Survivor, expert and activist Jodee Blanco is one of the country’s pre-eminent voices on the subject of bullying. She is the author of The New York Times bestselling memoir, Please Stop Laughing At Me…One Woman’s Inspirational Story, Please Stop Laughing at Us, and Bullied Kids Speak Out. Blanco’s work as a survivor turned activist has been recognized by The National Crime Prevention Council, The Department of Health & Human Services, the National Association of Youth Courts and hundreds of state and local entities. Blanco is one of the most sought‑after keynote/motivational speakers and seminar presenters on bullying in the world.
Author and educator Luke Reynolds currently teaches 7th grade English in the public school system in Harvard, Massachusetts. Luke describes himself as “a lover of writing, running, pancakes, hiking, and all things goofy.” He’s the author of many books for kids and teachers, including Imagine it Better: Visions of What Schools Might Be, Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach, A Call to Creativity: Writing, Reading and Inspiring Students in an Age of Standardization, Keep Calm and Query On, The Looney Experiment, and the forthcoming must-read book for any middle schooler—Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Unmasking the Real You.
Lola Stvil is a New York Times best selling novelist. She is best known for her wildly popular Guardians Series. Lola was seven when she first came to the United States from Port-au-Prince, Haiti. She later attended Columbia College in Chicago, where her main focus was creative writing. In addition to novels, she also writers plays, screenplays and short stories. She has been commissioned to write for ABC and CBS, and honored with an NAACP award for her play, The Bones of Lesser Men. Her new novel, which tackles the issue of bullying, Girls Like Me, will be published in 2016.
Preventing Bullying and Cyber-Bullying
Over the past decade, bullying has emerged as a priority issue for students, parents and educators across the United States. Behaviors that were once dismissed as an apparently normal part of childhood and youth are increasingly being recognized as problem behaviors that not only need to be addressed but in some cases, criminalized. In short, bullying has come to the forefront as a widespread social problem with far-reaching consequences. There is also a growing recognition that bullying is sometimes connected to deeply rooted assumptions about race, class, sexuality, disability and other forms of perceived difference.
However, as emphasized by all three of the experts interviewed by ToBecomeATeacher.org for this article, there is no one single factor that appears to make a child or teen susceptible to bullying.
Jodee Blanco, whose New York Times bestseller, Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman’s Inspirational Story, has played a pivotal role in raising public awareness about bullying, insists that bullying is not simply about name calling. “Bullying also happens by virtue of kindness and acceptance denied,” says Blanco. “Bullying is also all the kind things that are never done, and for this reason, it not simply about name calling. This also means that any kid can be victim of bullying.”[i]
If bullying is finally on the radar, it is not because kids today are more likely to bully or to be bullied than they were in the past but rather because bullying is now increasingly visible to adults. In part, the visibility of bullying is due to the ongoing efforts of people like Blanco who have worked tirelessly to bring the problem into the public spotlight. “When I published Please Stop Laughing at Me in 2001, bullying wasn’t on the radar—it’s really only been over the past ten years that kids, parents and teachers have started to pay attention,” says Blanco.[ii] Unfortunately, if bullying has suddenly been thrust into the public spotlight, it is not only due to the efforts of activists like Blanco.
Another key factor that has increased the visibility of bullying is that many of the aggressive behaviors that once took place in the far corners of the school yard or otherwise out of the sight from adults have now moved online, leaving tell-tale digital traces of dynamics that were previously invisible to most educators and parents. Unfortunately, with cyber-bullying, the effects of bullying have also become more severe.
In recent years, there have been dozens of stories about tweens and teens choosing to commit suicide rather than face another day of bullying at school or on the Internet. These stories are a devastating reminder that bullying isn’t simply about kids not getting along—at its worse, bullying is a matter of life and death and an issue that students and educators can’t afford to ignore. “When I do talks,” says Blanco, who has visited thousands of schools across North America over the past decade, “I regularly meet kids who tell me that they are so desperate they want to take their own life. Talking about bullying, helping people understand the problem from a kid’s perspective, isn’t just public awareness—it’s about saving lives.”[iii]
What is Bullying?
StopBullying.gov, a government-sponsored website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defines bullying as:
Unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Both kids who are bullied and who bully others may have serious, lasting problems. In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include:
- An Imbalance of Power: Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.
