THE BLOG

Bullying: What Schools, Parents and Students Can Do

10/17/2013 02:28 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Can you remember the schoolyard jingle that went, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me"? Obviously that was not and is not the truth. The death of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old 7th grader who took her life last month in Polk County Florida proves that words are capable of harming vulnerable young children. Both physical and nonphysical forms can and do happen anywhere in the school, on the way to and from school, and even online. "Over 13 million American kids will be bullied this year, making it the most common form of violence experience by young people in the nation." (Hirsch, 2012 BULLY (Motion Picture, Weinstein Company)

According to the FBI, "Bullying remains one of the largest problems in schools, with the percentage of students reportedly bullied at least once per week steadily increasing since 1999." Additionally, cyberbullying has become more rampant and has contributed to the suicides of multiple children. The Internet has unleashed meanness to a degree unseen before. Thanks to the accessibility to the Internet and the affordability of new technology, bullies now have multiple ways to harass their victims. The current generation has the added ability to use technology to expand their reach and the extent of their attacks exponentially.

The most susceptible are also the most vulnerable. A recent report from the Interactive Autism Network found that 63 percent of children with autism have been bullied, over three times as much as those without the disorder.

Most school bullying takes place in areas that are less supervised by adults, such as on the school bus, in the student cafeteria, in restrooms, hallways and locker rooms. Schools need to create an action plan to address these spots by additional adults or using security techniques including closed circuit cameras. They can also establish anonymous reporting tools like suggestion boxes or cyberbullying hotlines where students can send real time text messages or leave a voice mail on the school website.

What Schools Can do to Prevent Bullying

School-Level and Administrative Interventions

• Increase reporting of bullying. Assess the awareness and the scope of the bullying problems at school through student and staff surveys. To address the problem of students' resistance to reporting bullying, some schools have set up a bully hotline. Some schools use a "bully box": Students drop a note in the box to alert teachers and administrators to problem bullies. Others have developed student questionnaires to determine the nature and extent of bullying problems in school.

• Establish a clear procedure to investigate reports of bullying.

• Students and parents need to know that the school takes bullying seriously and will take any actions, including arrest to prevent its occurrence.

• Develop activities in less-supervised areas. In these areas (e.g., schoolyards, lunchrooms), trained supervisors spot bullying and initiate activities such as having roving personnel visit those locations, and having closed circuit television that limit opportunities for it.

• Reduce the amount of time students can spend unsupervised. Because much bullying occurs during the least supervised time (e.g., recess, lunch breaks, class changes), reducing the unsupervised amount of time available to students can reduce the amount of bullying.

• Stagger recess, lunch, and class-release times. This approach minimizes the number of bullies and victims present at one time, so supervisors have less trouble spotting bullying. However, supervisors must be mindful that most bullies are in the same grade as their victims.

• Monitor areas where bullying can be expected, such as bathrooms. Adult monitoring can increase the risk that bullies will get caught but may require increased staffing or trained volunteers.

• Assign bullies to a particular location or to particular chores during release times. This approach separates bullies from their intended victims. Some teachers give bullies constructive tasks such as tutoring other students, cleaning up trash, involved in sporting activities, to occupy them during release times.

• Post classroom signs prohibiting bullying and listing the consequences. This puts would-be bullies on notice and outlines the risks they are taking. Teachers, leaders, and staff must consistently enforce the rules for them to have meaning. Schools should post signs in each classroom and apply age-appropriate penalties.

• Have high-level school administrators inform late-enrolling students and their parents about the school's bullying policy. This removes any excuse new students have for bullying, puts parents on notice that the school takes bullying seriously, and stresses the importance the school places on countering it.

• Provide teachers with effective classroom-management training. To address bullying, schools should ensure that all teachers have effective classroom-management training. Because research suggests that classes containing students with behavioral, emotional, or learning problems have more bullies and victims, teachers in those classes may require additional, tailored training in spotting and handling bullying.

