New School Year? Time to Get Bullish on Bullying

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Kids with crossing guard in front of school bus

It’s that time of year again. Teachers, parents and students are counting down the days before they head back to school. Nothing compares to the emotions of the first day of school. Whether it’s the first day of kindergarten, last year of elementary school or it’s the first day of your senior year of high school, the anticipation of the new and unknown combined with the joy of reconnecting with the familiar is always an exciting time, etched permanently in memory.   

For many students the excitement is tempered by caution and worry. It is an unfortunate reality that violence exists on our school campuses. While active shooter incidents grab headlines and are terrifying, violence is occurring both on and off school campuses every day in the form of bullying.

Stats with Lasting Impact

Startling statistics reveal that between 1 and 3 students say they have experienced bullying and that 64% of bullying incidents go unreported. Children who are bullied and children who bully others may have lasting problems. Studies show that bullies are more likely to drop out of school, engage in criminal behavior and later have more difficulty keeping steady jobs. Those who are victims of bullying suffer from anxiety, low self-esteem and depression. Bystanders who are neither bully or victim may be affected feeling powerless, fearful or guilty for not being helpful.

As we move into the new school year, it’s time to get bullish on bullying.

An Ever Evolving Menace

For many, the word bully brings to mind the schoolyard menace of their youth. Every school had one-- the bigger kid who found joy in tormenting their younger or smaller classmates by stealing their lunch money, tripping them in the halls and relentlessly taunting them during recess. However, with the anonymity of the Internet and the rise of social media platforms, bullying is evolving into new and more complex forms.

The bully of today is a shapeshifter and regardless of their chosen modus operandi of torment, the psychological impact they wield can be devastating. The U.S. Department of Education in a catchall description for this ever evolving menace, defines bullying as unwanted, aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived imbalance of power. Bullying though is not a one-time offense, rather it is behavior that is repeated and is likely to be repeated over time.

There are both direct and indirect forms of bullying that can manifest physically, verbally and/or nonverbally. Direct bullying is overt and can include physical assault, damage of property, verbally teasing or making racial or sexual comments and making threatening gestures or messages. Indirect bullying is bullying by extension and can include situations such as manipulating another to assault someone else, spreading rumors, excluding select individuals from groups or activities and social and cyber harassment.

Diffusing the Bully’s Power

Rather than simply avoiding a bully, learning to identify untoward behaviors and working to discourage and rectify can create better outcomes for both bully and intended and unintended targets. We can’t always depend on children to tell us what is really going on since children who may bully others often explain away their behavior as “just messing around” or “it is all in fun.”

The key is to look for cues to help interpret the behavior. Consideration of body language and facial expression is critical. Be on the lookout for obvious and subtle signs of distress that contradict what an individual may say. Most importantly, following up in situations where bullying is suspected and responding quickly and consistently to the troublesome behavior sends a clear message that bullying is not acceptable.

Below are more tips and strategies designed to help prevent and/or put an end to bully behavior:

Parents

  • Ask your child about his or her school day and be an active listener.
  • Encourage conversation about what is happening at school, increasing the likelihood your child will come to you if something is wrong.
  • Set a good example by not engaging in bully-like behaviors. Avoid cursing at people. Don’t tease people or nitpick. Model proper and effective communication in heated discussions.
  • Address bully-like behaviors if you see them in your child. Teach respectful interactions between adults and children.

Students

  • Act confident and present yourself as unaffected by a bully’s attempts to hurt you.
  • Travel in pairs or groups; there truly is strength in numbers.
  • If possible, avoid areas where you know a bully hangs out.
  • Do not retaliate. Never seek revenge or attempt to ‘get even’ with a bully.
  • Tell a parent, teacher, or other trusted adult if you are being bullied or harassed.
  • Never join in when someone is being bullied, even as a bystander. Get a teacher immediately to de-escalate the situation.

Faculty and Members of the School Community

  • Model respectful, responsible and safe behaviors.
  • Report dangerous situations or safety concerns immediately.
  • Reinforce positive behavior when you encounter it.
  • Be a compassionate listener if a student confides in you. Take it seriously and do not pass judgement. Listen and take it seriously.
  • If you witness suspected bully behavior don’t ignore it. Get help from another adult, alert school administrators or authorities as protocol instructs.
  • If safe to do so, intervene in a calm and tactful way. Do not exacerbate the situation in any manner.
  • Make sure everyone is safe and provide reassurance to those involved and witnesses.

Contact police or call for medical help immediately if:

  • A weapon is involved
  • Threats of serious physical injury are being made
  • Threats of hate-motivated violence
  • Sexual abuse
  • Illegal acts such as robbery, extortion or use of force

Putting an end to the pervasive violence that plagues our schools requires the help of the entire school community. Creating and sustaining inclusive campuses is a vital first step and requires us all to be vigilant participants in that mission. Through our collective support we help do our part ensuring the academic success of each child, giving them the opportunity to learn and achieve.

 

Mahsa Karimi, Manager, Education - Allied Universal

About the Author: Mahsa Karimi, Manager, Education

Mahsa has worked extensively with Allied Universal’s K-12 and Higher Ed clients to help them achieve their goal of creating safer learning environments. Mahsa has a BA from the University of Texas and MBA from Long Island University.