- Repetition: Bullying behaviors happen more than once or have the potential to happen more than once.[iv]
A wide range of actions fall under the bullying label, including making threats, spreading rumors, physical attacks, verbal attacks and extreme forms of exclusion (e.g., from a group activity, club or organization).
StopBullying.gov defines cyber-bullying as:
Bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles.[v]
How Widespread is Bullying and Cyber-Bullying?
Since 2000, several major studies have been carried out on bullying and more specifically, cyber-bullying. The statistics reveal that bullying in person and online are major problems across the United States:
- The U.S. Department of Education’s 2011 study, “Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying” reports that 28% of U.S. students in grades 6 through 12 have experienced bullying.[vi]
- A 2013 Centers for Disease Control study found that 20% of U.S. students in grades 9 through 12 have experienced bullying.[vii]
- A 2007 study published in School Psychology Review reports that approximately 30% of young people admit that they have bullied on one or more occasions. The same study reports that 70.6% of young people and 70.4% of school staff have witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month; 41% report witnessing bullying once a week or more.[viii]
- The National Association of Education reports that 160,000 students stay home from school everyday as a result of bullying.[ix]
Cyber-bullying is considered just as or more prevalent than in-person bullying:
- According to the U.S. Department of Education, 9% of students in grades 6 through 12 have experienced some form of cyberbullying.[x]
- Cyber-bullying rates are nearly twice of high for high school age student and more than five times as high for students who identify as LGBT (e.g., 71.3% of LGBT students report having heard homophobic remarks at school).[xi]
What are the Most Common Forms of Bullying?
Both bullying and cyberbullying take many forms. However, the Department of Education’s study on bullying reports that some forms of bullying are more common than other forms. In face-to-face situations, the most common forms of bullying include:
- The circulation of malicious rumors
- Unwanted name calling
- Physical aggressions
Online, the most commonly reported bullying activities are:
- Unwanted contact via text messaging
- Unwanted contact via instant messaging
- The circulation of private information on the Internet (e.g., the posting of embarrassing photographs or videos on social media sites, such as Facebook, Instagram and YouTube).[xii]
However, once again, as Blanco emphasizes, it is misleading to think about bullying only in relation to what is happening—bullying is also about what is not happening. “There are kids who are visibly bullied but also many invisible victims,” emphasizes Blanco, “These are the kids who are routinely excluded from other kids’ activities but sometimes, these are the kids who are most at risk precisely because they’re invisible to everyone, including most educators and school administrators.”[xiii]
What Causes Bullying?
Pinning down the causes of bullying is difficult but increasingly, it is also a major preoccupation for educational researchers. While there is a growing body of research that seeks to define bullying and identify its core causes, Blanco cautions that much of the empirical research on bullying continues to miss the point:
Everyone wants to define bullying, but the empirical research is outside in. The problem is that you need to approach bullying from the inside out. You need to define bullying by the experience of the recipient not the intention of the perpetrators.
So how does Blanco define it? Her definition is simple: “Bullying is simple—it is about kids’ desire to fit in run amuck.”[xiv]
Luke Reynolds is a middle school teacher and the author of a wide selection of books for teachers and for kids, including two that tackle the bullying issue directly: The Looney Experiment and the forthcoming Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Finding the Real You. From Reynolds’ perspective, one of the real problems with bullying is that all too often, bullying simply gets dismissed or written off as something less serious:
One of the things I hear far too often—and which makes me really want to weep—is when a student says, “I was just joking.” Too often, bullying can take on this excuse, as if saying something hurtful gets a free pass because the person tried to disguise it as a joke.[xv]
Blanco agrees that all too often, bullying is written off as a joke. This is precisely why Blanco’s one-day anti-bullying workshop designed for the entire school community is called INJJA or It’s Not Just Joking Around!
Who is Susceptible to Being Bullied or Becoming a Bully?
Sexual orientation and gender identity, race and ethnicity, and level of ability have all been identified as potential factors that lead to bullying. A 2013 report by the Human Rights Campaign, for example, found that 9% of LGBT youth are afraid of being bullied at school and as a result, many LGBT youth never come out at school. Student comments included in the report reflect LGBT students’ levels of fear. As one student said, “I don’t want to be bullied more than I already am.” Another said, if they came out, “I would feel threatened by students and teachers. My school addresses bullying a lot but never LGBT bullying.”[xvi]
While there is a growing body of research that suggests some students (e.g., LGBT students) may be more susceptible to bullying than others, the educators, experts, authors and adult survivors of bullying who agreed to share their thoughts on the subject with Tobecoemateacher.org all emphasized that there is no one single factor that makes a student susceptible to bullying or to becoming a bully.
