|| Preventing Bullying And Cyber-Bullying
A Guide for Students, Educators and School Administrators
Over the past decade, bullying has emerged as a priority issue for students, parents and educators across the United States. Behaviors that were once dismissed as an apparently normal part of childhood and youth are increasingly being recognized as problem behaviors that not only need to be addressed but in some cases, criminalized. In short, bullying has come to the forefront as a widespread social problem with far-reaching consequences. There is also a growing recognition that bullying is sometimes connected to deeply rooted assumptions about race, class, sexuality, disability and other forms of perceived difference.
However, as emphasized by all three of the experts interviewed by Tobecomeateacher.org for this article, there is no one single factor that appears to make a child or teen susceptible to bullying.
Jodee Blanco, whose New York Times bestseller, Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman's Inspirational Story , has played a pivotal role in raising public awareness about bullying, insists that bullying is not simply about name calling. “Bullying also happens by virtue of kindness and acceptance denied,” says Blanco. “Bullying is also all the kind things that are never done, and for this reason, it not simply about name calling. This also means that any kid can be victim of bullying.”
If bullying is finally on the radar, it is not because kids today are more likely to bully or to be bullied than they were in the past but rather because bullying is now increasingly visible to adults. In part, the visibility of bullying is due to the ongoing efforts of people like Blanco who have worked tirelessly to bring the problem into the public spotlight.
“When I published Please Stop Laughing at Me in 2001, bullying wasn't on the radar—it's really only been over the past ten years that kids, parents and teachers have started to pay attention,” says Blanco. Unfortunately, if bullying has suddenly been thrust into the public spotlight, it is not only due to the efforts of activists like Blanco.
Another key factor that has increased the visibility of bullying is that many of the aggressive behaviors that once took place in the far corners of the school yard or otherwise out of the sight from adults have now moved online, leaving tell-tale digital traces of dynamics that were previously invisible to most educators and parents. Unfortunately, with cyber-bullying, the effects of bullying have also become more severe.
In recent years, there have been dozens of stories about tweens and teens choosing to commit suicide rather than face another day of bullying at school or on the Internet. These stories are a devastating reminder that bullying isn't simply about kids not getting along—at its worse, bullying is a matter of life and death and an issue that students and educators can't afford to ignore. “When I do talks,” says Blanco, who has visited thousands of schools across North America over the past decade, “I regularly meet kids who tell me that they are so desperate they want to take their own life. Talking about bullying, helping people understand the problem from a kid's perspective, isn't just public awareness—it's about saving lives.”
WHAT IS BULLYING?
StopBullying.gov, a government-sponsored website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines bullying as:
Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.
A wide range of actions fall under the bullying label, including making threats, spreading rumors, physical attacks, verbal attacks and extreme forms of exclusion (e.g., from a group activity, club or organization).
StopBullying.gov defines cyber-bullying as:
Bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.
HOW WIDESPREAD IS BULLYING AND CYBER-BULLYING?
Since 2000, several major studies have been carried out on bullying and more specifically, cyber-bullying. The statistics reveal that bullying in person and online are major problems across the United States:
- The U.S. Department of Education's 2011 study, “Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying” reports that 28% of U.S. students in grades 6 through 12 have experienced bullying.
- A 2013 Centers for Disease Control study found that 20% of U.S. students in grades 9 through 12 have experienced bullying.
- A 2007 study published in School Psychology Review reports that approximately 30% of young people admit that they have bullied on one or more occasions. The same study reports that 70.6% of young people and 70.4% of school staff have witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month; 41% report witnessing bullying once a week or more.
- The National Association of Education reports that 160,000 students stay home from school everyday as a result of bullying.
Cyber-bullying is considered just as or more prevalent than in-person bullying:
- According to the U.S. Department of Education, 9% of students in grades 6 through 12 have experienced some form of cyberbullying.
- Cyber-bullying rates are nearly twice of high for high school age student and more than five times as high for students who identify as LGBT (e.g., 71.3% of LGBT students report having heard homophobic remarks at school).
WHAT ARE THE MOST COMMON FORMS OF BULLYING?
Both bullying and cyberbullying take many forms. However, the Department of Education's study on bullying reports that some forms of bullying are more common than other forms. In face-to-face situations, the most common forms of bullying include:
- The circulation of malicious rumors
- Unwanted name calling
- Physical aggressions
Online, the most commonly reported bullying activities are:
- Unwanted contact via text messaging
- Unwanted contact via instant messaging
- The circulation of private information on the Internet (e.g., the posting of embarrassing photographs or videos on social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube).
However, once again, as Blanco emphasizes, it is misleading to think about bullying only in relation to what is happening—bullying is also about what is not happening. “There are kids who are visibly bullied but also many invisible victims,” emphasizes Blanco, “These are the kids who are routinely excluded from other kids' activities but sometimes, these are the kids who are most at risk precisely because they're invisible to everyone, including most educators and school administrators.”
WHAT CAUSES BULLYING?
Pinning down the causes of bullying is difficult but increasingly, it is also a major preoccupation for educational researchers. While there is a growing body of research that seeks to define bullying and identify its core causes, Blanco cautions that much of the empirical research on bullying continues to miss the point:
Everyone wants to define bullying, but the empirical research is outside in. The problem is that you need to approach bullying from the inside out. You need to define bullying by the experience of the recipient not the intention of the perpetrators.
So how does Blanco define it? Her definition is simple: “Bullying is simple—it is about kids' desire to fit in run amuck.”
Luke Reynolds is a middle school teacher and the author of a wide selection of books for teachers and for kids, including two that tackle the bullying issue directly: The Looney Experiment and the forthcoming Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Finding the Real You . From Reynolds' perspective, one of the real problems with bullying is that all too often, bullying simply gets dismissed or written off as something less serious:
One of the things I hear far too often—and which makes me really want to weep—is when a student says, “I was just joking.” Too often, bullying can take on this excuse, as if saying something hurtful gets a free pass because the person tried to disguise it as a joke.
Blanco agrees that all too often, bullying is written off as a joke. This is precisely why Blanco's one-day anti-bullying workshop designed for the entire school community is called INJJA or It's Not Just Joking Around!