Bullying has become a major problem among young children and teenagers in recent years. Bullying is most common among middle school children, as 25% of public school students have reported bullying at least once a week. Further, 20% of high school student reported being bullied on school property within the past year. For many years, bullying was a problem primarily confined to schools. Once children left school property, they were generally safe from bullies. However, with the widespread usage of cell phones and social media, bullying can now occur virtually anywhere, and 16% of children reported having been bullied electronically within the past year.
What is Bullying?
Bullying, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, is defined as “unwanted aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” In simpler terms, bullying includes threatening someone, spreading rumors about them, verbally or physically attacking another, or purposefully excluding a person from a group. Cyber-bullying is “bullying that occurs through email, a chat room, instant messaging, a website, text messaging, or videos or pictures posted on websites or sent through cell phones.”
Bullying occurs across both sexes and all races. Female students are more likely to be bullied by being excluded from a social group, by being insulted, or by having rumors spread about them. Male students, on the other hand, are more likely to be physically attacked by a bully. African-American, Hispanic, and Asian students are bullied in high numbers due to their skin color. Teens also report being bullied due to looks, body shape, and other physical characteristics.
Bullying is typically not a one-time occurrence. Instead, the behavior is usually repeated over time. 33% of students who were bullied at school and 27% of students who were bullied electronically reported being bullied at least one or more times each month.
How Can We Stop Bullying?
Studies have consistently shown a strong link between bullying and suicidal behaviors. Bullies, their victims, and witnesses are all more likely to report high levels of suicide-related behaviors. In order to combat bullying, many schools have initiated prevention programs. Such programs have proven helpful and have decreased bullying by up to 25% in those schools.
Aside from prevention programs, what are other ways to decrease bullying? Teachers play a large role in bullying prevention. Unfortunately, the vast majority of children who are bullied do not report it. On average, only about 36% of victims report being bullied to a teacher, most likely due to shame or fear of retaliation. When a student does report being bullied, studies show that the most helpful actions a teacher can take is to listen to the student, give the student advice, and then check in on them periodically to make sure the situation gets better. Teachers should never accuse the student of tattling or tell the student to solve the problem on his or her own.
Another way to decrease bullying is for students to take a stand and to be supportive to their peers. Most bullies stop when another student intervenes on the victim’s behalf. Also, students who are bullied find actions by their peers to be more helpful than actions by their teachers. Spending time with bullying victims, helping them get away from their bullies, or just talking to them and giving them advice are all helpful actions peers can take to support those who are bullied and to prevent future occurrences of bullying.
At the community level, steps can be taken as well. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, we should all work together, and that includes schools, religious institutions, civic groups, community centers, and local businesses. For example, communities can hold open forums and group discussions featuring community leaders, politicians, educators, coaches, and religious leaders. Education efforts can be focused on those who interact with kids on a daily basis – law enforcement officers, businesses, and mental health specialists, to name a few. Working together allows those in the community to notice signs of bullying, help victims, and reshape the conduct of those doing the bullying.