• Form of a bullying prevention coordinating committee (a small group of energetic teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school staff who plan and monitor school activities.) This committee should develop schoolwide rules and sanctions against bullying, systems to reinforce prosocial behavior, and events to raise school and community awareness about bullying.

• Hold teacher in-service days to review findings from student questionnaires or surveys, discuss bullying problems, and plan the school's violence prevention efforts.

• Schedule regular classroom meetings during which students and teachers engage in discussion, role-playing and artistic activities related to preventing bullying and other forms of violence among students.

• Encourage parent participation by establishing on-campus parent centers that recruit, coordinate, and encourage parents to take part in the educational process and volunteer to assist in school activities and projects.

• Ensure that your school has legally required policies and procedures for sexual, racial and gender discrimination. Make these procedures known to parents and students.

• Develop strategies to reward students for positive, inclusive behavior such as pizza parties, recognition reward, certificates

Teacher Interventions

• Provide classroom activities and discussions related to bullying and violence, including the harm that they cause and strategies to reduce their incidence. Involve students in establishing classroom rules against bullying and steps they can take if they see it happening. For example, students could work together to create the classroom signs mentioned previously.

• Teach cooperation by assigning projects that requires collaboration. Such cooperation teaches students how to compromise and how to assert without demanding. Take care to vary grouping of participants and to monitor the treatment of and by participants in each group.

• Take immediate action when bullying is observed. All teachers must let children know they care and will not allow anyone to be mistreated. By taking immediate action and dealing directly with the bully, adults support both the victim and the witnesses.

• Confront bullies in private. Challenging bullies in front of their peers may actually enhance their status and lead to further aggression.

• Avoid attempts to mediate a bullying situation. The difference in power between victims and bullies may cause victims to feel further victimized by the process or to believe they are somehow at fault.

• Refer both victims and aggressors to counseling when appropriate.

• Provide protection for bullying victims when necessary. Such protection may include creating a buddy system whereby students have a particular friend or older buddy on whom they can depend and with whom they share class schedule information and plans for the school day.

• Notify parents of both victims and bullies when confrontations occur, and seek to resolve the problem expeditiously at school.

• Listen receptively to parents who report bullying, and investigate reported circumstances so immediate and appropriate school action may be taken.

What Schools Can Do To Discourage Bullying on a School Bus

1. Train the staff (including bus drivers) on what to do if they encounter bullying either in school, in-route to school or around the school.

2. Create enforceable rules and inform students and parents of the consequences if children or parents commit bullying. Parents at school games should not be permitted to scream at coaches or referees; if they do they should be evicted. If necessary, ban their attendance at all school events. Rules that are created need to be enforceable and enforced.

3. Rules should be posted in the school, sent home to parents and put in community newspapers so that everyone is aware.

4. All school buses should have closed circuit televisions so if violence or bullying take place, school administrators and law enforcement people would be aware.

5. An outreach to law enforcement should be made so that law enforcement people are available at the beginning and end of the school day.

6. If fights break out on the bus, consider whether law enforcement personnel should be notified and whether arrests should be made.

Cyberbullying

The word cyberbullying didn't exist a decade ago, yet the problem is pervasive today thanks to the use of social media websites like, Twitter, and Facebook. Cyberbullying is the repeated use of technology to harass, humiliate or threaten. Mobile phones may be the most abused medium. Bullies send threatening or harassing text messages, often involving sex, sexual orientation, or race. Unwelcome sexual comments and threats of sexual abuse are often directed at girls. Boys are more often victims of homophobic harassment, regardless of their true sexual orientation. Racial slurs and threats of violence also are concerns. In one U.S. study 13 percent of students reported being called a hate-related name.

