Bullying is widespread in American schools and studies have revealed that more than 16% of U.S. school children have been bullied by other students at least once. A study carried out by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development appeared in the April 25, 2001 Journal of the American Association.
Part of their study showed that overall, 10% of school children have been bullied by other students but had not bullied anyone. Another part of the study also revealed that 13% of students have bullied others but had not been bullied. Bullying is deemed a public health issue by a host of medical professionals.
Although a myriad of people deem being bullied as a horrid and unpleasant rite of passage throughout childhood, it should never be condoned or ignored. It merits attention and those who are a bully’s victim, can suffer from low self-esteem, depression and suicidal thoughts. Those who are bullied can be mentally scarred for a lifetime whilst bullies often end up engaging in criminal behaviour in adulthood.
Children of any age cannot learn in a violent environment. Therefore, it is imperative that the administrators, teachers and parents, all work together to ensure that no bullying takes place. Bullying needs to be nipped in the bud and the majority of schools around the globe have no tolerance for bullying. According to the HRSA, a host of schools have taken their responsibility to stop bullying very seriously. They have a solid anti-bullying system of rules as well as consequences. Anti-bullying laws have been passed in several states of which require public schools to have an anti-bullying program set in place.
So what is the role of schools in regards to bullying? What can you expect from administrators, teachers and staff?
All schools should embark on a program which raises awareness of bullying. School-based non-bullying programs can aid in reducing bullying. This can be done with group discussions about bullying in the classroom and through school assemblies. But one needs to do far more than just make children aware of bullying. Children need to learn healthy ways to control anger, interact with others as well as be taught good communication skills.
Investigate bullying immediately:
It is imperative that school staff investigate bullying claims immediately. After investigating, they should then inform the victim as well as his/her parents or carers, as to what action will be taken. How they will go about preventing further bullying and what the consequences will be for the bullying. They should also inform the child and parents how they intend to prevent further bullying.
Mediation may help:
Some people advise against a joint meeting, thus mediation. This is due to the fact that they are of the belief that it could be embarrassing and stressful for the bullied child. Whilst bullying is deemed a form or harassment and victimization, a myriad of people tend to be of the belief that bullying is not a conflict. Yet in a sense it is. A conflict is defined as an encounter, a struggle or battle of a sort. Conflict is also defined as an encounter of which is negative. Therefore, mediation could be all that’s needed in order to stop the bullying before it has a chance to get to a point where it is a full scale one-sided cruel and barbaric attack on another child. Yet one certainly needs to assess the situation and ask the victim how they feel about mediation. It should be the victim’s decision and no one else’s.
Staff should meet with the child to discuss all the details of the bullying:
Staff should sit down with the victim and talk about the bullying in detail. One needs to listen to both sides of the story first. This means talk to the victim and the child accused of the bullying, individually. There are two sides to a story and one must ensure that the accused is really the bully and not the other way round.
Develop a plan to keep the child safe from harm:
Once the bullying has been brought to the attention of staff members, they must develop a plan to ensure the child is safe. A plan must be set in place in regards to being watchful for any future bullying. Bullied children should never be left alone. It is up to staff members to work out a plan which sees the child under adult supervision at all times. Perhaps staff may need to work out a roster system.
Meet with the suspected bully:
School personnel must sit down with the suspected bully and make it very clear that bullying will not be tolerated. The bully needs to know that bullying is against the rules and that there will be consequences. The consequences can be loss of privileges such as no school excursions, no tuck shop privileges, suspension from school or even when the bullying is serious, the chance of being expelled. The bully’s parents must be notified of the bullying and what could be the consequences.
Discuss the incident with witnesses:
Independent witnesses are the best type. If there were any witnesses to the bullying, hopefully they will all tell it how it really happened. Interview these witnesses separately and do keep in mind that the bully’s friends will no doubt lie to save their friend from some form of punishment. If staff know that these witnesses are the bully’s mates, think twice about taking their account of the incident as gospel. But if the witnesses are children that do not normally interact with either the bully or the victim, chances are they will be more truthful.
Discuss the incident with both the parents of the victim as well as the bully:
The parents of the bullied child need to be contacted and informed of the incident. Often times, a bullied child will not tell their parents because they fear that this will make the situation worse. But the parents have the right to know so that they can give the child comfort at home. They will also need to be advised about how the school is prepared to deal with the incident.
The parents of the bully will need to be contacted as well. Responsible parents will be horrified to learn that their child is a bully, so do sympathize with them. Don’t talk to the parents negatively as if they are to blame as this will only incite ill feelings. At times, the parents of the bully will go into denial and this is quite common.
Don’t point the finger at the victim:
Teachers and other school staff, as well as the parents, should never point the finger at the victim. Sadly, a host of parents have blamed their own children for the bullying. But bullying is never the fault of its victim. Making the child feel responsible is wrong. No child deserves to be bullied and any adults who says anything such as “If you weren’t such a nerd or if you tried harder to fit in, you wouldn’t be bullied”, is a bully of a sort themselves. Victims of bullying already feel insecure.
School counsellors have a job to do as well:
If a child appears to lack social skills, school counsellors should investigate a little further. Children who lack social skills, are ostracized from others, often turn to bullying to gain attention. They often turn to bullying because they are annoyed, angry with others for not accepting them or could be bullied at home.There is no excuse for bullying, but a child with a lack of social skills could initiate the bullying without realizing it. This is why an in-depth investigation needs to be carried out.
Place up notices around the school about bullying:
The more a school makes it obvious that bullying is not tolerated, the more thought a potential bully with give to wether being a bully is worth it. Fliers and posters placed around the school will make children more aware of the fact that the school is prepared to do all in their power to enforce non-bullying programs.
A host of schools have invited the police and employees of various child protection services to their schools to speak to children about bullying. This has shown some very possitive results in many schools. When children are made aware of the consequences of bullying they are less likely to become a bully. Children need to know how a bully think, why they do what they do and how a victim of bullying feels. They also need to fully comprehend that bullying can lead to a life of crime or incareration and a criminal record which will follow them around for a lifetime.
If bullying gets out of control:
If the bullying gets out of control, educators may need to suspend a child or in the worst case scenario, expel the child. When educators feel as if their hands are tied, the bully’s parents are making no effort whatsoever to enforce the no bullying rules, nothing else can be done but expel the child. But this is should only be a last resort as all children are entitled to a good education.
Perchance the bully is a victim of ADD, ADHD or is bipolar or is having problems at home. All these possibilities need to be addressed with the parents prior to making a decision in regards to what to do with the bully. The child may need professional counselling or medical assistance. If a school has a bully who is a danger to the rest of the students, is out of control and will not obey rules and regulations and is putting other children’s lives at risk, the police need to be contacted immediately.
Most schools have a weekly newsletter and these are ideal for getting the entire community involved in helping to stamp out school bullying. Every issue of the newsletter should have a section which is focused on schoolyard bullying. Ask that parents sit down and discuss bullying with their children on a regular basis.
Bullying should always be taken seriously, with cyber bullying also very prominent these days, a host of school children have been pushed to suicide. A ten year old girl in North Carolina was found by her mother after she had hung herself with a belt. The girl has been consistently harassed by her classmates. Ironically, the school administrators were aware of her dilemma. Obviously the bullying was not taken as seriously as it should have been.
Over in Australia, teen suicide has increased dramatically and the majority of these suicides are said to be linked with cyber bullying by schoolchildren. A note was found by a young teenager’s mother after she found her son had gassed himself in the family car during the early hours of the morning. The note said “I can’t take this anymore, every day is torture and they won’t leave me alone. They bully me at school, the bully me online”. Once again school administrators were aware of the abuse. Apparently the child was told to “ride it out and it will stop soon”.
Unfortunately, anti-bullying programs don’t work 100%. There will always be bullies and there will always be victims. Yet with a little effort, school staff can help to keep the numbers of bullying incidents down. Whilst parents should expect schools to take a proactive approach to bullying, they cannot perform miracles.
“I just want the bullying to stop. That is all I ever wanted. I used to love going to school. Now I hate it.”
~~(9-year-old Verity Ward quoted in the Sunday Telegraph, 12 March 2000)~~