As parents, we expect that our schools provide an emotionally and physically safe environment for our children – and that includes no bullying. The good news is that most schools meet our expectations by enforcing no-tolerance policies on the issue, and take great measures to deal with bullying appropriately, even mandating that teachers attend workshops on learning to recognize and prevent it.
While it’s important to catch the bully in the act and take appropriate measures, can anything be done to ensure that it doesn’t happen in the first place? When most adults think of bullying, it’s physical and verbal harassment that comes to mind, such as teasing, taunting, threatening and physical harm. What is more difficult for adults to understand is the bullying that has to do with social status, such as excluding someone from a group, spreading rumors – and now, even “cyber-bullying” on social media websites.
So why do kids bully in the first place?
- an aggressive, unaffectionate, or stressful family life where often they are bullied themselves by parents or siblings;
- peer pressure to either act like existing friends who bully, impress peers, or act out due to undeveloped social skills or low (or overly high) self-esteem;
- other “external factors” which include an acceptance of bullying in the media, and “schools where faculty and staff do not address bullying, where there is no policy against bullying, and where there is little supervision of students—especially during lunch, bathroom breaks, and recess.”
Regardless of the reason a child or a group of children might have to bully, the characteristics of their target — or victim — are almost always the same:
- a child who is physically or socially less “powerful” than they are;
- a child that has a differentiating characteristic, whether that characteristic is something to be jealous of or not;
- an aggressive child who has a difficult time controlling anger and is quick to attack. This child is bullied because they disrupt the flow of the classroom and scare the other children with emotional outbursts.
While it’s true that it’s not possible to prevent the bully from springing up in the classroom – it IS possible to create an environment where the bully doesn’t have control, and control is exactly what makes the bully a bully. So how do we take control away from the bully?
Margaret Sagarese and Charlene C. Giannetti, experts, authors and national speakers on the subject say, “If the students on the periphery ignored the bully, or expressed no emotion, the incident would be far less satisfying for him. Every bully needs onlookers; without them he has no audience, and no opportunity to act out his power play.”
Sadly, it is the bully that gets the attention when he bullies, making them even more powerful in their own mind, and in the view of the other students. Teachers can help to take control away from the bully by giving the power to the victim instead of the bully. This power can be in the shape of positive acknowledgment for the “difference” they are taunted for, or in giving the shyer, less aggressive student the opportunity to be heard and participate in the classroom by calling on them. The less assertive student is the easiest target for the bully; boosting this child’s self-esteem makes the target a harder one to get to.
Schools can also help to create non-bully zones by assuring that children aren’t bored in the classroom. While it seems too simple, one of the sad truths of bullying is that it happens because kids have nothing better to do – and are looking for a way to entertain themselves. One of the easiest ways for kids to do this is to make fun of people (for boys), or start a rumor (for girls). Keeping content fresh, and students engrossed is an easy way to keep bullying out of the classroom.
Many people feel that bullying is just a normal part of growing up – but the truth is that it isn’t. All bullying, regardless of its nature, is hurtful and detrimental to academic and life-long success. Children who are bullied excessively as children experience anxiety and may have a hard time “fitting in” as adults. The bully suffers as well: “As adults Bullies fail to learn how to cope, manage their emotions, and communicate effectively… and are more likely to have more aggressive children, perhaps continuing the cycle of bullying into the next generation.”
In short, while we can’t prevent children from taking to bullying to seek revenge, feel good about themselves, or exalt their social status – by increasing our, and our students’ level of understanding we CAN prevent it from happening in our spaces.
Warner Brothers and The Ellen Degeneres Show have launched a national campaign against bullying. Learn more about how to stop bullying here.
The National Center for Bullying Prevention is helping to promote awareness and teach effective ways to respond to bullying. Learn more at their website.
Find additional resources on recognizing and preventing bullying on education.com