Bullying has always been difficult for educators to detect, much less prevent, and intervention on a student’s behalf can often be counterproductive. Moreover, bullying has taken a devastating new turn as technology has evolved. Whereas in the past home represented a safe haven for those who are targets of bullies, it is now possible for bullies to hassle their classmates online or via text message.
It is, as a result, incumbent upon educators to devise strategies that are effective in dealing with this scourge – to find ways to raise awareness, fortify the culture of a school and/or district and foster an environment of inclusiveness and acceptance.
Certainly the headlines are harrowing, the statistics troubling. There was cellphone video – video taken by other students, mind you – that emerged in March 2022 of two Massachusetts girls being attacked as they exited their middle school. There was the October 2021 report of a fight in a Missouri school as a result of a gay student being bullied, which led to a student walkout amid allegations of repeated harassment of LGBTQ students. And there was, sadly, the suicide in November 2021 of a 10-year-old autistic Black student in Utah, after she had also been subjected to bullying.
While estimates vary greatly, the website Stopbullying.gov cites statistics showing that one in five students is a victim of bullying. Bullying can take many forms. It can be physical or verbal. It can involve rumor-spreading or exclusion. It can be the result of race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, physical appearance, gender, religion or disability.
The results are undeniable, and devastating. Those who are bullied are more likely to see their grades suffer, and more likely to drop out. They are more likely to have trouble sleeping, and more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. Bullying has also been linked to increased suicidal throughts, and statistics indeed show that the suicide rate among those ages 5 to 11 increased 15 percent per year, every year between 2012 and 2017.
Moreover, a person who is bullied feels the effects well into adulthood. It impacts one’s mental health, social life and even one’s physical well-being. Studies have shown that it can lead to increased levels of inflammation, which make one more susceptible to diabetes, heart disease and other afflictions.
It is, as a result, paramount that educators meet this problem head-on – especially given that cyberbullying, which child psychologist Monica Barreto has described as “a more threatening form of aggression than traditional bullying,” is on the rise. Online bullies can maintain their anonymity, she pointed out, and attack “on a broader, omnipresent scale compared to traditional bullying.”
Stemming the tide is a matter of establishing a mindset, and a culture, in which bullying will not be tolerated. Stopbullying.gov recommends that administrators provide teachers with bullying prevention training, enforce anti-bullying policies and mentor students about effective ways to deal with the problem. Further, the U.S. Department of Education believes it is important for teachers to establish a positive culture – that they can be role models while also intervening to stop bullying, and supporting students who are the victims of it.
According to the BBC, one method that has shown particular promise is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which was devised by the late Dan Olweus, a Swedish-Norwegian psychologist. It involves establishing expectations and consequences, and educating everyone within any given school about not only those matters but also about those places within the building where bullying is most likely to occur (hallways, locker rooms, playgrounds, lunchrooms) – and supervising those areas accordingly. Classroom meetings to discuss bullying are also encouraged.
A 2018 study showed that use of the program in 200 Pennsylvania schools led to dramatic reductions in bullying, as well as an overall attitude change within those schools. Particularly notable was greater compassion toward those who fell victim to bullies.
As positive as that development may be, the problem is still out there, as insidious as ever – if not more so. Educators must continue to fight the good fight, and continue to be forward-thinking and innovative about the manner in which they approach bullying. Because it is critical to the culture of any school to quell this menace.