Raising awareness about bullying

schoolyard bully kicking a ball at 3 boys

Cropped image. Thomas Ricker, Flickr. CC license.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month. This is the time when we—as parents, schools, communities and states—need to come together to spread the word about bullying and what we can do to prevent it. Messages about kindness, inclusion and acceptance need to be part of our conversations and actions.

What exactly is bullying?

The Center for Disease Control and the Department of Education define bullying as “unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that happens via electronic communication and often takes place on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, messaging apps or texts. It includes sending false, negative, hurtful or mean content about another person leading to humiliation and embarrassment of the victim. At times, cyberbullying may be criminal in behavior or unlawful. In 2015, The National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics indicate that 21 percent of students between the ages of 12 and 18 are being cyberbullied.

What do the numbers show?

  • More than 1 in every 3 or 4 children report being bullied.
  • Bullying occurs most often in middle school, although it occurs at any age.
  • More than 160,000 students miss school each day in fear of being bullied.
  • According to the National Center for Educational Statistics:
    • 13 percent of victims were made fun of, called names, or insulted
    • 12 percent were victims of rumors
    • 5 percent report being pushed or shoved
    • 5 percent were intentionally excluded from activities
  • A slightly higher number of female students were bullied at school (23 percent vs 19 percent) but more male students were physically bullied (6 percent vs 4 percent).
  • Bullying occurs in the halls, stairwells, in the classroom and cafeteria, outside on school grounds and on the bus.
  • The most commonly reported reasons for being bullied include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion and sexual orientation.
  • School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by up to 25 percent. (McCallion & Feder, 2013)
  • More than half of the bullying situations stop when a peer intervenes on behalf of the student being bullied. (Hawkins, Pepler & Craig, 2001)

What are some effects of bullying?

  • Bullied students have an increased risk for poor school adjustment, grades, anxiety and depression. They also report frequent headaches and stomachaches.
  • These students are at a greater risk for behavior and mental health problems.
  • Bullied students have a poor self-concept, often blame themselves and show maladjustment as they develop.
  • Bullying affects their relationships with family and peers.

Laws in Michigan schools

The laws require Michigan school districts to adopt policies to prevent bullying in the schools. All pupils are protected, and bullying is prohibited under this policy. School districts must:

  • have a written plan that includes notifying the parent/guardian of a victim of bullying and the parent/guardian or the perpetrator.
  • investigate the incident, report the findings and include the consequences, such as discipline or referrals. This must be done confidentially.
  • Have personnel trained to prevent, identify, respond to and report incidents of bullying that they encounter.

There is much more to this law; the complete law can be found here.

What schools can do

 Research shows that bullying can be stopped and even prevented when adults immediately respond to bullying and the students know that this behavior will not be tolerated. When a school enforces the laws and policies set by the school districts, students have clear expectations of their behavior and the consequences.

Schools can also provide school-wide activities around bullying. Activities can be done in the classroom so all students can feel safe to prevent bullying. Finally, creating a warm, safe atmosphere that fosters acceptance can prevent bullying.

What parents can do

  • Explore stopbullying.gov, a one-stop shop website that covers bullying, cyberbullying, prevention and resources. Another resource is www.stompoutbullying.org.
  • Help our children understand bullying. Talk about what it is and empower each child to stand up to it. Make sure a child understands that bullying is unacceptable and won’t be tolerated. Educating them to know what to do about it.
  • Empower your child so they know what to do if someone tries to bully them or what they should do if they witness a bullying situation.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. Talk with your child each day, but most importantly, listen to what they are saying, either implicitly or explicitly.
  • Encourage kids to do the things they love. Students who are involved in their special interests and activities generally display a higher level of confidence.
  • Model how to treat others. When children see you treating others with kindness and respect, they may also display those same behaviors.
  • Check out one of the many apps that are available. One of the popular apps is “Sit with Us” that kids can use to find a lunch buddy.
  • If your child is being bullied, Beaumont Children’s Hospital offers the NoBLE program (No bullying, live empowered). NoBLE provides guidance, support and strategies to help resolve bullying issues.

Books as resources

There are many children’s books available for children to understand what bullying is and how to empower themselves when confronted by a bully. As always, reading together and talking about the books you read together gives valuable insight to the topic and your child’s feelings.

Let’s rally together and stop this hurtful behavior. Let’s strive to make all environments a safe place for our children.

– Lori Irwin, M.Ed., is a Parenting Program volunteer. She’s a former teacher of children with severe disabilities in reading, a consultant with a leading educational book publisher, and a mother of two adult children.


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