According to a survey of over 30 million students between the ages of 12 and 18 done by the Department of Education in 2011, nearly 32 percent reported that the were bullied at school. In recent years increasing attention has been paid to the epidemic of bullying in schools and to creating programs that can help schools address this important problem. The CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.” Most bullying occurs in school, outside on school grounds and in the school bus, making schools a front line in the fight against bullying.
There are a number of things that schools can do to both prevent and respond to bullying that can reduce its incidence in school. It is important for each school to define bullying and to lay out clear guidelines on how to report it, such as providing a web based system for reporting within the school or advising students to tell a trusted adult in the school. Because the act of telling someone that he or she is being bullied can be a difficult one for the child, schools should be clear that there will be no penalties for reporting bullying and that all cases will be taken seriously and dealt with in a timely manner. Rules about what constitutes bullying as well as ways to be kind to fellow students can be posted in hallways and other public spaces in the school so that all students are aware that this is something to be taken seriously at school. It is also important for each school to find out how students perceive the problem of bullying in their school, how often they experience bullying either as a target, witness or instigator and what types of bullying they see at school. This will give teachers and administrators a better understanding of the magnitude of the problem at their school and can guide specific interventions. (For example, if it appears that most of the bullying seems to occur during lunchtime, one intervention would be to increase adult supervision during this time.) It can also be used to track progress within the school once a bullying prevention program has been put in place.
In the classroom and the counseling room there are also ways that teachers and counselors can address the issues of bullying. One model that can be employed is one which is used in cognitive behavioral social skills training, where children learn a particular skill, such as showing empathy or responding effectively to a bully, and then they practice the skill by doing “role plays”, where they act out different situations. One option for educators when doing this exercise would be to give each child the opportunity to play the role of the bully, the target and the bystander in order to gain a greater understanding of how each person feels and what they experience. This can be very important in helping to build empathy, an important factor in decreasing bullying. Another way to address bullying in the classroom is to make it a part of the curriculum, for example by having lessons specifically targeted to issues around bullying or by engaging the class in different activities, assignments and discussions that promote empathy.
For children who have been the targets of bullying, providing in-school support is highly important. In addition to knowing that they will be protected by their school, these children can benefit from groups in school where they can talk openly about their experience, get support from other children, and learn social skills. Sometimes, further intervention will be needed for a particular student, be it the child who is bullying or who is being bullied, and it is important for schools to have a list of available outside resources (social skills groups, therapists and psychiatrists) that parents can access if needed.
In summation, here is a list of some of the things schools can do to address bullying:
as a school:
- have a clear definition of what constitutes bullying
- have clear consequences for bullying
- place this information in a public space so all students are aware
- provide an easy way for students to report bullying
- create a questionnaire to learn about the problem of bullying at your school and to track your progress
in the classroom:
- address issues of bullying as part of the curriculum
- use role-play to practice social skills and increase empathy
in the counseling center:
- provide support to those who are targets or bullies
- provide social skills for those who are targets of bullying
- provide parents with outside resources when necessary
Written by Shuni Zerykier, PsyD