Bullying: How to Identify Targets, Intervene, and Stop the Cycle
Bullying can be traumatic for kids, causing emotional distress, anxiety, fear, and sometimes physical harm. All forms of bullying and inaction from bystanders can affect the student's ability to learn and feel safe in the school environment. While there's no federal mandate about bullying, many schools are taking proactive steps to create zero-tolerance for bullying in and outside the classroom.
Who Do Bullies Target?
No child deserves to be repeatedly made fun of, ostracized, or threatened, but it can happen to anyone—regardless of how they look, who they are, or what they do. One way to start building a zero-tolerance environment is to understand what triggers bullies.
Physical traits and appearance are the number one reason for bullying. Other vulnerable children who are seen as easy targets are those who suffer from mental health issues, feel isolated, or have low self-esteem. Bullies may want to feel powerful and sense that these students won't fight back. At the same time, bullies may target high-status students because it threatens their social standing.
Performance is another area that can trigger bullying. Issues can occur with kids who perform poorly in status-related areas such as athletics. On the other hand, high-performing children can also be targets if the bully is jealous of the positive attention another student receives from peers and adults.
Identity-based harassment is also common. In the 2018-19 school year, the US Government Accountability Office found that among students who were bullied, about one in four were related to race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, or sexual orientation.
In all cases, it's important to communicate to the student that they are not to blame and they've done nothing wrong. The fault lies in the bully's behaviors. In addition, praise children for reporting and don't act rashly in response
Why Don't Victims Tell Anyone?
According to the National Center for Education Statistics, less than half of bullied students (46%) reported notifying an adult at school about the incident. One of the most powerful forces at work, especially among teens, is the peer group's attitude toward "snitching." This code of silence can make students feel that reporting will only make matters worse.
Students who already lack resilience, have mental or emotional health issues, or have poor self-esteem are at greater risk for bullying and non-reporting. They may even buy into the bullying and think that reporting will only make them feel worse and won't help stop the problem.
Another issue is that targets and bystanders may not think taunting, spreading rumors, and other non-physical forms of aggression are serious enough to report. Cyberbullying can also be under-reported because students often worry adults will cause them to lose access to their phones, laptops, or other digital devices if they find out.
How to Prevent Bullying
There's no single way to prevent bullying, so experts suggest that schools use a combination of techniques that reinforce each other. These include:
Zero-Tolerance Environment - Create policies and bullying prevention curricula to create an accepting atmosphere where bullying will not be tolerated.
Training - Schools can put policies and training programs in place for educators, students, and families about how to identify bullying, spot targets, enforce policies, and report bullying incidents and risks.
Empowerment - Parents and educators can learn how to listen carefully to students for signs of bullying, work with targeted solutions, and encourage them to report incidents. If they are being trolled or cyberbullied, teach them ways to block bullies, maintain privacy, and report incidents.
Activities to Teach Students about Bullying - Schools can implement evidence-based programs that address bullying in K12, modified to suit the age group, demographics, and environmental factors. Schools can also incorporate bullying prevention in lessons, discussions, and activities.
Schools can take a number of steps to prevent bullying, intervene on incidents, and encourage reporting, starting with creating a bullying policy on which to act. Next, create anti-bullying awareness train adults to identify and empower targets, encourage students to report, and address the problem in the curricula and student activities. Organizations like StopIt provide programs that address these issues to promote a bullying-free atmosphere for k12 schools.