A culture of silence often surrounds bullying. Many children who are bullied never tell anyone.
Most bullying is not reported because children . . .
Just because you don’t see it, and children don’t talk about it, doesn’t mean bullying isn’t happening. Even when children fail to report bullying, they often show warning signs.
What are some warning signs of bullying?
Some children may withdraw, while others may get angry and seek revenge. Don’t assume the problem will go away on its own: Invite children to talk about what is bothering them. If you find out a child is being bullied, show support, help develop a response strategy, and follow up to make sure the bullying does not continue.
Cyberbullying is a growing form of bullying that is especially hard to see. Cyberbullying involves sending or posting hurtful, embarrassing, or threatening text or images using the Internet, cell phones, or other digital communication devices. Using these technologies, cyberbullies can reach a wide group of people very quickly. Their goal: to damage their victim’s reputation and friendships.
Cyberbullying can involve:
Young people cyberbully for many reasons. Some do it to deal with their anger, seek revenge, or make themselves appear better than their peers. Others do it for entertainment or for the pleasure of tormenting others. Still others do it simply because they can. By remaining anonymous, and avoiding face-to-face contact, cyberbullies may not realize the consequences of their actions. As a result, they are more likely to say and do things they might hesitate to say or do in person. And young people are often hesitant to report cyberbullying because they are afraid that doing so will lead to restrictions on their own Internet or cell phone use or they believe nothing can be done to stop it.
Some things adults can do to help prevent cyberbullying:
Bullying is about the abuse of power. Children who bully abuse their power to hurt others, deliberately and repeatedly. They are often hot-tempered, inflexible, overly confident, and don’t like to follow rules. They often lack empathy and may even enjoy inflicting pain on others. They often desire to dominate and control others, perceive hostile intent where none exists, overreact aggressively to ambiguous situations, and hold beliefs that support violence.
In the preschool years, bullies often rely on direct verbal bullying and physical power to control material objects or territory. They may lack the skills to interact in more socially appropriate ways.
In the elementary school years, bullies are more likely to use threats and physical force, combined with direct verbal bullying, to make victims do things against their will. At this age, some children begin to use indirect bullying to exclude peers from their social circle.
In the middle and high school years, bullies rely on direct verbal bullying such as name-calling and making threatening remarks, as well as physical bullying such as pushing and hitting. Although both boys and girls engage in physical bullying, girls are more likely to participate in indirect, relational bullying, such as rumor-spreading and social exclusion. They often use the Internet or cell phones to send these hurtful messages. While boys tend to rely on bullying to enhance their physical dominance, girls tend to use it to enhance their social status.
Sometimes children bully in groups. Children may join in because they look up to the bully and want to impress him or her, or because they are afraid and do not want to be attacked themselves.
Examining the Effects on the Bully
As they mature into adulthood, children who have bullied others often show higher rates of:
Adults who have been bullied as children may be more likely to allow their own children to bully others, thus raising a new generation of bullies.
Bullies need not experience these devastating long-term effects if their patterns of behavior are changed before they become habitual and entrenched. Bullying prevention strategies are most effective when applied early to children who are young or have just begun to bully—the earlier the better. Although it’s never too late to change a bully’s patterns of behavior, these habitual patterns are usually much more difficult to change in later years.
Beginning in the preschool years, adults can teach children important bullying prevention skills and guide children as they practice using these skills. Social skills that form an important foundation for bullying prevention include:
Victims of bullying include girls and boys of all ages, sizes, and backgrounds. But some children are more likely than others to be victimized because they appear small, weak, insecure, sensitive, or “different” from their peers.
Some children can reduce their risk of being bullied by dressing or acting in ways that make it easier for them to “fit in.” Yet children should not be expected to conform to avoid the threat of bullying. Every child’s individuality should be appreciated for the value it brings to the group, rather than suppressed to reduce the risk of victimization. Furthermore, not all children are able to alter personal characteristics that may place them at increased risk.
Potential victims can reduce their risk of being bullied by learning how to:
Examining the Effects on the Victim
Victims’ painful memories of having been bullied linger as the victims mature into adulthood. Adults who were victimized as children may continue to show poor self-confidence and problems with depression.
