Nearly one in five students is bullied each year. Teachers and parents are looking for ways to make their child’s classrooms safe, supportive learning environments.
Bullying has three key components – unwanted, aggressive behavior; a real or perceived power imbalance, and repetition; and the potential to be repeated over time. The combination of these three factors creates a situation that moves beyond conflict to become persistent persecution.
There is a strong correlation between bias and bullying. The targets of bullies are often from a group marginalized because of certain characteristic (such as race, immigration status, sexual orientation, religion, ethnicity, gender expression/identity or size) about which others hold prejudiced assumptions.
A large study of California middle and high school students revealed nearly 40% reported that they had been bullied within the past year. Analyzing the incidents, it was concluded that 75% of all bullying came from some type of bias.
The most effective tool against bullying is prevention. By creating an inclusive learning environment that supports all children/students, educators maintain a space that is inhospitable to those who would bully. Everyone – including administrators, teachers, cafeteria staff, bus drivers, assistants, substitute teachers, parents/guardians and students – have a role to play in creating an anti-bullying climate for your child in their school, and the culture must exist from the cafeteria to the classroom.
Bullying often happens when – and where – adults aren’t present. To ensure your child is in the inclusive environment you want them to be is to closely examine the school climate on a regular basis. This includes making sure your child and other students know how to report bullying and feel safe doing so. Sometimes just asking the right questions and letting children know they can talk to you makes all the difference.
Also remember that not all bullying looks the same. Harder-to-detect actions, such as spreading rumors or isolating your child or another student from friends, can also constitute bullying. Children may hesitate to even call the harassment they’re enduring “bullying.” Other phrases, such as “there was drama” or “she was messing with me,” may clue you in on the situation.
Your child may be bullied if he or she:
- leaves school with torn, damaged or missing clothing, books or other belongings;
- has unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches;
- has few, if any, friends with whom to spend time;
- seems afraid to be in school, leave school, ride the school bus, or take part in organized activities with peers;
- has lost interest in school work or suddenly begins to perform poorly;
- appears sad, moody, teary or depressed;
- complains frequently of headaches, stomach aches, or other physical ailments; or
- they avoid the cafeteria and/or doesn’t eat.
Any child at any school may be the target of bullying, but certain children are at higher risk. Parents and teachers should be especially attentive to the child who exhibit the following risk factors:
- Are perceived as different from their peers, such as being overweight or underweight, wearing glasses or different clothing, being new to a school, or being unable to afford what kids consider “cool”
- Are perceived as weak or unable to defend themselves
- Are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem
- Are less popular than others and have few friends
- Do not get along well with others, seen as annoying or provoking, or antagonize others for attention
Now that you know bullying is occurring, there are measures that you can do to stop it. First and foremost, it is essential that you understand your child’s school anti-bullying policies. Being familiar with these expectations allows you to respond appropriately and immediately.
It is also important to remember that anti-bullying measures should address bullying behavior. Never label a child a bully. Bullying is an action, not an identity. When bullying is addressed constructively, it is possible to both support the bullied child and transform the behavior of the child who has been bullying others.
Because bullying so often happens when adults aren’t present, it’s especially important that students be empowered to stand up against bullying and biased language.
Children should also be informed about their school’s anti-bullying policies – including how to appropriately report bullying behavior.