Bullying Prevention: What Schools and Parents Can Do
Bullying is a widespread problem in our schools
and communities. The behavior encompasses physical aggression, threats, teasing,
and harassment. In any form, bullying is an unacceptable anti-social behavior
that can undermine the quality of the school environment, affect students’
academic and social outcomes, cause victims emotional and psychological trauma,
and, in extreme cases, lead to serious violence.
It is critical that adults create an environment
in school and at home where bullying is not tolerated under any
circumstances. Bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up but learned
through influences at home, in school, from peer groups, and through
the media. As such, it also can be unlearned or, better yet, prevented.
The following information can help parents and teachers ensure that children
understand the appropriate way to treat others, and are not victimized by
cruel or threatening behavior.
Facts About Bullying
Bullying is the most common
form of violence in our society; between 15% and 30% of students are bullies
A 2001 report from the American
Medical Association on a study of over 15,000 6th-10th graders estimates that
approximately 3.7 million youths engage in, and more than 3.2 million are
victims of, moderate or serious bullying each year.
Since 1992, there have been
250 violent deaths in schools that involved multiple victims. In virtually
every school shooting, bullying has been a factor.
Membership in either bully
or victim groups is associated with school drop out, poor psychosocial adjustment,
criminal activity and other negative long-term consequences.
Direct, physical bullying increases
in elementary school, peaks in middle school and declines in high school.
Verbal abuse, on the other hand, remains constant. The U.S. Department of
Justice reports that younger students are more likely to be bullied than older
25% of teachers see nothing
wrong with bullying or putdowns and consequently intervene in only 4% of bullying
Over two-thirds of students
believe that schools respond poorly to bullying, with a high percentage of
students believing that adult help is infrequent and ineffective.
Why Do Some Children and Adolescents Become Bullies?
A bully is someone who directs
physical, verbal, or psychological aggression or harassment toward others,
with the goal of gaining power over or dominating another individual. Research
indicates that bullying is more prevalent in boys than in girls, though this
difference decreases when considering indirect aggression (such as verbal
threats), which is more common among girls. Bullying behavior is not caused
by one factor, but generally results from multiple influences in a child’s
Family factors. The frequency and severity of bullying is related to the amount of adult supervision
that children receive—bullying behavior is reinforced when it has no or inconsistent
consequences. Additionally, children who observe parents and siblings exhibiting
bullying behavior, or who are themselves victims, are likely to develop bullying
behaviors. When children receive negative messages or physical punishment
at home, they tend to develop negative self-concepts and expectations, and
may therefore attack before they are attacked—bullying others gives them a
sense of power and importance.
School factors. Because school personnel often ignore bullying, children can be reinforced for
intimidating others. Bullying also thrives in an environment where students
are more likely to receive negative feedback and negative attention than in
a positive school climate that fosters respect and sets high standards for
Peer group factors. Children may interact in a school or neighborhood peer group that advocates,
supports, or promotes bullying behavior. Some children may bully peers in
an effort to “fit in,” even though they may be uncomfortable with the behavior.
Why Do Some Children and Adolescents Become Victims?
A victim is someone who repeatedly
is exposed to aggression from peers in the form of physical attacks, verbal
assaults, or psychological abuse. Victims are more likely to be boys and to
be physically weaker than their peers. They generally do not have many, if
any, good friends and may display poor social skills and academic difficulties
Victims signal to others that they are insecure, primarily
passive, and will not retaliate if they are attacked. Consequently, bullies
often target children who complain, appear physically or emotionally weak,
and seek attention from peers. Studies also show that victims have a higher
prevalence of overprotective parents or school personnel; as a result, they
often fail to develop their own effective coping skills. Many victims long
for approval and even after being rejected, some continue to make ineffective
attempts to interact with the victimizer.
How Can Bullying Lead to Violence?
Bullies lack respect for others’ basic human
rights and are more likely to resort to violence to solve problems without
worry of the potential implications. Both bullies and victims show higher
rates of fighting than their peers. And, as shown in recent school shootings,
victims’ frustration with bullying can turn into vengeful violence.
What Can Schools Do?
Many schools today respond to bullying, or
other types of school violence, with reactive measures. However, installing
metal detectors or surveillance cameras or hiring police to patrol the halls
has no tangible positive results. Similarly, “Zero Tolerance” policies (severe
consequence for any behavior defined as dangerous such as bullying or carrying
a weapon) rely on exclusionary measures (suspension, expulsion) that have
long-term negative effects.
Instead, researchers advocate school-wide
prevention programs that promote a positive school and community climate.
