It’s an unfortunate fact that bullying persists in the majority of schools. There are recorded cases starting with children as young as 2, ranging all the way through to high school and even into the workforce. With no set behaviors or warning signs, bullying can range from verbal taunting to sexual harassment. But parents, schools and students are not powerless. There are basic signs that you can use to spot victims and bullies, as well as programs that have had proven success in reducing the rates of bullying at schools.
Former Beijing international school students have mixed reports of bullying. One former student said he witnessed little to no bullying. He credited this to the school’s diverse range of students. However, another former student of the same high school said she did witness bullying. She claimed one boy in her class was verbally picked on, with many of his classmates joining a club forged out of their mutual dislike of him.
Bullying can start from an early age. Signs parents should look out for in younger children are aggressive and dominant playing, violent hitting, yelling, and a resistance to playing or working in a group.
According to the UK website Bullyfreezone.co.uk, bullies can range from popular kids and high-performing students to those who have been labeled as academic “failures” and have few friends. One thing most experts agree on is that the victims share some basic similarities. They are often sensitive, quiet and have little control in social situations. It’s important not to interpret these qualities as signs that a child is a loner or socially ill-equipped. In most cases, the victims simply cannot stand up to the dominance of their aggressor and prefer to avoid confrontation by staying quiet.
As always, there is a nature/nurture debate about why certain children become bullies. Though some children are naturally aggressive from a young age, older children often use bullying to protect themselves. They may suffer from emotional problems, have an insecure home life, or low self-esteem. Traditional punishments are usually ineffective when dealing with bullies. Counseling and mediation are considered by some schools to be the appropriate way of dealing with the problem.
An Australian study found that one in six children is picked on in the schoolyard every week. The act usually occurs when adults are not there to witness it, leaving it to other children to report the abuse. This is a major stumbling block to eliminating the problem. A paper published in 2001 by the US Department of Education found that less than one percent of students surveyed reported violent victimization – of these students, those who did report bullying were at least twice as likely to be victims themselves. There are several other reasons children are reluctant to report bullying – some fear
becoming victims themselves should they be found out, some are friends with bullies, and all want to avoid the notorious “tattle-tale” label. A confidential bullying report box is one method schools can use to provide students a safe avenue to report abuses. Anonymity will help students feel less vulnerable.
Schools can also implement curriculum- wide measures to create a bully-free culture within school grounds. An urban, multicultural junior high school class in Brisbane, Australia, successfully implemented a year-long “active citizens project” which saw their rates of bullying drop. Students were led by their teachers to participate in various community outreach programs dealing with those less fortunate than themselves. Teachers across multiple disciplines then held class discussions and designed projects based on what the children had learned and experienced during their excursions.
Directly involving students in monitoring and resolving bullying decreases attacks and increases productive class time. Some high schools elect senior students to be mediators in cases of minor bullying. These students receive counselor training and hold conflict resolution meetings with fellow students. Teachers are given progress updates and serious cases are referred directly to the school’s counselor.
Combating bullying requires a combined front from both schools and parents – all
parties should be vigilant. Parents should seek out teachers and relevant staff members if they suspect their child is being bullied or is bullying someone. Jumping directly into a feud between two children can only exacerbate the problem and give the bully extra ammunition.
Abuse by fellow students can become devastating for a child’s self-esteem, overall
happiness, socialization and classroom performance. Although some sort of bullying occurs in almost every school, with student involvement, community projects and proper monitoring, this problem can diminish exponentially. Imogen Kandel