Let’s Stop Bullying: 10 Things You Need to Know

Recently I had the opportunity to participate in an excellent online program called “Bullying Prevention and Response Training” sponsored by stopbullying.gov, a website of the US Department of Health and Human Services. I found it very educational and enlightening, so I thought you might be interested in hearing about a few of the highlights. I’ve summarized them here in a handy list of “10 things” you should know about bullying prevention and response strategies.

1) Definition  

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, bullying can be defined as “any unwanted aggressive behaviors by another youth (or youths) that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth, including physical, psychological, social or educational harm.”

2) Power imbalances  

The “power imbalances” present in bullying can include things such as age, physical size or strength, presence of weapons, being outnumbered, popularity among peers, ethnic background or access to resources (money, internet, etc.).

3) Types of bullying 

Bullying can be direct (in the presence of the targeted youth) or indirect (for example, spreading rumors). Also, bullying can be physical (pushing, shoving, kicking, spitting, etc.), verbal (insults, name calling, threats, etc.) or relational (trying to hurt someone’s reputation or relationships).

4) Prevalence

Bullying is quite common. Various studies show that about 20-24% of adolescents (both boys and girls) were bullied at school in the past year. However, boys are more likely than girls to bully and to be bullied. Boys are more commonly physically bullied, while girls are bullied more verbally and indirectly. While most children agree that bullying is negative, the majority (50-75%) don’t inform school personnel when they have been bullied.

5) Risk factors 

There are numerous risk factors for bullying and for being bullied. Factors which can increase the risk for bullying include a volatile temperament, exposure to aggressive peers, poor social skills, lack of parental involvement, or an unstable home environment (divorce, parents in jail, child abuse). Some factors which increase the likelihood of being bullied include having a disability, LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) status, social isolation, an unsafe neighborhood, and the unstable home environment issues mentioned above.

6) Protective factors  

Several protective factors can reduce the probability that a child will bully or be bullied. These include having at least one close friend, ample peer support, good awareness and supervision by school personnel, supportive and engaged parents, access to positive role models, safe neighborhoods and a culture that promotes non-violence.

7) Long-term effects  

Children who are bullied have a greater likelihood of a host of longer-term difficulties, such as mood-related issues (depression, anxiety, self-harm and suicidal thoughts), physical health concerns (headaches, sleep and appetite disturbance), lower academic performance, and poorer response to stress. Children who bully others are more likely to display subsequent conduct problems and antisocial behaviors such as vandalism, dropping out of school, alcohol and tobacco use, and carrying weapons.

8) Misdirected solutions 

Several common and well-intentioned interventions in response to bullying (zero tolerance policies in schools, conflict mediation, group treatment, brief trainings for staff) have sometimes been ineffective in reaching long-term solutions for bullying.

9) Best practices 

Effective best practices to reduce bullying include a) creating a healthy social climate in schools; b) conducting community-wide assessments; c) getting commitment and buy-in from all stakeholders to address bullying; d) establishing a coordinated, integrated team to spearhead new initiatives; e) providing comprehensive training in bullying response and prevention; f) organizing events to engage and mobilize the community; and g) setting effective policies and rules about bullying.

10) Effective responses

Respond consistently and appropriately when bullying occurs. Important elements of an effective bullying response plan include ensuring children’s safety, meeting physical and mental health needs, providing reassurance, and modeling appropriate behavior. Also remember not to ignore bullying, and don’t force children to publicly state what happened or to apologize on the spot. Adopt a trauma-informed approach which acknowledges that children are traumatized by bullying and need ongoing support, often including specialized care such as professional counseling. Take time to talk with children about bullying and let them know you are committed to helping them with these concerns.

In the end, bullying is a public health problem. As such, long-term, community-wide strategies are needed to combat this all too frequent problem. You can help make a difference by becoming informed about bullying and learning about effective prevention and response programs which can be implemented in your local community. Numerous additional resources may be found at stopbullying.gov. Don’t ignore the problem of bullying; become part of the solution.

Here’s a question: What can you do to help address bullying in your local schools and communities? Please leave a comment. Also, please subscribe to my blog and feel free to follow me on Twitter, “like” my Facebook page, or connect on LinkedIn. Thanks!


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