From his perspective as a middle school educator, Reynolds believes that bullying has the potential to impact any kid’s life:
From what I see in the classroom, I think all kids are susceptible to bullying—there seems to be no immunity for anyone, especially now with online bullying where cruelty can be faceless and even anonymous. Yet, I think race and sexual orientation and even things like being introverted versus extroverted can all come into play with bullying.[xvii]
Blanco agrees that anyone can become a victim, regardless of his or her race, gender, ethnic background or religion. In short, bullying doesn’t discriminate. But Blanco has discovered that bullied kids often do share at least a few things in common:
A typical profile of the bullied student is a kid who is mature for their age—they tend to have an above average vocabulary compared to their peers. They are often kids who have more culturally in common with adults than with their own peers. But it doesn’t matter how mature they are for their age, they are still kids. The reason these “ancient children” struggle to fit in at school is that they are too mature on some levels, but they are still very desperate to fit in with their peers, and they will do anything to achieve this goal.[xviii]
On the bully side, there is a strong consensus that kids who bully are nearly always kids who are crying out for attention. Blanco observes, “Bullying, at its core, is a cry for help.”[xix] Reynolds agrees. In his experience, bullies are often kids who need more attention:
In my experience, 90% of the kids I’ve taught who have been bullies have been kids who need a lot of one-on-one coaching, connection and teaching. Sometimes it is because they are craving attention and for someone to respond to them but saying, “I really need attention and love and concern about me” feels far too terrifying and vulnerable, so they bully. Other times, the kid doing the bullying needs to be educated. He or she might have a huge sense of entitlement and has never truly been taught about other peoples’ emotions and about what it means to respect other people, consider the world from their view. This type of student who chooses to bully needs one-on-one connection and sometimes challenging talk and honest stories to begin to realize what they are doing and its disastrous effects on others. Sometimes, kids who bully feel like it is the only way for them to earn a certain kind of respect. They, too, need one-on-one connection and role modeling to begin to see that real courage and real respect are never based on intimidation but rather on human dignity.[xx]
Proactive Steps for Teachers and School Administrators
Bullying can make a young person’s life depressing or difficult and in extreme cases, even lead a young person to take their own life. Teachers and school administrators are often more aware of bullying situations than parents and as a result, they stand to play a critical role in bullying and cyber-bullying prevention. As Dr. Dorothy L. Espelage and her colleagues have discovered, effective teacher and school administrator interventions on bullying are not simply important to the extent that they address bullying in the present but also because they hold the potential to prevent it from happening in the first place: “Research indicates that bully perpetration and victimization rates are higher and willingness to intervene is lower when students perceive adults’ prevention and intervention efforts as ineffective.”[xxi]
But are teachers and school administrators currently doing enough to stop bullying? “Teachers are a significant portion of the problem,” says Blanco. Whether or not they have ill intentions, many teachers, she believes, continue to take the wrong approach with bullies and bullied students. “First, I tell teachers that traditional punishment doesn’t work when it comes to bullying—it’s a cry for help, so they need to listen to bullies and find out why they are engaging in these behaviors.” But Blanco is quick to add:
The single mistake that teachers make is when they find a kid who is being bullied and immediately jump on the bully. Meanwhile, the victim is lying on the ground, bleeding, and they are ignored. They’re left there and lonely and this is what drives bullied kids to suicide. In fact, before you do anything else, you need to triage the student who is being bullied—help them find a social connection outside the school—but also be curious outside the bully. Both of these things are essential.[xxii]
What else can teachers and school administrators do?
- Help Students Understand What Bullying Is and How to Prevent It
Teachers and school administrators have a responsibility to intervene. The first step is to ensure their schools incorporate discussions about bullying—what it is, how to prevent it and what to do when it happens—into the curriculum. To get started, the National Education Association provides lesson plans for bullying prevention targeting students from kindergarten up to Grade 12.
