Bullying has garnered national attention in recent years. This is due largely as a result of the many bullying related suicides, such as Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince, and the rise in the awareness of cyber-bullying. Although there is no uniform definition for bullying among officials, most agree that it involves a real, or perceived, imbalance of power, status, or opportunity and can be targeted at anyone for any reason. Whether bullying occurs over matters of race, gender, sexual orientation, or even just different actions, it has been estimated that about 160,000 students stay home from school each day due to bullying concerns.
Bullying has consequences and implications for both the bullied and the bully. Students who are bullied are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, sadness, loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, academic achievement, and school participation. They are also more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school and lose of interest in activities they used to enjoy. Students who are bullies, meanwhile, are more likely to abuse alcohol and other drugs, participate in fights, vandalize property, drop out of school, engage in early sexual activity, have criminal convictions, and exhibit abusive behavior toward their loved ones. For both types of children, these can continue into adolescence and adulthood. This raises many concerns about the future health and wellbeing of today’s children.
Although the issue seems daunting, according to StopBullying.Gov, there are many things you can do, and not do, to help. Here a few key ones for parents and school staff:
Don’t overstate the problem or sensationalize the issue.
Making the issue bigger than it is can do much more harm than good. Many reports calling bullying an “epidemic” can create a wrong impression about the scale of the issue, creating irrational fears, anxious parenting, and misguided solutions to the problem. This wrong impression can also cause adults to accept it as a just being a part of growing up and that nothing can be done about it, which in turn encourages the youth to think the behavior is okay because “everybody does it.”
Do accurately state the facts and get information from qualified sources.
Identify who the real experts are in the issue. Advocates and spokespeople, though experienced, can lack deep knowledge of the complexities involved in the issue. Go to trusted professionals that are well-educated on the topic and understand the complex issues on both sides. Also look for those who aren’t quick to criminalize behavior or exalt either side of any particular incident. Their work should be directly related to the issue.
Don’t oversimplify the issue.
Attempts to help explain the issue for readers can be misleading. Excluding the nuances can give an unrealistic view of the real-world issue, perpetuating myths and citing simple solutions that fail and lead to despondency. Oversimplifying the issue can give way misappropriated anger and resentment directed at the wrong places, such as the school or parents.
Do help students and staff understand bullying and why it’s a problem.
It’s important that students know bullying is unacceptable and how to get help. Keep the lines of communication open and teach them how to stand up safely. School officials should build a safe environment at school and a culture of respect and tolerance. Make bullying prevention material into school activities and curriculum, and give staff the skills they need to intervene consistently and appropriately.
Don’t attribute suicide to bullying.
A report implying that bullying led to a suicide can create outrage and pressure for an inappropriate criminal conviction and brand the bully as a murderer. Some experts fear that those who are bullied may begin to view suicide as a punishment for the bully. Bullying can be one of the many contributing factors to suicide, but it is not the cause of it.
Don’t criminalize the bully.
Blaming those who bully or portraying them negatively discourages healthy dialogue. Parents of the bully are often unwilling to participate in prevention because they feel they aren’t given a fair chance and teachers and peers can write the student off as a “bad apple.” Bullying involves a complex dynamic. Youth who bully have often times been bullied themselves or feel pressure to bully. They need just as much help as the bullied, so they can learn to use their power in appropriate ways.
Do model respectful behavior and address the bullying behavior appropriately.
Stay calm and be respectful when intervening in any bullying or perceived bullying situation. Don’t call it bullying until you hear all sides of the story or know for sure that bullying is taking place. Make sure the bully knows the behavior is wrong and that bullying is taken seriously. Learn why the child bullied and address these root causes appropriately. Work with them to mend the situation by writing a letter of apology or doing something good for the person what they bullied.
Toolkits and resources are available from the National Education Association. For curriculum materials to educate your staff about bullying, take a look at our recommended selection or request a quote here.