Stop bullying: How to identify, report and prevent it from happening in your school

Bully free zone

Bully free zone (© Flickr Magnus Manske)

It seems that everywhere you look on the Internet, there is a story about bullying, and rightfully so; it’s become a huge issue in today’s schools. There are many theories of why bullying has gotten out of control, but here, we’re taking action by finding ways to identify it, report it and prevent cases of depression or suicide linked with bullying.

What is bullying?

The federal website of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, stopbullying.gov, defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.” This is a serious problem beginning in grade school and ranging all the way through college-aged students. There are three types of bullying:

  • Verbal: saying or writing mean things
  • Social: hurting someone’s reputation or relationships
  • Physical: hurting a person’s body or possessions

The behavior from the aggressor is repetitive and often includes, but is not limited to, such actions as:

  • Making threats
  • Spreading rumors
  • Attacking someone physically
  • Attacking someone verbally: spoken or written words
  • Excluding someone from a group on purpose
  • Telling other people not to be friends with someone

“I’ve witnessed bullying; what can I do?”

While cases of bullying on college campuses do not occur as frequently as they do in high schools and grade schools, it can still be a major cause for concern. And, this advice can also help a younger sibling or a child you mentor. If you have witnessed bullying taking place in a K-12 building, or someone you care about is being bullied or has witnessed a classmate being bullied, there are ways to get help.

First things first. Stopbullying.gov offers these suggestions:

  • Bullying needs to be stopped immediately as it is witnessed. Do not wait until after class, and never ignore the problem.
  • Separate those involved and question them separately right away.
  • Don’t make those involved apologize to each other on the spot and then let them go on. This will show that you don’t place high enough value on stopping bullying.
  • Seek police or medical attention right away if a weapon is involved, there are serious threats of physical injury, there is sexual abuse or if there is serious bodily harm.

If you’re not sure what you witnessed should be considered bullying, consider these questions in determining how to respond:

  • What is the history between the people involved? Have there been past conflicts?
  • Is there a power imbalance? Remember that a power imbalance is not limited to physical strength. It is sometimes not easily recognized. If the targeted person feels like there is a power imbalance, there probably is.
  • Has this happened before? Is the child worried it will happen again?
  • Have the two individuals dated? There are special responses for teen dating violence.
  • Is anyone involved with a gang? Gang violence has different interventions.

Preventing bullying from happening at your school

Many states have drafted “anti-bullying” laws into effect, but will that be enough to stop bullying in schools? Probably not. While dealing with an issue as wide-spread as bullying, the prevention needs to start on a smaller scale. The National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention offers tips on how schools can prevent bullying from happening:

  • Develop and implement safe school policies and plans that specifically address bullying.
  • Explicitly include bullying in school discipline codes and enforce these codes fairly and consistently.
  • Choose and implement violence prevention and health promotion curricula that include bullying prevention.
  • Provide mental health or counseling services or referrals for both victims and perpetrators of bullying.
  • Implement training for teachers, administrators, guidance counselors and school nurses on how to recognize and respond to bullying.
  • Educate parents about the signs of bullying and involve them in bullying prevention activities.

It’s important to note that while these tips offer great advice for schools, unless they are explicitly implemented, nothing can change in the dynamic of the school in question. Take a stand against bullying by speaking up for yourself and those around you.

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