Growing up today, speaking as a forty-three-year-old high school principal and the father of a three- and seven-year-old, definitely has its challenges as opposed to when I was growing up watching Growing Pains and Saved by the Bell. The number of means to communicate and to be in contact with someone has seemingly grown exponentially since the time I got my first cell phone when I was in high school.
Because of the technology and communication explosion, the number of ways students can be bullied has increased significantly also. While in-person bullying still exists, cyberbullying is becoming increasingly prevalent as well.
When I was in middle school, there was a boy who would make me wait to get dressed after athletics. He would put his boot on my locker because it was more important for him to get dressed than it was for me to be on time to my next class. It was repeated in that it happened often, he was bigger so it was intimidating, it was through body language, and it infringed on my rights at school. Thus, according to the current definition, this qualifies as bullying. Back then, I essentially just had to deal with the situation.
What is Bullying?
For a thorough definition of bullying, the Texas School Administrators Legal Digest cites Senate Bill 179: The law defines bullying as “a single significant act or a pattern of acts by one or more students directed at another student that exploits an imbalance of power and involves engaging in written or verbal expression, expression through electronic means….that: (i) has the effect or will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or of damage to the student’s property; (ii) is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive enough that the action or threat creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment for a student; (iii) materially and substantially disrupts the educational process or the orderly operation of a classroom or school; or (iv) infringes on the rights of the victim at school.”
In simple terms, bullying is an act or pattern of acts that involves an imbalance of power (written, verbal, or electronic) that could harm the student physically or their property, is persistent, disrupts the educational environment for the students, and infringes on the rights of the student. Texas State’s Texas School Safety Center has created a great checklist to help administrators when deciding what is bullying.
Impact of Bullying on Students
Sadly, some bullying instances end in suicide. A good number of bullying instances end up with some level of depression or feelings of inadequacy as students try to deal with it on their own.
Fear is a common response as the victim becomes fearful of the one(s) who performs the bullying and of others who might view them as potential bullying targets. Fear also plays a role as students are often fearful to come forward with what is taking place in their lives because they fear retaliation from the bully, do not know who to talk to, or they are just nervous about opening up to someone for help.
With cyberbullying, where and when bullying can occur has been taken to another level. In their homes late at night, students can bully other students through words and pictures, and when it disrupts their work at school, it can become a school issue also. Cyberbullying is very hard to track and prevent, making it a very difficult event to even investigate. Help from the community and parents is very important in this arena.
In the end, what bullying does to the victim is that it creates mental and physical bruises and scars that can take many years to recover from.
Bullying Prevention Strategies
Thus, let’s look at some of the best ways to prevent bullying or at least provide a way for students to come forward if they are victims.
This is not groundbreaking, but from 18 complete years in education, the clear number one answer to help stop bullying is in building relationships, and this involves two major components: visibility and knowing who to talk to.
First, visibility! The more teachers, administrators, counselors, nurses, librarians, custodians, and staff members are out and about, by doors in the hallway, near bathroom doors, in locker rooms, etc…the fewer negative things can happen. The more eyes that are watching our students, the less chance bullying will occur.
The second aspect that visibility provides is that students get to know people in the building, and this way they can find the person in their head who they can turn to when and if they need that safe place to go. If the students don’t know who is on campus, they will not know who to turn to!
Second, in the long run, a strong campus-wide prevention program can help. This brings to the forefront the issue to students and everyone on campus so it becomes more noticed. This can drive the bullies into the shadows as the campus culture makes it clear that bullying is not acceptable.
As second prong to the school-wide program (especially at the middle school level) is to have counselors in the classrooms providing guidance. Yes, there will be young eyes rolling, and yes, some kids will smirk and laugh, but counselors and others in the classroom will create avenues for students to eventually open up to the right people who can help the most.
Third, and this will work for more than bullying, have a district or campus program where students can report instances anonymously. We have used very convenient apps where students can send messages to counselors and administrators, and better than fifty percent of the time, there is something that comes from the tip. Whether a fight is averted, a vape is found, or a mental health issue is addressed, good can come from this.
Finally, make it clear to students where their safe places are in the building. Students need to know where to go for help. That help can range from mental to physical needs to school supplies, etc…just make sure your students know where they can go!
The bottom line to prevent bullying is in the relationships built with students. Students must know they are being protected, and they must know they have someone or some place to go where they can get help.