Whether they're in the office or on the playground, bullies have some kind of advantage over the people around them, which can come from physical strength, intimidation, popularity or a sense of authority. School-age bullies are a perfect example: They're usually bigger or older than their peers, or they may have a higher social standing than most of the class. Their bullying may take the form of physical aggression, threats or initiation. Or, it may rely on social pressures such as excluding certain children from play or humiliating classmates in front of their peers.
The child being bullied is usually powerless to stop the torment. But sometimes, bullied children find the strength to stand up for themselves. Jaylen Arnold is one such person. Jaylen has Tourette syndrome, a condition that causes tics -- sudden, repetitive physical movements or verbal outbursts. Jaylen became a target of bullying after moving to a new school, and he eventually started a Web site that's grown into a national campaign: Jaylens Challenge/Bullying No Way!
In this article, we'll learn five ways bullying can be stopped, as well as learn some misperceptions that allow it to exist in the first place.
5: Look for Bullying
Parents and teachers may be unaware of how much bullying goes on in the typical school environment: Most bullies are skilled at keeping their behavior off of authority figures' radar. Teachers aren't likely to see incidents that happen in isolated stairwells, online, or in notes and slam books that are passed from student to student.
Although a shortage of adult supervision can make it easier for bullying to go unnoticed, it occurs in schools of all sizes and among every race and class. It starts as early as preschool and seems to spike in frequency (as well as random targeting) during middle school. The youngest bullies may be admired for their toughness, but as they get older, their peers start to view them with disdain.
Many students don't want to be known as tattlers, so they don't speak up about bullying. If you ask a student once if he or she is being picked on, the answer you'll most likely get is "no" or "everything's fine." To identify which children are being bullied, adults must get to know all of the children and observe how they interact with one another. Parents and teachers may be more likely to notice children who seem fearful, intimidated or easily upset than to see actual incidents of bullying.
4: Establish What Behavior Won't Be Tolerated
All the classroom lessons, morning announcements and auditorium rallies in the world won't help stop bullying if schools don't also establish clear boundaries of what is -- and what is not -- acceptable behavior. Teachers and administrators must first decide what qualifies as bullying. Often, rules target physical violence and threats, since those are two forms of bullying that teachers can easily define and observe.
Once schools have set their standards and informed students of the rules, the next step is enforcement. Teachers and administrators must respond quickly and consistently, regardless of which child is participating in bullying. Most policies also spell out what will happen in the case of repeat offenders, with each incident resulting in a punishment that is more severe than the previous one.
When talking to children who have broken the rules, it's best to focus on specific incident or behavior rather than the general idea of being a bully. Most children are more likely to admit to a particular act or event, like a fight or a threat, than to call themselves bullies. Sticking to concrete actions and events will also help children understand which behaviors they need to avoid or change.
What can the target of bullying do? Find out next.
3: Don't Put Responsibility on the Victim
Counselors, teachers, parents and friends may recommend that children who are being bullied toughen up, stick up for themselves or try to avoid the bully. While "turn the other cheek" or "let it roll off you" may seem like sensible advice, it pinpoints the victim's behavior as the problem rather than the bully's. Plus, whether consciously or not, adults may consider the issue resolved once they've advised children to handle it themselves.
The nature of bullying often makes it difficult or impossible for children to act on the most common advice. For example:
- Children often become targets specifically because they aren't the fighting sort, making them unlikely to stand up for themselves. Rule-conscious children may also fear that they will get into trouble if they stand up to bullies and wind up in a fight, even if they were encouraged to do so by an adult.
- Boys tend to be physical bullies who pick on other students one at a time. When stood up to, a male bully may not back down -- he may start a physical fight.
- Girls tend to bully in groups using words and emotional tactics. Targets of such bulling can become socially isolated, leaving them without the social support they'd need to toughen up and endure the harassment. If the rest of the class is united against them, female targets also don't have many options for avoiding bullies.
Finally, some children who engage in bullying come from troubled -- even violent -- homes. Other children aren't physically or emotionally equipped to deal with those sorts of issues.