In cases of extreme bullying, some tormented victims have resorted to violence toward themselves or others.
Children as young as nine may think about suicide as a way to escape their bullies.*
School Shooters . . . Other victims of bullying have used guns to take violent revenge in schools against their bullies and others who they believe have failed to support them.
Many school shooters were bullied: In 37 incidents of targeted school violence between 1974 and 2000, almost three-quarters of the shooters reported being bullied, persecuted, threatened, attacked, or injured before the incident. Sometimes the experience of being bullied seemed to have influenced the shooter’s decision to make an attack at the school.**
* * * * *
* van der Wal, M. F., de Wit, C. A. M., & Hirasing, R. A. (2003). Psychosocial health among young victims and offenders of direct and indirect bullying. Pediatrics, 111, 1312–1317.
** Vossekuil, B., Fein, R. A., Reddy, M., Borum, R., Modzeleski, W. (2002, May). The final report and findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. U. S. Secret Service and U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved October 25, 2007, from www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf
Bullying situations usually involve more than the bully and the victim. They also involve bystanders—those who watch bullying happen or hear about it.
An important new strategy for bullying prevention focuses on the powerful role of the bystander. Depending on how bystanders respond, they can either contribute to the problem or the solution. Bystanders rarely play a completely neutral role, although they may think they do.
Some bystanders . . . instigate the bullying by prodding the bully to begin.
Other bystanders . . . encourage the bullying by laughing, cheering, or making comments that further stimulate the bully.
And other bystanders . . . join in the bullying once it has begun.
Most bystanders . . . passively accept bullying by watching and doing nothing. Often without realizing it, these bystanders also contribute to the problem. Passive bystanders provide the audience a bully craves and the silent acceptance that allows bullies to continue their hurtful behavior.
Some bystanders . . . directly intervene, by discouraging the bully, defending the victim, or redirecting the situation away from bullying.
Other bystanders . . . get help, by rallying support from peers to stand up against bullying or by reporting the bullying to adults.
Examining the Effects on The Bystander
Bystanders who don’t intervene or don’t report the bullying often suffer negative consequences themselves. They may experience:
Preparing Children to Become Helpful Bystanders
WHAT YOU CAN DO?
To Prevent Bullying . . .
Intervene when children are young. Children who bully are not born bullies and children who are victimized are not born victims. But many young children engage in aggressive behaviors that may lead to bullying, while others react by submitting or fighting back. Adults can stop these patterns before they are established by encouraging cooperative behaviors such as sharing, helping, and problem-solving, and by preventing aggressive responses such as hostility, hurting, and rejection.
Teach bullying prevention strategies to all children. Don’t assume that only “challenging” children become bullies or that only “weak” children become victims. Most children are likely to be victimized by a bully at some point in their lives, and all children can benefit from learning to distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable behaviors; how to stand up for themselves, and others; and when to turn to an adult for help.
Take bullying seriously. Pay careful attention to the warning signs and to children most at risk. Make sure children know that bullying will not be tolerated and that you will work with them to make bullying stop.
Encourage empathy. Children who can empathize understand that bullying hurts. They are less likely to bully and more likely to help children who are bullied.
Teach by example. Be an effective role model. Children learn how to behave by watching and emulating the adults in their lives. Consider how you solve problems, discipline, control your own anger and disappointment, and stand up for yourself and others without fighting. If children observe you acting aggressively, they are more likely to show aggression toward others.
Help children critically evaluate media violence. Children may learn aggressive behaviors by watching television and movies that glorify violence and by playing violent video games that reward violent behavior. Help children understand that media portrayals of violence are unrealistic and inappropriate. Intervene when you see children imitating media violence in their play or in their social interactions.
Provide opportunities for children to learn and practice the qualities and skills that can protect them from bullying. Children who are confident are less likely to tolerate bullying and more likely to have the courage and inner-strength to respond effectively. Children who are assertive know how to react to a bully in effective, non-aggressive ways, and they are less likely to be targeted by bullies in the first place. Children who know how to make and keep friends can rely on them for protection from bullying. Children who know how to solve problems constructively avoid responding aggressively to conflict.
