Returning to in-person school means huge changes for teachers, parents and students. More commuting. More homework. More social interactions. And, experts say, more bullying.
Experts anticipate an increase in bullying incidents this year after cases declined during the pandemic. In response, educators are implementing many different techniques for bullying prevention across all grade levels.
“Bullying prevention is part of a much larger mandate for schools,” Shelley Hymel, co-founder of the international Bullying Research Network, wrote in an email. “Schools must focus on social and emotional learning and mental health supports, in addition to academics.”
Roughly 20% of students ages 12 to 18 are bullied in American schools, according to 2019 data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Bullying is most prevalent in middle school and reported most often by girls, but it is present at every grade level, in both public and private schools and in every part of the country. What is the impact? Education experts say bullied students are more likely to get into physical fights, suffer from health problems and do poorly in school.
“We know that bullying can have short- and long-term impacts on the students being bullied, those doing the bullying and also the bystanders who witness it,” says Amanda Nickerson, director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo–SUNY. “These effects may include depression and anxiety, withdrawal and isolation, anger and aggression, and a decrease in school performance and connection.”
How Educators Can Prevent Bullying
Experts say principals, administrators and other school leaders should model the type of kind and respectful behavior they want to see in students. They should create an environment where staff and students feel valued, rather than controlled.
“Be clear and consistent about promoting a positive school climate where bullying is prohibited,” Nickerson says. “This should include educating students and staff about what bullying is and why it is damaging, how the school actively encourages positive behaviors, and how incidents are reported and handled.”
Jackie Gilbert, a professor and expert on bullying at Middle Tennessee State University, says adult behavior is important.
“Administrators, especially in the top roles, are the ones who frame the culture at work,” she wrote in an email. “Modeling civility is a first step.”
Administrators can also create a code of conduct at their schools. While such a code will not impact every interaction between students, it can establish a framework for behavioral expectations. It can clearly define unacceptable behavior and spell out consequences. Administrators can enforce these expectations by training staff on how to respond to bullying behavior.
“Leaders either lift people up, or they solidify dysfunction,” Gilbert says.
Education also plays a role. Principals can increase adult supervision and conduct bullying prevention activities such as an assembly or art contest that highlights school values. Teachers can extend that into the classroom, conducting exercises to explain bullying prevention and allow students to speak candidly on the topic.
“Despite the best prevention efforts, we know that bullying still occurs,” Nickerson says. “So schools need clear and consistent policies for reporting incidents and handling them in ways that aim to change the behavior of the perpetrator and support the target of the bullying.”
How Parents Can Prevent Bullying
Experts say that parents should show their children that they are interested in more than just academics. They suggest speaking often with children about social interactions that take place in hallways, lunchrooms, classrooms and the school bus. One great way for parents to better understand social dynamics is to spend time volunteering at school and watching their children navigate.
Nickerson says parents should directly address how to deal with bullying, both from the point of view of a victim and a bystander, “so they have some of the tools to empower them to make a difference.”
Perhaps most importantly, experts say parents should start teaching their children to identify and prevent bullying at a young age. “Teaching children good habits early and consistently and having high expectations for positive behavior, as well as teaching responsible use of technology, is important,” Nickerson says.
Learn More About Bullying Prevention
For parents, teachers, administrators and others who want to learn more about how to prevent bullying, there are many resources available:
— Edutopia has resources for educators, including videos, lessons and activities that explain bullying prevention.
— Stopbullying.gov contains information from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
— The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has a resource center that offers facts and definitions, books, information about cyber bullying and other resources.
— PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center is filled with activities that can be conducted at school, materials that can be used in a classroom setting, information on National Bullying Prevention Month in October and other resources.
— The Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention offers fact sheets and tool kits for educators teaching in elementary, middle and high school.
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