According to government research, approximately 20 to 30 percent of school-aged children and young adults experience bullying. So how can you effectively address the issue and be an advocate for those affected? Moreover, what is the appropriate response if you are a bullying target or witness?
Strategies to Prevent Bullying
Bullying is a complex issue requiring multi-pronged prevention efforts and clear, consistent action and communication. For starters, the entire school community should be involved in creating and modeling a culture of respect and responsibility. Beyond that, it’s important to be an active listener, encouraging kids to talk about their experiences and any concerns they may have.
Parents and teachers can also help by talking to kids directly about bullying and exploring the issue through role-playing. You might ask them: What does bullying mean to you? Do you know any bullies? What do you think motivates them? Have you ever experienced or seen bullying? What happened and how did you respond? Whom could you go to for help?
The goals of such a dialogue are to:
- Help children understand what is bullying and what forms it may take.
- Send a clear message that bullying is unacceptable and that no one deserves to be bullied.
- Discuss ways children can get help if they are involved in a bullying incident, either as a target or a witness.
Encouraging children to pursue hobbies and participate in group activities they enjoy, such as performing arts, sports, or school-sponsored clubs, can also deter bullying. These activities help kids discover their strengths, develop self-confidence, and cultivate friendships with those who have similar interests.
Take a Stand, Lend a Hand
Bullying is a chronic, intentionally harmful behavior that should never be dismissed as just “kids being kids.” Whether you are the target of bullying or a witness, you can take certain actions to cope with the situation.
Advice for Children
If You’re Bullied
- Look at the bully and in a clear, confident voice, tell him or her to stop the offending behavior. Or, try to defuse the situation using humor.
- If speaking out feels unsafe or too difficult, walk away. Find an adult you trust and ask for help.
- To avoid bullying in the future, try to stay away from places where the bullying occurs and seek the company of trusted adults and friends whenever possible.
- Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask an adult for help, and be persistent until you find someone who will listen. Don’t hold your feelings inside – speaking out can help you feel less alone and powerless, and a caring adult can help you make a plan for stopping the bullying.
If You See Bullying
- Don’t give bullying an audience. A bully’s goal is to appear powerful by making someone else feel vulnerable and isolated. That only works if other people play along or do nothing to improve the situation. Instead of laughing or being a silent bystander, let the bully know his or her behavior is neither funny nor entertaining.
- If it feels safe to do so, help the person being bullied get away, but never use violence. Try creating a distraction that takes attention away from the bully, or offer an exit strategy by saying something like, “Mrs. Hall sent me to get you – follow me,” or “Come on, we need you for our ballgame.”
- If these tactics don’t work, seek help from a trusted adult as soon as possible, either in person or by writing them a note.
- In the long term, if you want to help kids who are being bullied, be their friend. Encourage them to tell a caring adult about the bullying incident. Let them know you’re on their side. Talk to them, invite them to sit with you, or include them in an activity.
Advice for Parents, Teachers, and Other Adults
Adults who become aware that a child is being bullied should:
- Intervene immediately, physically separating the bullying kid and the target. Enlist support from other adults if necessary.
- Make sure everyone is safe and address any pressing medical needs.
- Stay calm and reassure everyone involved, including bystanders. Label the behavior as bullying and tell all involved it will not be tolerated. Express empathy for the bullied child.
- Hold bystanders accountable. If they stood up for the bullied child, praise them. If they gave the bully an audience or encouragement, make sure they understand it was wrong to do so.
- Inform those involved that you will sort out the situation, and then proceed to get the facts, interviewing the bullying child, the target, and all witnesses separately.
- Inform the parents of the children involved.
- Determine logical consequences for the bullying child and monitor his or her behavior to prevent any recurrence or retaliation.
- Don’t make the children involved apologize on the spot or “work it out,” and don’t turn to peer mediation for solutions. Bullying involves a power imbalance, so such strategies are ineffective and may further traumatize the bullied child. Likewise, suspension or expulsion from school has been shown to be an ineffective deterrent.
- Get appropriate professional help for those involved. Some children who are bullied need a structured support system so they can express their fears and feelings without risk of retribution. Strengthening the bullied child’s self-esteem and coping mechanisms often requires the support of a parent, teacher, nurse, social worker, or psychologist. Parents can also consult their child’s pediatrician for advice in dealing with bullying.
Children who initiate the bullying often need support as well, particularly with channeling aggression in more positive ways. Like the child who is being bullied, these children often benefit from professional counseling. Indeed, addressing the underlying cause of the aggressive behavior may be more effective than punishments or attempts to teach the child empathy.