- Promote Compassion and Empathy in the Classroom and School for Victims and for Bullies
Blanco, who describes her work on bullying as “compassion-centric,” emphasizes that compassion is a key part of addressing bullying. “Compassion for the bully is integral to rehabilitating the school system.” Reynolds agrees, emphasizing that to address bullying in his own classroom and school, he also seeks to put compassion and empathy first:
In my classroom, we talk a lot about what school was like for my brothers, one of whom is deaf, one of whom is gay, and one of whom is adopted. I really believe that empathy increases as students hear true stories of what life is like for those who walk in shoes very different from their own. Sometimes kids who seem like they would never be bullied, endure awful treatment, and they come into the classroom crying one day after school because they have held it in so long. Other times, after I have told some stories and been really honest with a class, the reverse occurs: a student might stay after and confess that he/she has been bullying someone else, and this is the really powerful moment, because someone is starting to see that his/her actions matter and they can choose differently. It is what I seek most as a teacher–beyond any test scores or love of literature or writing: empathy.
- Keep the Communication Lines Open
The vast majority of bullying incidents, whether they happen in person or online, go unreported. This means that most bullying behaviors are never addressed and victims continue to suffer. Teachers and school administrators can help by keeping the communication lines open and letting students know that they if they are bullied or witness bullying, anyone on staff—from their classroom teacher and guidance counselor to the school nurse or principal—is available to listen. The only way to address bullying is to send out a clear message that the entire school community is ready and willing to listen.
This is precisely what Reynolds emphasizes. As a Grade 7 teacher, he witnesses bullying in his work but believes that keeping the communication lines open can and does make a difference. As Reynolds told ToBecomeATeacher.org, it is critical for teachers to make themselves available not only to kids who are being bullied but also to those kids who are bullying:
My biggest tactic is to make connections. I want to try and get any kid who has been bullying into a one-on-one conversation, ask questions, tell stories, help her/him unpack what they’re doing, and try to challenge them to open up and see things differently. I also want to really honor the kids who have endured bullying and help them see that it is CRUCIAL for them to speak out to adults they trust and that no kid who is being bullied should ever be made to feel like it’s no big deal or it’s normal or they are overreacting. Kids who experience any kind of bullying need help to feel empowered and angry and sad about it. And the kids who are involved in doing the bullying need a lot of challenging talk—but challenging talk that goes beyond punitive responses….I think I fail a lot more than I succeed but that is my heart and that is what I work towards![xxiii]
- Promote Anti-Bullying and Address Bullying Behaviors
It may sound simple but promoting anti-bullying behaviors (e.g., affirming the actions of students who intervene when bullying is spotted in the school yard or anywhere else on or off school property, including on the Internet) and addressing bullying behaviors (e.g., asking students who engage in bullying to reflect on their behavior and in severe cases, responding with disciplinary actions) are the two most important steps teachers and school administrators can take to prevent bullying. Of course, in order for these efforts to be effective, it is important for teachers and school administrators to work together to establish and implement consistent school policies.
In their 2014 study, “Teacher and Staff Perceptions of School Environment as Predictors of Student Aggression, Victimization, and Willingness to Intervene in Bullying Situations,” Dr. Espelage and her colleagues emphasize, among other steps, “School leaders need to publicly and authentically support comprehensive efforts to not only prevent mean, cruel, bullying behaviors but also commit to create safe, supportive, respectful, and engaging climates for learning.” They further add that, “School psychologists should play an active role in the school climate improvement process, by creating a school climate council consisting of students, parents, and teachers.”[xxiv] However, Dr. Espelage also emphasizes that without the proper evaluation, we may continue to overlook what is and is not working: “With few exceptions, the majority of school- or classroom-based prevention programs include minimal teacher training and rarely target the very attitudes, teacher practices, and responses to victimization that could be exacerbating peer victimization.”[xxv]
For more on how to begin effectively addressing bullying in your school, see StopBullying.gov’s recommendations on how to develop anti-bullying policies.
Books on Bullying for Teachers, Students and Parents
One of the most effective ways to incorporate bullying and cyber-bullying prevention into the curriculum is to make one or more books about bullying a required part of the curriculum. Fortunately, there is a growing body of first-class literature for young readers, middle graders and teens that tackles the subject of bullying. There is also a growing body of research that targets educators and parents. Below are just a few of Tobecomateacher.org’s recommendations.
Books on Bullying for Young Readers
Among the growing body of literature for young readers on the subject of bullying are Teresa Bateman’s The Bully Blockers Club, which tracks Lotty Raccoon’s struggle to take on classroom bully Grant Grizzly; Marie Dismondy’s Juice Box Bully, which explores how not to be bystander in the face of bullying; and Patty Lovell’s Stand Tall, Molly Loo Melon, which explores how bullying is often based on perceived differences.
