In recent weeks, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of bullying related incidents within schools across the country. Physical fighting, taunting chants of and threats of religious and race-based violence have been reported, making children afraid to go to school. Sadly, we know these behaviors have adverse effects on mental and physical health, as well as child development. Negative consequences include lowered self-esteem, behavioral issues, poor academic performance, and a heightened risk for psychological and stress-related diseases.
At prevent Child Abuse America, we believe that all children deserve healthy childhoods, no matter their race, sex, religion, economic or immigration status. We also believe that we all have a role to play in preventing bullying or mitigating the effects of damage that has already occurred. Whether you are an administrator, teacher or parent, there are steps you can take to support the children you know and help them achieve their full potential. Remember, the presence of a caring, engaged, and responsible adult can dramatically reduce the impact bullying behavior can have on youth.
Strategies for Teachers, School Administrators and Staff
Educators play an extremely important role in preventing discrimination and bullying in schools, and all school administrators should be involved in creating a safe learning environment. Here are some strategies that can be effective for teachers, school counselors, cafeteria workers, and other adults.
Encourage students who witness bullying to become allies and teach students how to intervene if they witness bullying:
One witness can make a difference by standing up and taking the power away from those involved in the bullying behavior. Research shows that when peers intervene in a bullying incident, the bullying stops nearly 60% of the time. Among the barriers that might prevent witnesses from acting are:
- They believe the behavior is not “their business”
- They fear becoming a target
- They feel like intervening will not help or will make things worse
- They believe the target deserves to be bullied
- They think someone else will help
- They do not know what to do
Often, children and youth bully when there is no adult present because they are less likely to get caught. Caring adults should explain to their students or children that if they witness a peer experiencing bullying, there are several actions they can take to reduce the harmful effects of the behavior and prevent it from happening again. Their actions may vary depending on the particular situation, how well they know the people involved, and whether they are older or younger, etc. Adults can reinforce that although taking a stand might be the more difficult than doing nothing, it is the responsible decision to make.
Strategies for Students
Students can make a difference in bullying as well. By taking action to show that bullying is not cool, or by standing up for the victim of bullying, students can both stop bullying incidents as they happen and can help prevent them in the future.
Possible action steps for students include:
- Confront the instigator in action: If they feel safe, students can tell the instigator that their behavior is not okay. When children are friends with the individual(s) involved, they might ask them if they realize their words or actions are hurtful.
- Walk away: When students do not feel comfortable or safe directly intervening, they can walk away. By walking away, students prevent the instigator from having an audience and implicitly encouraging the bullying behavior to continue.
- Reach out and talk to the target in private: Students will lessen the impact of the bullying if they make sure their classmate knows it was not their fault. They can also encourage their peer to talk to their teacher or another trusted adult, or offer to go with their friend as support when they do tell an adult.
Strategies for Parents, Coaches, or other Mentors
Parents and other adults can also make a difference and help prevent bullying in the future. Strategies include:
Actions that support the target:
- Listening to the target and assuring them that you’ll do everything you can to get them the help they need and relieve them from a painful situation.
- Giving the target advice on what to do in the future. This could involve role playing or talking about how to handle bullying situations if they occur again.
- Working together with the target and their parents to come up with a solution to protect them.
Actions that address the situation with the instigator:
- Explaining how their behavior is considered bullying and why it is a problem for the target as well as the other students at school.
- Reminding them that bullying is taken seriously and will not be tolerated.
- Working with the instigator to understand some of the reasons why he or she may have bullied. Try to get to the root of what caused the behavior. Often, individuals act out because of issues at home. If this is the case, try to address with the parents or suggest a referral for professional help for the student. Other reasons for bullying include: wanting to fit in, copying friends, or a feeling of superiority over the target. Many of these reasons stem from deeper issues. Those who demonstrate bullying behavior for these reasons should seek the help of a mental health professional as well.
- Asking the instigator to make amends and repair the situation with the victim.
We hope that these tips and strategies prove useful. Bullying can have long-lasting negative impacts. The presence of one caring adult can make a real difference in the lives of children, and we hope that you will be inspired to be that one caring adult to a child you know today.