Existing programs can effectively reduce the occurrence of bullying; in fact,
one program decreased peer victimization by 50%. Such programs require the
participation and commitment of students, parents, educators and members of
the community. Effective school programs:
Provide early intervention. Researchers advocate intervening in elementary or middle school, or as early
as preschool. Group, classroom, and building-wide social skills training is
highly recommended, as well as counseling and systematic aggression interventions
for students exhibiting bullying and victim behaviors. School psychologists
and other mental health personnel are particularly well trained to provide
such training as well as guidance in selecting and evaluating prevention programs.
Balance discipline with
behavioral supports. Establish clear consistent consequences for bullying
behavior that all children understand. Discipline should address the behavior
and its underlying causes. Incorporating positive behavioral interventions
with loss of privileges or other consequences will do more to change students’
behavior than approaches based solely on punishment.
Support parents’ efforts
to teach their children good social skills. Parents must learn to reinforce their children’s positive
behavior patterns and model appropriate interpersonal interactions. School
psychologists, social workers, and counselors can help parents support children
who tend to become victims as well as recognize bullying behaviors that require
intervention. Be sure parents know how to get in touch with the appropriate
mental health professional in the building or district.
Equip teachers and school
staff with prevention and intervention skills. Training can help teachers identify and respond to
potentially damaging victimization as well as to implement positive feedback
and modeling to foster appropriate social interactions. Support services personnel
can help administrators design effective teacher training modules. All
school personnel (bus drivers, playground monitors, after school program
supervisors, etc.) should be trained to prevent and intervene with bullying.
Supervision of students is important!
Change attitudes toward
bullying. Researchers maintain that society must stop defending bullying behavior
as part of growing up and with the attitude that “kids will be kids.” School
personnel should never ignore bullying behaviors. Consistently modeling appropriate
behavior, praising children when they do the right thing, intervening immediately
when bullying occurs, and offering children alternatives to bullying will
change attitudes and behavior.
Empower students to support
each other. An important factor in the prevalence of bullying behavior
is the degree to which children become “accepting” bystanders or even participants
when a classmate is being bullied. Teaching children to work together to stand
up to a bully, encouraging them to reach out to excluded peers, celebrating
acts of kindness, and reinforcing the availability of adult support can transform
what experts call the “silent majority” into a “caring majority” of students
who become part of the anti-bullying solution.
Create a positive school
environment. A positive school climate will reduce bullying and
victimization. Schools with easily understood rules of conduct, smaller class
sizes, and fair discipline practices report lower rates of aggressive behavior
and violence. Adults should be visible and vigilant in common areas, such
as hallways, cafeterias, locker rooms, and playgrounds. School personnel should
be aware of behavior on the bus, and on the way to and from school for children
who walk, as these can be important parts of a child’s school day. Children
should trust that an adult can and will help them if they are being bullied.
What Can Parents Do?
Be aware of changes in
your child’s behavior or attitudes. Children who are bullied often give signals that something
is wrong. They may become withdrawn or be reluctant to go to school and can
experience physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, or problems
sleeping. Talk to your child about their concerns. Reassure them that
you will work with the school to stop the bullying behavior.
Let the school know if
your child is being bullied. Talk to your child’s teacher and/or contact the school’s
psychologist, counselor or social worker to ask for help. Become involved
in school programs to counteract bullying. Volunteer at the school to get
firsthand knowledge of the school environment and your child’s peer group.
Teach your child strategies
to counter bullying. Useful strategies include standing up for themselves
verbally, such as saying “I don’t like what you said/or did,” or “You can
say whatever you want but it’s not true;” walking away from the bully; using
humor (practice funny comebacks with your child); thinking of positive images
or statements about themselves to bolster self-esteem; and getting help from
Begin teaching good social
skills early. The pattern of bullying can begin as young as age
two. The earlier children learn positive alternatives, the better. Praise
your child for appropriate social behaviors and model interactions that do
not include bullying or aggression. “Catch” your child doing something good
and offer positive reinforcement. Encourage children to support their peers,
(e.g., asking a lonely classmate to eat lunch or sticking up for a child being
teased). Monitor television watching and video games.
Foster positive social
relationships and activities. Help your child identify peers with whom they get
along. Suggest things they can do together, (e.g., study, each lunch, come
home after school, go to the movies). Also, finding a variety of activities
that your child enjoys and does well can help build self-esteem and confidence.
Use alternatives to physical
punishment. Children who are spanked too harshly or too often
learn that physical aggression is okay. Consistent alternatives, such as
the removal of privileges or additional chores, serve as more effective consequences
for inappropriate or difficult behavior.
Stop any bullying behavior
immediately. Supervising children is important. Intervene as bullying
behavior is happening and have the child practice alternative behaviors.
This handout was developed from a number
of resources including Children’s Needs: Development, Problems and Alternatives
and Best Practices in School Crisis Prevention and Intervention published
by NASP. For a complete list of references and additional resources,
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