One in four children have experienced bullying at school and more than 70% of young people report that they have witnessed bullying firsthand. We have all seen the reports of suicides linked to both bullying in schools and the cyberbullying that follows at home. In 2013, a 12-year-old Lakeland girl killed herself after she was bullied by two of her classmates, as reported by CNN and USA Today, among other outlets.
While the statistics and stories are grim and heartbreaking, there are some positive facts that bodes well for bullying prevention. When a bystander intervenes in bullying the behavior stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time. Empowering children to take the correct steps if they are being bullied or be an advocate for victims goes far in treating the problem.
Stopbullying.gov is a federal government initiative managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. They define 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.” They recommend a five-step bullying prevention process.
Five-Step Bullying Prevention Process
- Parents should model empathy for their children to keep bullying from happening. They advise parents to teach their children to value kindness and use their own behavior to treat others with respect even when someone is not like them or you disagree with them. Tell children that they do not have to be friends with everyone but they do have to treat people with kindness.
- Help children to build their own problem-solving skills to mediate difficult situations. For example, oftentimes it is helpful for children to walk away from difficult situations.
- Parents should openly talk to their children about bullying and lay the groundwork for when their children may be a victim, bystander or be a part of the bullying. Overall children should know that no form of bullying is tolerated.
- Parents should discuss the do’s and don’ts of bullying with their children. Children should be advised to calmly and clearly tell the other child to stop. If a child doesn’t want to speak up, parents can advise them to walk away and stay far from the bully as well as talking to a trusted adult, whether that be a teacher or counselor. Do not advise children to fight back as that aggression could put your child in trouble. They should also share any bullying with you, their parent or guardian, so that you can reiterate the message that it is not their fault, and they deserve to be treated with respect.
- If there is a bullying pattern, parents need to team up with their child’s teacher, guidance counselor and administration to come up with an appropriate action plan.
Who can help?
For additional assistance, parents should always be in communication with their child’s teacher and guidance counselor if there has been a pattern of bullying with their child. Most schools are trying their best to curb this behavior. If parents don’t feel their child’s issues are resolved, they need to take leadership by reaching out to their school’s district leadership.
So how can parents stop bullying before it gets out of hand? Experts advise to always have a clean and open line of communication with your child and make sure that they understand they should always be treated with respect by their classmates and no child has a right to make your child feel bad about themselves. Conversely, also communicate that they have a responsibility not to make anyone feel bad. If a child witnesses bullying, they should also tell you that so that you can help them stop it.
Notice your child’s behavior. Ask questions about their day and do so creatively. Instead of “how was your day at school?” parents can ask questions like “who made you smile today?” or “what challenged you today?” Encourage your child to be an advocate for a classmate who may be being bullied. If a classmate wants to report the behavior, encourage your child to go with them to report the behavior.
Finally, if you notice that your child is discussing many instances of bullying at school, voice concerns to school administration and offer to put resources together for building an anti-bullying program in the school. Many times, educators and other staff are so busy and overwhelmed they may not notice negative behavior. Specialized training can help them.
Florida’s Law on Bullying:
Parents need to be aware that the consequences of bullying can go far beyond hurt feelings and reprimands at school. Florida is one of almost every state in the U.S. with specific laws prohibiting bullying. Florida anti-bullying laws and regulations define bullying as systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students and may involve teasing; social exclusion; threat; intimidation; stalking; physical violence; theft; sexual, religious, or racial harassment; public or private humiliation; or destruction of property.