October is National Bullying Awareness and Prevention Month. Several recent, highly publicized examples of bullied children—including the tragic case of Canadian teen Amanda Todd, who documented her experiences with being bullied and blackmailed on YouTube a month before being found dead last week—and Dan Savage’s It Gets Better project have drawn worldwide attention to bullying. Clearly, though, it remains a significant problem in schools. While teachers may be more aware of bullying behaviors, schools have found it challenging to institute policies that reduce and prevent bullying. By assessing the frequency and severity of bullying, and establishing intervention strategies, schools can take meaningful steps toward stopping it before it escalates out of control.
Engaged and involved students and parents can work to counteract bullying and institute positive change in schools. They should encourage teachers and school administrators to consider the following guidelines in dealing with bullying behavior:
Know the extent of the problem
Teachers and administrators often are the last to know about a bullying problem. Many school employees want to believe that their school is a great and safe place for kids, which can blind them to subtle bullying. The first step in stopping bullying is making an honest assessment of the issue. Teachers and administrators can conduct anonymous surveys or interview students to determine where, when, and why bullying occurs. When administrators know the triggers for bullying, they’re much better equipped to stop it.
Model good behavior
The culture of a school can strongly affect bullying, and teachers and administrators play a big role in setting that culture. Teachers should be encouraged to relate to students as human beings rather than demean or embarrass them when they don’t know something. Racist, sexist, and homophobic jokes—however subtle—should not be accepted. This should extend to the sports fields, where coaches often use insults as a means of motivation. Have teachers sign an anti-bullying policy and hold them to it.
Make bullying difficult
Certain locations at schools can be prime spots for bullying. At some schools, it’s the playground; at others it’s the hallway or parking lot. When schools provide adult supervision in these locations, bullying is much less likely to occur. Bullying also is made more difficult when its consequences are severe. Too often, bullies are “punished” by little more than a stern talk or a brief reeducation class. Suspected bullies should have to participate in bullying prevention programs. If the bullying continues, they should be subject to detention, suspension, and even expulsion. A bully at school can be as unsafe as a gun, and administrators must make it clear that bullying will not be tolerated.
Make bullying uncool
Students often bully other students to curry favor with more popular students or even teachers. Provide anti-bullying training to students that makes it clear that bullying is not cool. Emphasize that kids often bully because they don’t have good social skills or they desperately want to fit in. Make sure students know that bullying isn’t just harmless teasing; it can cause severe psychological harm, lead to drug and alcohol use, and even lead to suicide. Create a climate in which students are lauded as heroes when they report bullying. If students still are hesitant to report, try making anonymous reports easy by providing a box or bullying tip line.
Take bullying seriously
When schools take a problem seriously, they allocate time and resources to preventing it. Appoint a bullying prevention team that contains teachers and students, and charge it with the task of preventing bullying. Administrators and teachers should investigate every report of bullying, even when the bullying is alleged to have been done by a seemingly nice, smart student. Each school should institute a comprehensive bullying policy that addresses specific procedures for dealing with and preventing bullying.
- Bullying prevention best practices. (n.d.). Colorado Legacy Foundation. Retrieved from http://colegacy.org/resource/bullying-prevention-best-practices/
- Safran, E. (2008). Bullying behavior, bully prevention programs, and gender. Journal of Emotional Abuse, 7(4), 43-67. doi: 10.1300/J135v07n04_03
- Youth violence and bullying prevention. (n.d.). Virginia Department of Health. Retrieved from http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/prevention/preventbullyingva/vdh.virginia.gov/ofhs/prevention/preventbullyingva/
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