An Excerpt from Dropout Prevention Tools

How to Prevent School Bullying

adapted from “Preventing Bullying: A Manual for School and Communities”

Published by the U.S. Dept. of Education Applies to the following Dropout Prevention Strategies: Safe Schools, Systemic Reform, Family Involvement, Community Collaboration

Applies to all grade levels

Because of the recent incidents of school violence, bullying has become a matter of concern for a number of school stakeholders. In a study conducted in small Midwestern towns, 88% of students reported having observed bullying, and 76.8% indicated they had been a victim of bullying. Of the nearly 77% who had been victimized, 14% indicated that they experience severe reactions to the abuse. A study of 6,500 fourth- to sixth-graders in the rural South indicated that 1 in 4 students had been bullied with some regularity and that 1 in 10 had been bullied at least once a week. Bullying can lead to greater and prolonged violence. Not only does it harm its intended victims, it also negatively affects school climate and opportunities for all students to learn and achieve in school.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying among children is commonly defined as intentional, repeated hurtful acts, words or other behavior””such as name calling, threatening, and/or shunning””committed by one or more children against another. Bullying may be physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual in nature. For example:

  • Physical bullying includes punching, poking, strangling, hair pulling, beating, biting, and excessive tickling.
  • Verbal bullying includes hurtful name-calling, teasing, and gossip.
  • Emotional bullying includes rejecting; terrorizing; extorting; defaming; humiliating; blackmailing; rating or ranking of personal characteristic such as race, disability, ethnicity, or perceived sexual orientation; manipulating friendships; isolating; ostracizing; and peer pressure.
  • Sexual bullying includes many of the actions listed above as well as exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual propositioning, sexual harassment, and abuse involving actual physical contact and sexual assault.

Who Gets Hurt?

Victims can suffer far more than actual physical harm.

  • Grades may suffer because attention is drawn away from learning.
  • Fear may lead to absenteeism, truancy, or dropping out.
  • Victims may lose or fail to develop self-esteem, experience feelings of isolation, and become withdrawn and depressed.
  • As students and later as adults, victims may be hesitant to take social, intellectual, emotional, or vocational risks.
  • If the problem persists, victims occasionally feel compelled to take drastic measures, such as vengeance in the form of fighting back, weapon carrying, or even suicide.
  • Victims are more likely than nonvictims to grow up being socially anxious and insecure, displaying more symptoms of depression than those who were not victimized as children.
  • Bystanders and peers of victims can be distracted from learning as well. They may be afraid to associate with the victim for fear of lowering their own status or of retribution from the bully and becoming victims themselves.
  • They may fear reporting bullying incidents because they do not want to be called a “snitch,” a “tattler,” or an “informer.”
  • They may experience feelings of guilt or helplessness for not standing up to the bully on behalf of their classmate.
  • They may feel unsafe, unable to take action, or out of control.

Bullies attend school less frequently and are more likely to drop out of school than other students. Several studies suggest that bullying in early childhood may be an early sign of the developing of violent tendencies, delinquency, and criminality.

Developing a Comprehensive Approach

School-Level Interventions

  • Develop a student questionnaire to determine the nature and extent of bullying problems in school.
  • Formation a bullying prevention coordinating committee (a small group of energetic teachers, administrators, counselors, and other school staff who plan and monitor school activities.)
  • Hold teacher in-service days to review findings from the questionnaire, discuss bullying problems, and plan the school’s violence prevention efforts.
  • Sponsor schoolwide events to launch the program (e.g., via school television, public address announcements, or assemblies.)
  • Develop schoolwide rules and sanctions against bullying.
  • Develop a system to reinforce prosocial behavior (e.g., “Caught you Caring” initiatives).
  • Involve parents school activities (e.g., highlighting the program at Parent-Teacher Association meetings, school open houses, and special violence prevention programs; encourage parents’ participation in planning activities and school events).
  • Schedule regular classroom meetings during which students and teachers engage in discussion, role playing and artistic activities related to preventing bullying and other forms of violence among students.

Individual Interventions

  • School staff members intervene immediately in all bullying incidents.
  • When appropriate, involve parents of bullies and victims of bullying are involved.
  • Form “friendship groups,” or other supports for students who are victims of bullying.
  • When appropriate, involve school counselors and/or mental health professionals.

Community Interventions

  • Disseminate information about the program known among a wide range of residents in the local community (e.g., convene meetings with community leaders to discuss the school’s program and problems associated with bullying, encourage local media coverage of the school’s efforts, engage students in efforts to discuss their school’s program with informal community leaders).
  • Involve community members in the school’s antibullying activities (e.g., solicit assistance from local businesses to support aspects of the program, involve community members in school and districtwide “Bully-Free Day” events).
  • Engage community members, students, and school personnel in antibullying efforts within the community (e.g., introduce core program elements into summer church school classes).

Before implementing any efforts to address bullying or other violence at school, school administrators should keep in mind the following:

  • Ideally, efforts should begin early, as children transition into kindergarten, and continue throughout a child’s formal education.
  • Effective programs require strong leadership and ongoing commitment on the part of school personnel.
  • Ongoing staff development and training are important to sustaining programs.
  • Programs should be culturally sensitive to student diversity issues and developmentally appropriate.
  • Parent and community involvement in the panning and execution of such programs is critical.

