It’s no secret that bullying has become an epidemic that educators, parents, and students deal with every day. Whether bullying involves physical harm, property damage, social exclusion, name-calling, or online behaviors, perpetrators intend to cause harm, distress, or create fear. No school is immune from bullying, and National Bullying Prevention Month this October is a perfect time to take action.
How prevalent is bullying in middle school and among tweens?
All schools today struggle with a rise in bullying, with the problem striking especially hard in middle schools. One study showed that a far greater proportion of middle school students (39 percent) experienced bullying than did high school students (27 percent)—and incidents at all levels are notoriously under-reported. This spike in bullying may come as no surprise. Students must transition to a new, more challenging environment, find their place with new peers, and deal with social groups that are jockeying for position.
Cyberbullying is also taking center stage, with one-third of students reporting that they have been a cyber-victim. Again, the rate is highest among grades six through eight at 28 percent. One survey found that screen time for children aged eight to twelve rose to five hours and 33 minutes in 2021 (and more than eight hours for teens). Making matters worse, most of this time occurs without the benefit of adult supervision.
This form of bullying is especially dangerous, in that rumors can be spread almost instantly, are easily shared among large groups, can be created anonymously, and are hard to delete. Cyberbullying statistics are particularly grim: Nearly one-quarter of cyberbullied students have considered suicide, and more than one-third develop anxiety or depression.
The proof is all around us that bullying is one of the main reasons why students suffer from mental and emotional health issues, which also hinder their ability to learn and be engaged at school. The question we must answer is what concrete steps we can take to address the problem.
Top Warning Signs that a Child is Being Bullied
One of the main ways we can reduce bullying is to educate educators and parents about the red flags that signal a child is being bullied. Some warning signs may be easier to spot by caregivers at home, but educators can also spot many telltale signs. Here are some things to look for:
- Altered Mood: The student may become depressed, anxious, or show other signs of emotional distress. They may refuse to talk about what is wrong out of fear or shame.
- Illness and Physical Harm: Students who experience bullying may experience health effects such as headaches and stomachaches. They may also have unexplained cuts, bruises, or scratches.
- Fear of School: Victims may make excuses to stay home from school or not want to participate in after-school activities. There may be afraid of getting on the bus or taking the long way or an “illogical” route to school.
- Poor Grades: Many bullied students lose interest in school, fall behind in schoolwork, or grades start to slip. They may start avoiding school activities they previously enjoyed.
- Property: The child shows signs of or report damaged or missing pieces of clothing, books, or “losing” other belongings. They may also resort to stealing to replace items.
- Social Isolation: Bullied students often lose friends (sometimes quite suddenly), have trouble making friends, or become withdrawn.
- Sleeplessness: Anxiety may cause sleeplessness, recurrent bad dreams, and inattention at school.
- Appetite: The student’s eating habits may change suddenly or drastically, including loss of appetite or bingeing. This may be a sign that they are stressed, avoiding the group setting of the cafeteria, or that someone is stealing their lunch money.
- Decreased Self-Esteem: Bullying can result in lower self-esteem and feelings of helplessness. In middle school, students are more likely to blame themselves rather than those bullying them. This can result in self-destructive behaviors, such as hurting themselves, running away, substance abuse, or dropping out of school.
- Aggression: Sometimes, victims may express their feelings by behaving more unreasonably with parents or aggressively to siblings or other younger, smaller children.
Learn More during Anti-Bullying Month This October
October is Anti-Bullying Month, a great time to students, teachers, and administrators to take steps forward in preventing bullying and creating a more inclusive culture of respect and empathy. There are a variety of curricula, tools, and technology schools can use.
We may not be able to prevent bullying 100%, so include intervention programs, reporting tools such Anonymous Reporting Systems, and ways to increase access to help in your toolbox. As you build your program, consider a digital tool like HELPme by STOPit, which provides anti-bullying support and resources tailored to your local district using a convenient mobile app. As you plan your next steps, look for an anti-bullying approach that creates a safer, healthier, and more respectful environment that enhances learning.