Books on Bullying for Middle School Readers
The middle school years are frequently when bullying and its devastating effects begin to become apparent. Among the new and classic publications recommended for use in the middle school classroom are the following popular YA novels: Thirteen Reasons Why, The Misfits and Freckle Juice. Jay Asher’s best-selling novel, Thirteen Reasons Why, grapples with bullying at its most extreme—bullying that leads to suicide. James Howe’s more whimsical book, The Misfits, chronicles how a group of “misfits” change their school, using their student council election as a platform. Despite the fact that it’s now a YA classic, Judy Blume’s Freckle Juice remains a great book for adoption on any anti-bullying curriculum. Finally, there’s Luke Reynolds Looney Experiment and his forthcoming Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Finding the Real You, which he discussed with ToBecomeATeacher.org.
In 2016, Luke Reynolds will release his most recent book, Surviving Middle School: Navigating the Halls, Riding the Social Roller Coaster, and Finding the Real You. He talked to ToBecomeATeacher.org about his decision to write the book.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: Why did you decide to write this book? To what extent is it informed by your location in the classroom at the middle school level?
Luke Reynolds: I decided to write Surviving Middle School because, year after year, so many of my 7th graders would want to stay after class to talk about so many issues other than a comma splice run on or a misplaced modifier. They sought connection and they sought counsel and they longed to see if they were alone in their emotions, wonders, hopes, and fears. I began to see that these conversations—the life curriculum—is what really matters most. And their questions rekindled my own exploration of when I was in 7th grade! Thus, this book is deeply informed by my own experiences in the classroom as both a teacher and student, and the ultimate goal is for the book to be authentic and to really reach middle grade students in a way that is real and (hopefully) funny, too.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: Your book is a survival guide – what are the key factors to surviving middle school? But maybe you can’t even summarize this in a mere paragraph!
I can summarize one of the big factors because it is something that I didn’t even quip, but rather was crafted by past President Teddy Roosevelt: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” The book tries to get deeper than locker combinations and help middle schoolers deal with some of the big, core, ideas of their lives: what they really think, how to deal with crazy and fluctuating emotions, why teachers are homo sapiens, too, how their own parents may really be vastly overgrown middle school students themselves, what success may really be all about, love (LOVE!), and far, far too much about garlic bread and space gnomes.
Books on Bullying for Teens
For teachers working with older teens, top recommendations include Sharon G. Flake’s The Skin I’m In, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Twisted, and Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games series. While The Skin I’m In grapples with the all too common link between bullying and racism, Twisted grapples with another common form of bullying—bullying that targets young men who aren’t perceived as living up to society’s expectations for masculinity. The wildly popular The Hunger Games series—the books that inspired the equally popular series of films—are also highly recommended as a way to explore the theme of bullying with the teen set. Finally, there is Lola StVil’s Girls Like Me. A departure from StVil’s paranormal romance fiction, Girls Like Me is a personally inspired work of realistic fiction targeting young adult readers, including those who are currently struggling with bullying.
In 2016, paranormal and fantasy writer, author of the popular Guardians series, Lola StVil will release Girls Like Me—a novel for readers ages 12 and up that seeks to tackle the bullying issue head on. She talked to ToBecomeATeacher.org about her decision to take on the issue of bullying and her very personal connection to the subject of the novel:
ToBecomeATeacher.org: Girls Like Me represents a departure from your earlier work. What motivated you to write this book and to what extent is bullying a key part of the book’s plot?
Lola StVil: I wrote Girls Like Me for the girls that, like myself, found it very hard to fit in. I was always afraid to speak up in school. I worried that the world would judge me. I found the arts, which helped to give me a voice. So I am hoping this book does the same for readers. From the very beginning, Shay Summers, whose the main character in Girls Like Me, is bullied. It is part of her day-to-day life. What’s worse is that, unlike when I was in school, the bullying doesn’t stop when she gets home. Cyber bullies seek her out online, too. So I would say it plays a very important role in Shay’s life. I also think that Shay’s humor is important to mention because it helps her to battle the bullies.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: Shay, your main character, is described as overweight. Is this why she’s being bullied? Are there other factors?
