids who observe the bullying for fear they may be bullied if they report it. So if the school culture is unsafe, they won’t report it to an adult.

There is a helplessness to bullying because the victim cannot control the things that they are bullied over, such as age, size, appearance and socioeconomic status, he said. And how could the victim change any of those root problems by telling an adult, he added.

Also, the victim may question whether he or she will be believed and worry about retaliation from the bully. The victim may feel embarrassed or ashamed to report the abuse. Or, the bully has convinced him or her that the bullying is their fault.

Golightly said adults do a better job of resolving bullying by talking with other adults, instead of confronting the bully. He added that Noriega felt comfortable enough in his relationship with his mom to confide in her.

Golightly said a red flag for parents about bullying may happen when the child does not want to go to school. He said that’s the moment parents need to start asking questions.

An alarm went off for Debbie Dujanovic when her child did not want to go outside for recess. Instead, her daughter was spending recess and break time in the restroom, she said.


Bullying in school: Red flags teachers should spot

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon. on KSL NewsRadio. 

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Why kids don’t report bullying to adults