Administrative Interventions

  • Assess the awareness and the scope of the bullying problems at school through student and staff surveys.
  • Closely supervise children on playgrounds and in classrooms, hallways, rest rooms, cafeterias, and other areas where bullying occurs in school.
  • Conduct schoolwide assemblies and teacher and staff in-service training to raise awareness regarding the problem of bullying and to communicate zero tolerance for such behavior.
  • Post and publicize clear behavior standards, including rules against bullying, for all students. Consistently and fairly enforce such behaviors.
  • Encourage parent participation by establishing on-campus parent centers that recruit, coordinate, and encourage parents to take part in the educational process and volunteer to assist in school activities and projects.
  • Establish a confidential reporting system that allows children to report victimization and that records the details of bullying incidents.
  • Ensure that your school has legally required policies and procedures for sexual discrimination. Make these procedures known to parents and students.
  • Receive and listen receptively to parents who report bullying. Establish procedures whereby such reports are investigated and resolved expeditiously at the school level to avoid perpetuating bullying.
  • Develop strategies to reward students for positive, inclusive behavior.
  • Provide schoolwide and classroom activities designed to build self-esteem by spotlighting special talents, hobbies, interests, and abilities of all students and that foster mutual understanding of and appreciation for differences in others.

Teacher Interventions

  • Provide students with opportunities to talk about bullying, and enlist their support in defining bullying as unacceptable behavior.
  • Involve students in establishing classroom rules against bullying. Such rules may include a commitment from the teacher to not “look the other way” when incidents involving bullying occur.
  • Provide classroom activities and discussions related to bullying and violence, including the harm that they cause and strategies to reduce their incidence.
  • Develop a classroom action plan to ensure that students know what to do when they observe a bully-victim confrontation.
  • Teach cooperation by assigning projects that require collaboration. Such cooperation teaches students how to compromise and how to assert without demanding. Take care to vary grouping of participants and to monitor the treatment of and by participants in each group.
  • Take immediate action when bullying is observed. All teaches and school staff must let children know they care and will not allow anyone to be mistreated. By taking immediate action and dealing directly with the bully, adults support both the victim and the witnesses.
  • Confront bullies in private. Challenging bullies in front of their peers may actually enhance their status and lead to further aggression.
  • Notify parents of both victims and bullies when a confrontation occurs, and seek to resolve the problem expeditiously at school.
  • Refer both victims and aggressors to counseling when appropriate.
  • Provide protection for bullying victims when necessary. Such protection may include creating a buddy system whereby students have a particular friend or older buddy on whom they can depend and with whom they share class schedule information and plans for the school day.
  • Listen receptively to parents who report bullying, and investigate reported circumstances so immediate and appropriate school action may be taken.
  • Avoid attempts to mediate a bullying situation. The difference in power between victims and bullies may cause victims to feel further victimized by the process or to believe they are somehow at fault.

Student Interventions

Students may not know what to do when they observe a classmate being bullied or experience such victimization themselves. Classroom discussions and activities may help students develop a variety of appropriate actions that they can take when they witness or experience such victimization. For instance, depending on the situation and their own level of comfort, students can do the following:

  • Seek immediate help from an adult and report bullying and victimization incidents to school personnel
  • Speak up and/or offer support to the victim when they see him or her being bullied (e.g., picking up the victim’s books and handing them to him or her)
  • Privately support those being hurt those being hurt with words of kindness or condolence
  • Express disapproval of bullying behavior by not joining in the laughter, teasing, or spreading of rumors or gossip
  • Attempt to defuse problem situations either single handedly or in a group (e.g., by taking the bully aside and asking him or her to “cool it”

Parent Interventions

The best protection parents can offer their children who are involved in a bully-victim conflict is to foster their child’s confidence and independence and to be willing to take action when needed. The following suggestions are offered to help parents identify appropriate responses to conflict experienced by their children at school:

  • Be careful not to convey to a child who is being victimized that something is wrong with him or her or that he or she deserves such treatment. When a child is subjected to abuse from his or her peers, it is not fair to fault the child’s social skills. Respect is a basic right: All children are entitled to courteous and respectful treatment. Convince your child that he or she is not at fault and that the bully’s behavior is the source of the problem.
  • It is appropriate to call the school if your child is involved in a conflict as either a victim or a bully. Work collaboratively with school personnel to address the problem. Keep records of incidents so that you can be specific in your discussion with school personnel about your child’s experiences at school.
  • You may wish to arrange a conference with a teacher, principal, or counselor. School personnel may be able to offer some practical advice to help you or your child. They may also be able to intervene directly with each of the participants. School personnel may have observed the conflict firsthand and may be able to corroborate your child’s version of the incident, making it harder for the bully or the bully’s parents to deny its authenticity.
  • Although it is often important to talk with the bully or his or her parents, be careful in your approach. Speaking directly to the bully may signal to the bully that your child is a weakling. Speaking with the parents of a bully may not accomplish anything because lack of parental involvement in a bullying child’s life is typical. Parents of bullies may also fail to see anything wrong with bullying, equating it to “standing up for oneself.”
  • Offer support to your child, but do not encourage dependence on you. Rescuing your child from challenges, or assuming responsibility yourself when things are not going well, does not teach your child independence. The more choices a child has to make, the more he or she develops independence, and independence can contribute to self-confidence.
  • Do not encourage your child to be aggressive or to strike back. Chances are that it is not his or her nature to do so. Rather, teach your child to be assertive. A bully often is looking for an indication that his or her threats and intimidation are working. Tears or passive acceptance only reinforces the bully’s behavior. A child who does not respond as the bully desires is not likely to be chosen as a victim. For example, children can be taught to respond to aggression with humor and assertions rather than acquiescence.
  • Be patient. Conflict between children more than likely will not be resolved overnight. Be prepared to spend time with your child, encouraging your child to develop new interests or strengthen existing talents and skills that will help develop and improve his or her self-esteem. Also help your child to develop new or bolster existing friendships. Friends often serve as buffers to bullying.
  • If the problem persists or escalates, you may need to seek an attorney’s help or contact local law enforcement officials. Bullying or acts of bullying should not be tolerated in the school or the community. Students should not have to tolerate bullying at school any more than adults would tolerate such situations at work.