Bullying & Prevention: What Does it Look Like?

Written by Autumn Sandlin, Communications Manager, National Safe Place Network

The statistics on bullying are staggering. The National Center for Educational Statistics reported in 2016, one out of every five students reported being bullied. If a school has a population of 500 students, for instance, at least 100 of them reported experiencing some form of bullying.

We’ve seen the bullies in our popular culture for decades. Whether it’s Scut Farkus terrorizing Ralphie and his friends in “A Christmas Story”, Draco Malfoy drawling “Just wait until my father hears about this,” in the “Harry Potter” franchise, or Nellie Oleson making Laura Ingalls life on the prairie a little less easy we’ve known these bullies and villains on the screen and in our literature before. It’s an age-old story of good vs. evil where the good will always prevail in the end. However, pop culture fails to show us the real physical and mental toll endured by those who are bullied.

According to PACERS, “There is a strong association between bullying and other suicide-related behaviors…” We see it in the headlines far too often. Youth are taking their lives because of bullying. While there are certainly underlying mental health issues exacerbate this issue, the repetitive nature of bullying coupled with the emotional aspect create unhealthy ideas within youth whose brains are still developing. Anyone can be bullied, but there are some who are subjected to bullying more than others.

Those who are subjected to bullying generally fall outside of what is considered a cultural norm. Students with disabilities, students of color, and LGBTQ+ students are all subject to, or report, higher rates of bullying. In order to help combat this problem, it is up to schools to develop bullying policies that are inclusive of everyone no matter of race, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, and ability.

It may seem like an awfully large task to take up when it comes to preventing bullying. How do we stop something that’s become interwoven in our culture? Schools have to address the problem and have supportive practices in place. These practices can include: adequate counseling and support services for students, effective and confidential support and referral services for students needing help, behavior management instruction, and fostering youth development, resilience, and/or asset promotion.  

There are training and certifications available to those who work in youth service fields, such as schools, that can help tackle this difficult issue. Youth Mental Health First Aid is a certification course that focuses on adolescents between the ages of 12 and 18 who are in crisis and non-crisis situations. Trauma-informed care is another training that can benefit those in youth service fields. The gist of trauma-informed care is to recognize that everyone you encounter on a daily basis may have some experience with trauma. The goal is to be mindful of not re-traumatizing someone and being able to get them help if it’s needed. This training is beneficial for students who are bullied, and those who are doing the bullying. Bullies may have some sort of trauma they experienced at home, and they’re acting out the feelings associated with this trauma and re-directing them to someone they perceive as “weaker.” By making sure staff are trained and certified in courses such as the two mentioned above, it can be easier to put protocol in place that are sensitive to those who are bullied and those who are doing the bullying.

Bullying prevention starts in the school and continues in the home. Parents or guardians have to be willing to listen to their child, observe their behavior, and reach out for help if on their child’s behalf. It may be tempting to tell them to just fight back, but that won’t solve the distress of the child, nor will it stop the bullying completely. It’s important to talk openly and honestly with children so they feel comfortable sharing their emotions when something happens. It may seem like an impossible task to take on, but with the support of parents and protocols in place at school, bullying can be prevented.

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