Lola StVil: Shay being “overweight” is one reason. But honestly, I think if a bully is hell bent on picking on you, they will find something. It can be your hair color, your name or your skin color. However, for Shay, it is mainly her weight. I also think her intellect scares Kelly – her tormentor.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: Do you ever receive fan mail from readers who are being bullied? As a teen writer, what are your insights into this phenomenon? Did these encounters in any way motivate you to write a book with a bullied heroine?
Lola StVil: Yes, I have known some readers who were bullied. As I said before, I was bullied for years; so I know what that feels like. I don’t think being bullied is a new thing. It seems to be reported more with in the past few years, perhaps because of the proof that can be provided from the Internet communications. I think one of the most important things you can tell a kid that’s being bullied is that they are, in fact, not alone and that they need to speak up if it’s happening to them.
I agree, being bullied made it easy to get inside Shay Summers’ head. I knew her pain and could relate on a personal level. I wasn’t born in the USA and when I came here my accent was thick while my body was thicker. I had no friends and tried to fade into the walls most days. But it gets better. Your life in junior high or high school doesn’t have to define you. It’s so important that kids know that it can and will get better.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: In the book, the main character is able to find a connection online that helps her escape her real life problems, including her experiences with bullying. Of course, in many cases, social media is also used to target young women. Do you address both sides of this scenario in the book? Are their any moments when social media poses a threat to Shay?
Lola StVil: We see the fun parts of social media and also the harm it can do. I think Shay gathers a lot of her strength from the friends she has in real life. We see her journey and watch as she begins to understand that it is wrong to let others define you, in real life, social media or anywhere else. Everyone must determine their worth; not the person on the other side of the screen.
ToBecomeATeacher.org: What is the main message you hope to send out to your readers with Girls Like Me?
Lola StVil: It’s simple: You. Are. Enough. Tall, thin, fat, black, white, purple, male, female, gay, straight, bisexual, transgender; whatever way you see yourself. You are important. You matter. You are enough. There are people awaiting your presence in their world, if you will only continue being you.
Books for Parents, Teachers and School Administrators
There is a growing body of books that seek to explain bullying, offer educators and school administrators advice on how to stop bullying and share the perspectives of child, teen and adult survivors of bullying. Must reading for adults, especially educators, includes the American Educational Research Association’s 2013 study on bullying: Prevention of Bullying: Research Report and Recommendations. One of the author’s of the AERA report, Dr. Dorothy L. Espelage, has also co-authored other key texts on the topic of bullying, including Youth Suicide and Bullying: Challenges and Strategies for Prevention and Intervention and Bullying in North American Schools. Jodee Blanco’s Please Stop Laughing at Me: One Woman’s Inspirational Story and her forthcoming book, Bullied Kids Speak Out, are also highly recommended for teachers, school administrators and parents who want to understand bullying from the perspective of adult survivors and even kids currently experiencing bullying.
Proactive Steps for Students
Bullying is something done by kids and teens to other kids and teens. As a result, kids and teens have a major role to play in battling bullying at school, in their communities and on the Internet. Below are just a few things kids and teens can do to prevent bullying:
Bullies aren’t bad kids, but they are engaged in bad behavior. However, research also reveals that most kids and teens engaged in bullying behaviors start bullying because they are struggling too (e.g., they feel excluded by peers, are struggling at school or coping with upheavals at home). No one likes to feel powerless and for some kids and teens, bullying is simply a way to feel more powerful or in control. For this reason, it is important for kids and teens to reflect on their own behavior and to reach out for help before they lash out at others.
Most kids never speak up when they are bullied. As a result, bullying often continues longer than it needs to and in some cases, it gets out of control. If you are being bullied at school or on the Internet, speak up—tell a trusted friend about the situation or talk to a teacher, guidance counselor, coach, older sibling, parent or any other peer or adult to whom you feel comfortable speaking. If you don’t have anyone to talk to at school, at home or in your community, reach out for help by calling the Stomp Out Bullying Help Line.
Bystanders may not be bullies but they also aren’t doing anything to stop bullying and as a result, they are also part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Many bystanders remain silent, because they fear that by intervening, they will become a victim too. In reality, this is rarely the case. Kids and teens who stand up to bullies are just as likely to be seen as leaders by their peers, and since strength lies in numbers, one person standing up to a bully has the potential to lead others and bring about change. If you see someone being bullied, say something. If you don’t feel comfortable intervening, alert an adult. But whatever you do, don’t support bullies by condoning their behaviors by remaining silent.