Encourage children to talk about and report bullying. When they do, listen carefully, and be patient: Talking about bullying can be difficult, and children may feel embarrassed or afraid to share their concerns.
Develop strong connections with the children in your care. Children are less likely to bully if they know it will displease an adult whom they respect and trust. Similarly, children are more likely to confide in an adult with whom they have a caring and trusting relationship.
Reexamine your own beliefs about bulling. Misconceptions may prevent you from “seeing” a potential bullying incident or intervening as quickly as you should.
When YOU see or hear bullying . . .
Intervene immediately. When you do nothing, you send the message that bullying is acceptable. If you ignore or minimize the problem, victims will not believe that adults understand or care, or that they can help. If you don’t intervene, children won’t either.
Intervene even if you’re not sure it’s bullying. Observing children’s actions, words, body language, and facial expressions will help you determine if bullying is occurring. Even if it’s not, aggressive behaviors need to be stopped.
Stand between or near the victim and the bully, separating them if necessary, so as to stop the bullying behaviors. For young children, consider removing them from the situation to a “time-out” area or room.
Respond firmly but appropriately. Remain calm, but convey the seriousness of the situation. Announce that the bullying must stop. Describe the behavior you observed and why it is unacceptable.
Get help if needed. If the bully is using physical force, or there is more than one bully, you may need to find another adult to help keep children safe and protect yourself.
Do not respond aggressively. Using aggressive behavior sends the wrong message that this is a good way to solve problems. It may also prompt a bully or a bystander to increase his or her bullying behavior or become aggressive toward you.
Avoid lecturing the bully in front of his or her peers. Your goal is to end the behavior, not humiliate or shame the bully. Rather than serving as a deterrent, lecturing and scolding often provide the bully with attention that he or she finds rewarding.
Don’t impose immediate consequences. Allow yourself time to consider the incident and obtain any clarifying
information—then decide the best course of action.
Don’t ask children to “work things out” for themselves. Bullying is different from an argument or conflict; it involves a power imbalance that requires adult intervention.
Give praise and show appreciation to helpful bystanders. Children who try to help the victim or stop the bully are key to bullying prevention.
Stick around. Remain in the area until you are sure the behavior has stopped.
After the incident . . .
Follow up with each of the “players” separately. Rely on your relationships and connections with the children to talk openly and productively about the bullying incident, and its effects and consequences.
Bullies must understand that bullying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. To this end, it is important to impose immediate consequences that are appropriate for their offense and developmental level, and that are consistent with program policy. It is also important for children who bully to take responsibility for their actions: to understand what they did, why their behavior is wrong, how it affects their victims, how it affects others around them, and to “make amends.” Help the bully apologize or make amends by doing something nice for the victim. Consider organizing supervised activities that include both the bully and the victim so they can learn to interact in more positive ways.
Victims must know that adults care and support them. Listen carefully to their description of what happened and offer sympathy and support. Help them develop strategies for addressing the problem, should it recur in the future. Let them know they do not deserve to be bullied and they are not alone—adults and peers can help.
Bystanders must understand the effects of their actions—or non-actions. Explain that they have the power to cool down the situation by asking the bully to stop, helping the victim walk away, getting support from other bystanders, asking an adult for help, and/or reporting the bullying incident. Talk with them about what they did or did not do to help.
Inform appropriate staff. Report the incident to a supervisor and any other staff with whom the children work closely. Inform the children’s parents, as warranted.
Keep a detailed record of the incident. Include who is involved, where the incident occurred, whether it has happened before, and strategies used to address the problem. This record will reveal any patterns and help you see which interventions work best.
Check in regularly with the victim, the bully, and program staff to make sure the bullying does not continue. Create opportunities for talking about bullying issues with children in your program.
Talking with Children
What you should tell BULLIES . . .
What you should tell VICTIMS . . .
What you should tell BYSTANDERS . . .
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