Religious Bullying: What Is It and How Does It Impact Adolescents?

Religious bullying can have major consequences on your child's mental health. Find out what it is, and how to help in today's article.
Religious Bullying: What Is It and How Does It Impact Adolescents?
Elena Sanz Martín

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz Martín.

Last update: 17 June, 2023

We believe that we’re at a time when we’re more tolerant and aware of diversity. However, schools present us with a very different picture. Cases of bullying against minorities, those students who stand out for some physical, psychological, or cultural difference, are the order of the day. And, specifically, religious bullying is more present than ever in classrooms.

According to data collected by the organization Southern Poverty Law Center, racism appears to be the primary motivation behind the majority of hate incidents in schools. In addition, there’s an increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim sentiment that leads to aggression towards children from religious and ethnic minorities.

As the consequences for these children and adolescents can be severe and prolonged, today we want to encourage you to think about it and offer you guidelines to detect and act in these cases.

What is religious bullying?

Religious bullying is bullying that occurs because of a student’s religious affiliation. It’s based on hatred and discrimination against a person who’s different (as in other cases) and takes as a basis the child’s faith, practices, or clothing that are related to their creed.

As stated on the website, the use of attire such as the hijab or the patka (turban) can trigger these aggressions. Also, following certain traditions such as fasting, abstinence from certain foods, or prayer are also motives for discrimination in schools. And this can lead to different forms of bullying:

  • Hurtful and offensive comments about a minor’s religious practices or beliefs.
  • Insults, mockery, threats, or humiliation.
  • Social rejection that manifests itself in the isolation of the victim.
  • Physical harassment that may include hitting, pushing, or shoving to force the person to get rid of their religious clothing.
  • Cyberbullying, which transfers such discrimination and hateful comments to the internet.
A teenage girl being made fun of by her peers.
Most of the time, bullying is focused on people who are different.

What impact does it have on adolescents?

Adolescence is a crucial stage in the formation of personality and the organization of character, and suffering bullying of any kind in these years can have serious and lasting repercussions. However, when it comes to religious bullying, it has particular consequences, as faith is deeply connected to personal beliefs, identity, and cultural heritage.

We know that being a victim of bullying increases the risk of anxiety, loneliness, low self-esteem, self-harm, and poor health in general. In addition, it’s associated with tobacco and illicit drug use and the presence of psychosomatic disorders. This is the conclusion of a meta-analysis published in the World Journal of Psychiatry.

But, in addition, according to an article in Global Public Health, ethnocultural and religious bullying is significantly associated with symptoms of depression, suicidal ideation, and intentionally inflicted injuries by another. So, the effects of this type of bullying are particular.

At the same time, religious bullying can hinder the spiritual development of adolescents, lead them to question their faith, consider it a source of shame, or change them to give up.

Considering that spirituality is a sphere of great importance in human beings and can even serve as a protective factor for holistic health, depriving them of this type of inner growth is an important consequence.

A teenage girl feeling depressed and alone at school.
Bullying makes adolescents feel like insufficient people who don’t meet society’s standards.

As parents: Can we detect religious bullying?

Sometimes, minors don’t communicate the bullying situation they’re suffering. This may be out of shame, fear of further retaliation, or because they feel that no one can help them. Therefore, it’s essential that parents and teachers are alert to detect those signs that may indicate that something’s wrong. Some of the most common are the following:

  • The adolescent doesn’t want to attend class.
  • The adolescent doesn’t seem to have any friends at school.
  • Doesn’t talk about being in class or lies.
  • Is irritable, short-tempered, or apathetic. There’s a change in mood.
  • Has disturbed sleeping or eating patterns or complains of somatic pain.
  • Expresses dislike for their clothing, especially clothing that symbolizes their religion.
  • Begins to question their beliefs, becomes disinterested or reluctant to participate in religious activities that they once enjoyed.

What can we do about it?

In general, religious bullying is based on misconceptions that students have about the beliefs or religion of their peers. According to a report by the Trinity College Digital Repository it’s based on a series of stereotypes and generalizations, for example, that Jews are materialistic, unpatriotic, or disloyal. Or that Muslims are all terrorists or support terrorism.

Therefore, the starting point should be the education of students with a focus on respect for diversity so that these harmful and entrenched stereotypes can be broken down.

In addition, schools should take measures to prevent the occurrence of these bullying scenarios, adopting effective measures such as the KiVa method , which aims to provide parents and students with tools that decrease these altercations.

However, from home, we can also take some measures, such as reporting what’s happening to the school or to the authorities if necessary. We can also offer the adolescent some tools to cope with the situation.

For example, a study by the Journal of Psychodidactics suggests that receiving support from parents or adults at home helps young victims of bullying to maintain higher levels of life satisfaction despite their situation. But in addition, it’ll be necessary to reinforce their self-esteem and teach them appropriate coping strategies, for which turning to a child and adolescent psychologist can be very positive.

A call for awareness

In short, in a society increasingly marked by multiculturalism, religious bullying can become a major problem. And certainly, no one should suffer from bullying under any circumstances, with adolescents often being the most vulnerable to this situation.

For the victims, this can seriously damage their psychological health and emotional well-being and can limit their personal growth, relationships with others, and spiritual development. It’s therefore important that we at home are able to detect the situation, offer support, and encourage them to go to therapy when necessary.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Kosmin, B. A., & Keysar, A. (2015). National demographic survey of American Jewish college students 2014: Anti-Semitism report.
  • Moore, S. E., Norman, R. E., Suetani, S., Thomas, H. J., Sly, P. D., & Scott, J. G. (2017). Consequences of bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. World journal of psychiatry7(1), 60.
  • Miranda, R., Oriol, X., Amutio, A., & Ortúzar, H. (2019). Bullying en la adolescencia y satisfacción con la vida:¿ puede el apoyo de los adultos de la familia y de la escuela mitigar este efecto?. Revista de Psicodidáctica24(1), 39-45.
  • Pan, S. W., & Spittal, P. M. (2013). Health effects of perceived racial and religious bullying among urban adolescents in China: A cross-sectional national study. Global Public Health8(6), 685-697.
  • Salgado, A. C. (2014). Revisión de estudios empíricos sobre el impacto de la religión, religiosidad y espiritualidad como factores protectores. Propósitos y representaciones2(1), 121-159.
  • Southern Poverty Law Center. (2019). Hate at School
  • (2021). Raza, etnia, nacionalidad y religión

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.