Many schools, even elementary schools, now have peer mediation programs. By engaging in peer mediator training, you’ll learn how to identify and intervene in conflicts, including bullying situations, and more importantly, you’ll learn how to resolve conflicts before bullying ever becomes a problem. Becoming a peer mediator is one proactive step among many others that you can take to keep your school safe. Along the way, you’ll acquire valuable interpersonal skills that will help you negotiate difficult situations throughout your life. If your school doesn’t already have a peer mediation program, share the idea with your guidance counselor, teacher, vice-principal or principal.
As demonstrated by the gang of friends in James Howe’s novel, The Misfits, strength can be found in numbers. If you think bullying is a problem at your school, start an anti-bullying campaign with the support of a teacher. The first Monday of every October is World Day of Bullying Prevention—organize a Blue Shirt Day at your school to help raise awareness about bullying. Finally, choose to do even more and become a Stomp Out Bullying Teen Ambassador.
Legislation Targeting Bullies
To date, there is no federal legislation on bullying, but across the United States, state governments and local school boards have adopted laws and policies designed to prevent bullying and address bullying behaviors.
To help guide educators and school administrators’ efforts to develop comprehensive anti-bullying policies, StopBullying.gov provides information on anti-bullying laws and policies across the United States. Notably, while some states, such as California, have developed robust legislation to prevent bullying and even provide templates for school districts to develop district-wide bullying prevention policies, other state legislation is less all-encompassing and specific. For example, while a majority of states now specify the conditions under which bullying legislation is applicable (e.g., on the basis of age, color, creed, national origin, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, physical attributes, physical or mental ability or disability, and/or socioeconomic status), some states, such as Kentucky, do not specify which groups are protected by the state’s anti-bullying laws and further emphasize that their anti-bullying laws “shall not be interpreted to prohibit civil exchange of opinions or debate protected under the state or federal constitutions where the opinion expressed does not otherwise materially or substantially disrupt the education process or intrude upon the rights of others.”
In other words, despite the fact that laws against bullying exist in some form or another across the United States, different state laws can be subject to different interpretations and applications.
Students, educators and school administrators are not alone in the fight to end bullying and cyber-bullying. The following list represents just some of the resources available to support students, educators and school administrators in their collective fight to end bullying and cyber-bullying:
[i] Jodee Blanco, Interview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[iv] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Stopbullying.gov, Available at: http://www.stopbullying.gov/
[vi]U.S. Department of Education, Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2011 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, August 2013, Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2013329
[viii] Bradshaw, Catherine P. et al. “Bullying and peer victimization at school: Perceptual differences between students and school staff,” School Psychology Review, (2007), Vol. 36(3), 361-382.
[x] U.S. Department of Education, Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2011 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, August 2013, Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2013329
[xi]Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, 2013 National School Climate Survey, http://www.glsen.org/article/2013-national-school-climate-survey
[xii] U.S. Department of Education, Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber-Bullying: Results From the 2011 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey, August 2013, Available at: https://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2013329
[xiii] Jodee Blanco, Inteview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xv] Luke Reynolds, Interview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xvi] Human Rights Campaign, Growing Up LGBT in America, Available at: http://www.hrc.org/youth/download-the-report/#.VvLrpHBPJE0
[xvii] Luke Reynolds, Interview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xviii] Jodee Blanco, Inteview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xx] Luke Reynolds, Interview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xxi] Dorothy L. Espelage et al. “Teacher and Staff Perceptions of School Environment as Predictors of Student Aggression, Victimization, and Willingness to Intervene in Bullying Situations,” School Psychology Quarterly (2014), Vol. 29 (3), 288.
[xxii] Jodee Blanco, Inteview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xxiii]Luke Reynolds, Interview with Cait Etherington, March 2016.
[xxiv] Dorothy L. Espalage, “Teacher and Staff Perceptions of School Environment as Predictors of Student Aggression, Victimization, and Willingness to Intervene in Bullying Situations,” School Psychology Quarterly (2014), Vol. 29 (3).
[xxv] Dorothy L. Espelage, “Taking Peer Victimization Research to the Next Level: Complex Interactions Among Genes, Teacher Attitudes/Behaviors, Peer Ecologies, & Classroom Characteristics,” Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology (2015), Vol. 43 (1), 80.