We know bullying is harmful. We know a lot about how to prevent it. But bullying is still common. Why is this and how can we change this?
There is a silent aspect to bullying. Victims and bystanders often do not want to come forward to say what is going on. They feel threatened. But if we think about this, it means that they don’t trust the adults in their lives—teachers, other school personnel, parents—to protect them. Kids need to be in a learning environment where they truly feel safe. And of course bullies are not advertising to adults that they are victimizing other kids.
There is another problem we have to acknowledge—some people believe that “boys will be boys”; others feel that it’s wrong to be a “tattle tale.” But bullying goes well beyond “boys will be boys”—especially since bullying is also carried out by girls.
It must be clear to children that parents and the school will not tolerate bullying. But it is not good sense to have a “war” on bullying or “fight” bullying punitively. This sends the wrong message. The situation must be handled calmly by putting procedures in place that make expected and permitted behaviors very clear. Further, the “reach” of the school should extend beyond the school. In the words of one principal, “No student of my school is permitted to act like a bully no matter where he or she is, on the bus, at the schoolyard, across the street from the school, nowhere.”
Here are some approaches that will help schools and parents deal with bullying effectively:
What Parents Can Expect Schools to Do for Bully Prevention?
Schools must first make a public and visible declaration to staff, students, and parents that any form of bullying is not acceptable. At the same time, it is useful to set out an initiative to be a “Safe and Caring” school, and emphasize that positive behaviors are both expected and appreciated. We have learned a lot from the work of Dan Olweus in Norway and many others who have followed his lead, around the world. Here is a summary:
Introduce the policy at a meeting of the home and school association organization and at an assembly. Frame the issue in terms of building students social and emotional skills and character, and creating a positive and productive school climate, of which preventing bullying is a part.
Every class should have a code of conduct that describes simply how students should and should not treat one another. Define bullying, harassment, intimidation, and exclusion of others and make it clear this is unacceptable. Student input is important in this. In middle and high schools, a school-wide code of conduct is especially important. Books that have been used to help introduce this topic include the Berenstain Bears’ Trouble with the Bully, Don't Pick on Me, and Lord of the Flies. More and more books have come out that can be conversation starters about bullying in language arts classes, and many historical and current events analogies can be made.
Have clear, non-violent consequences for bullying and other unacceptable behavior.
Develop ways to systematically recognize positive, supportive behaviors of students toward each other and adults.
At all grade levels, have curriculum components that build essential life skills in such areas as communication, self-control and managing strong emotions, friendship, getting along in groups, goal-setting and planning, and problem solving.
Provide careful supervision of students, especially during recess, lunch, gym, and transition times at hallways. Be sure bus drivers, security personnel, and school lunch aides are aware of all policies and trained in carrying them out properly.
Teachers must be models of respectful behavior.
Use cooperative learning, to increase the mix of children and improve overall group relationships.
Improve communication among school administrators, teachers, parents and students.
Have clear procedures for reacting to bullying when it does occur, or is alleged. Focus on restorative justice solutions for bullying and confidence-building support for victims.
Never use direct conflict resolution or peer mediation between bullies and victims.
What Parents Can Do If Your Child Bullies Others?
1. Make it clear you do not approve and don’t consider any kind of bulling to be “fun.”
2. Have clear, non-violent consequences for bullying that include restrictions on being with peers, apology to victims, and restitution that goes beyond whatever it is your child did, said, or damaged.
3. Improve supervision of your child's activities, companions, and whereabouts. Set clear rules for curfews.
4. Communicate often with the school to see how your child is doing in changing his or her behavior.
5. Praise efforts your child makes toward non-violent and responsible behavior, as well as for following home and school rules.
6. Reduce or eliminate your child’s viewing of violent television shows and video games, especially by him/herself.
7. Your modeling is an important influence on children becoming less violent.
What Parents Can Do If Your Child Is Bullied?
If your child is bullied, try to find out as clearly as possible exactly what happened. Then, reach out to the school and insist they take an organized response to preventing and dealing with the problem. Meanwhile, your main task with your children is to reassure them that you love them, that the bullying is not their fault, that they need to react as little as possible to the bully, and they need to seek out adults—you, as their parents, and the many caring people in their school—to get help and support.