So what can kids do to stop bullying? We'll find out, next.
2: Empower Children to Get Help
While children who are being bullied aren't responsible for stopping it, they can take some basic steps in an effort to reduce or eliminate the abuse.
- Tell somebody. It's typically the last thing they want, but one of the first things targets of bullying should do is to report it to teachers or other authority figures. A kid who's being targeted can't be helped if nobody knows about it. Most schools are required to take action if they receive notification of bullying in writing.
- Travel in a pack. Bullies look for vulnerable targets. By staying in a group, children appear less vulnerable and will be less likely to be bullied.
- Tell the bully to stop. Children can verbally confront the bully, standing up for themselves while avoiding physical confrontation. The sense of empowerment gained from vocalizing the complaint may also help tilt the balance of power back toward the target.
- Get involved in a new sport, hobby or activity. This expands children's social networks and allows them to become more confident as they learn new skills.
1: Develop a Comprehensive Anti-bullying Plan
A setting in which children are afraid for their physical safety is clearly not a good learning environment: Not surprisingly, schools with lower levels of bullying also have higher test scores. That's just one reason for staff, teachers and administrators to adopt an ongoing, comprehensive approach in order to reduce or eradicate bullying.
Workshops and anti-bullying lessons work best when there's a comprehensive program involving follow-up sessions, school-wide education and continued enforcement of the rules. Ideally, such a program should focus on everyone, not just the students most often perceived as bullies. The truth is that a school isn't made up of one group of really bad eggs and one group of helpless victims. Many kids pass through phases of bullying and being bullied -- year to year, or even hour to hour.
For example, children who are usually kind to their peers may become unwitting accomplices if their friends become bullies. Comprehensive programs can encourage these children to stop their friends from bullying rather than becoming bullies themselves out of fear. Similarly, a child who has been a frequent target may start to bully someone else in turn, especially if a younger, weaker or less socially adept student joins the class. An education program and consistent enforcement of the rules can help to break this cycle.
With a combined strategy, schools -- and students -- can reduce bullying in the hallways, in the classroom and at school events. It's an ongoing battle, but one well worth fighting.
For more information on bullying prevention, see the next page.
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- American Psychological Association. "New ways to stop bullying: Psychologists are driving efforts to get effective, research-based bullying-prevention and intervention programs into schools." Monitor on Psychology. Oct. 2002.http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/bullying.aspx
- Bazelon, Emily. "Was Phoebe Prince Once a Bully? "Did her school in Ireland turn a blind eye to early warnings of her troubles?" Slate. Aug. 17, 2010.http://www.slate.com/id/2263470
- Bazelon, Emily. "What Really Happened to Phoebe Prince?: The Untold Story of Her Suicide and the Role of the Kids Who Have Been Criminally Charged for It." Slate. July 20, 2010.http://www.slate.com/id/2260952/entry/2260953/
- Cyberbullying Research Center. (Aug. 26, 2010)http://www.cyberbullying.us/index.php
- Kealan, Oliver. "Phoebe Prince "Suicide by Bullying: Teen's Death Angers Town Asking Why Bullies Roam the Halls." CBS News. Feb. 5, 2010. (Aug. 27, 2010)http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-504083_162-6173960-504083.html
- Matheny, Keith. "Schools Tackle Teacher on Teacher Bullying." USA Today. April 7, 2010. (July 12, 2010) http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2010-04-06-teacher-bullying_N.htm
- Pacer Center. "Your Three-Step Plan to Stopping Bullying." (Aug. 25, 2010) http://www.pacer.org/publications/bullypdf/BP-12.pdf
- Parker-Pope, Tara. "When the Bully Sits in the Next Cubicle." New York Times. March, 25, 2008. (July 11, 2020) http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/health/25well.html?
- Stop Bullying Now! (Aug. 27, 2010)http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/index.html
- Telephone interview with Robin Arnold. Aug. 20, 2010.
- United States Secret Service and United States Department of Education. "The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States." May 2002.http://web.archive.org/web/20080709174034/http://www.treas.gov/usss/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf