Bullies are becoming an increasingly prevalent problem in our schools. Many schools respond to this situation by implementing zero tolerance policies, but are they working? Are school-wide anti-bullying programs an effective measure against peer victimization? Educators need to look at their school dynamics, consider their student population, and make informed decisions.
What is bullying?
Bullying is the physical, verbal, or psychological abuse. In an educational setting, it usually occurs in the “unowned” areas, such as hallways and restrooms, where adult supervision is minimal. Examples of bullying behaviors include name-calling, racial slurs, hitting, spreading rumors, or social ostracism.
Who becomes a bully?
Is a bully a kid with low self-esteem? Is he the biggest kid in the class? These are our stereotypical associations, but research actually shows this is not usually the case. Bullies tend to be seen as “cool” kids. They have a high self-esteem and many friends.
Who becomes a victim?
While bullying is often associated with such personality characteristics as shyness, sometimes it is a temporary predicament brought on by transitional factors such as moving to a new school, or delayed pubertal development.
Is being bullied a natural part of growing up?
No, it is not. Bullying is not a character-building experience our children need to live through and learn from. It lowers their self-esteem and increases their vulnerabilities.
Are boys more likely than girls to be bullies?
No, they are not. In fact, there has been much research done in recent years on the so-called “mean” or “alpha girls.” These girls tend to be psychological bullies. Their bullying often involves damaging reputations or social ostracism.
How should educators intervene?
The first thing we need to realize is that one size does not fit all in this situation. There are three groups to consider, all with different needs.
- The bully needs to learn to control their anger. They need to accept responsibility for their problems and learn to acceptable, healthy ways to deal with them.
- The victim needs support to develop their self-esteem and a positive self-image. They need to know it is not their fault that they were targeted by the bully.
- The by-standers that observed the bullying taking place need to be educated on the proper responses. They need to know that it is not okay to watch these kinds of things take place without doing anything.
Teachers need to be sure they never ignore a bullying incident. This shows the bully that their behavior is unacceptable as well as helping the victim to feel less defenseless in the situation. These incidents can serve as a “teachable moment” in which they can discuss with the class what happened and what could have been done differently by everyone involved (not just the bully and/or the victim).
Perhaps the most powerful lesson we can teach our children is a respect and appreciation of diversity. By accepting the differences in one another, the students will find fewer faults and learn tolerance. How can we teach this? Through literature, movies, studying history, learning about other cultures, talking, writing, collaborating, and interacting. By creating 21st Century learners.