Email, websites, and screen names in chat rooms are masks for electronic bullies, who can attack without warning and with alarming persistence. Several examples of cyberbullying include:

• Taking humiliating pictures of another student and sharing them with others.
• Verbally abusing another student through texting.
• Spreading rumors about a student on Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace.
• Sending emails or instant messages to their victims.
The consequences of bullying can be serious. Victims' schoolwork often suffers. Some students have dropped out of school, been compelled to seek psychiatric help, and even committed suicide as a result of the distress caused by cyberbullies.

What Teachers and Administrators Can Do About Cyberbullying

1. Communicate. Keep everyone affected by electronic bullying informed. Filters for Internet content do not work for most cyber bullying, but helping students combat bullying on their own does. Peer-support and parent-involvement groups also can help.

2. Encourage openness. Bullies thrive on secrecy, intimidation, and humiliation. They count on their victims' silence. Openness is a key to reducing or eliminating bullying. Urge students to talk to their parents and teachers.

3. Monitor email, Internet, and cell-phone use. Responsible adults should determine when students are mature enough to handle electronic communication -- especially when such communication may include cyber-bullying content.

4. Hold bullies responsible. Electronic bullying is a punishable offense. When cyber bullies are identified, hold them accountable. Most schools have anti-harassment policies that should extend to electronic bullying.

5. Contact law enforcement personnel to give professional development training to school staff to look for how to identify cyberbullying.

(Reproduced from Phi Delta Kappa International P.O. Box 789 Bloomington, IN 47402-0789, USA 800/766-1156 www.pdkintl.org Share the knowledge. Copies of "Confronting Electronic Bullying" may be made and disseminated (free of charge) without further permission. (© Phi Delta Kappa International)

What Students Can Do About Cyberbullying

• Don't engage the bully. Most bullies are looking for a reaction from their victims. Lack of a response can help to extinguish the bullying behaviors.
• Don't share secrets
• Protect your own privacy. Do not send pictures of yourself on the Internet.
• Think about the consequences.
• Don't respond to and don't forward cyberbullying messages.
• Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times and descriptions what the cyberbully says.
• Report instances of cyberbullying to your parent.

What Students Can Do To Stop Bullying

Students may not know what to do when they observe a classmate being bullied or experience such victimization themselves. Classroom discussions and activities may help students develop a variety of appropriate actions that they can take when they witness or experience such victimization. For instance, depending on the situation and their own level of comfort, students can do the following:

• Seek immediate help from an adult and report bullying and victimization incidents to school personnel

• Speak up and/or offer support to the victim when they see him or her being bullied (e.g., picking up the victim's books and handing them to him or her)

• Privately support those being hurt those being hurt with words of kindness or condolence

• Express disapproval of bullying behavior by not joining in the laughter, teasing, or spreading of rumors or gossip

• Attempt to defuse problem situations either single-handedly or in a group (e.g., by taking the bully aside and asking him or her to "cool it"

Things parents can do if they believe their child is being bullied

1. Talk to your child about what happened. Listen to the whole story without interrupting. Be calm and validate what is being said. Remind your child that it is normal to feel upset but it is never all right to be bullied. Ask your child what he/she would like to happen, before you make any suggestions.

2. Don't expect your child to solve things on their own

3. Deal with each incident consistently. Never ignore or downplay complaints about bullying.

4. Keep a log of the incidents, where the bullying took place, who was involved, how frequently, if anyone witnessed it. Do not attempt to confront the person or their family yourself.

5. Contact the school. Find out if the school has an anti-bullying policy. Find out if the school is aware of the bullying and whether anything is being done to address the situation. Make an appointment to speak to a school counselor or school administrator.

6. If your child asks to stay at home from school, explain that it won't help and if may make things worse.

7. Discuss bullying at school board meetings and with other parents (i.e.PTA).

Schools need to assertively confront this problem and take any instance of bullying seriously. Addressing and preventing bullying requires the participation of all major school constituencies, school leaders, teachers, parents, and students. By taking organized schoolwide measures and providing individuals with the strategies to counteract bullying schools can reduce the instances of bullying and be better prepared to address it when it happens.

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