Think back to when you were a kid: What did bullies look like? The stereotypical bully was big, mean and aggressive. They bullied by pushing other smaller kids around, picking on them, and even beating up on them. Brutus, or Bluto, was the stereotypical bully.
This kind of bullying still takes place today, but there are other, more subtle types of bullying that occur, as well. These have the same harmful effects as "traditional" bullying but often go unnoticed or unaddressed by teachers and other adults.
Because bullying often takes place in areas of the school, home or community that are not well supervised by adults, adults can be unaware of it. Even if bullying happens near adults, sometimes we miss it because it can be subtle or hard to detect (e.g., social exclusion, note-passing, threatening looks). Also, many children and youth do not report bullying because they fear retaliation by the bullies.
As the mother of a middle school student, I am becoming increasingly and disturbingly aware of the full range of bullying that children suffer at a very high cost, including getting physically sick and missing school, and sometimes, even leaving school. Bullying interferes with learning and can also result in depression, anxiety and low self-esteem and can cause other students to feel unsafe at school, as well.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional (not accidental or done in fun) and that involves an imbalance of power or strength. Often, bullying is repeated over time. Bullying can take many forms, such as: hitting or punching, teasing or name-calling, intimidation through gestures, social exclusion and sending insulting messages or pictures by mobile phone or using the Internet (also known as cyberbullying).
While gender plays a role in the kind of bullying that takes place, both boys and girls are subjected to it. Verbal bullying is the most common form of bullying in both boys and girls. However, boys tend to be physically bullied more than girls, and girls tend to be the targets of rumors, sexual comments and social exclusion.
Bullying should not be dismissed as an inevitable, or normal, part of childhood. There is nothing "normal" about ongoing incidents of harassment, violence and intimidation. All students have a right to feel safe and supported at school.
Research demonstrates that without question, the most effective means of addressing bullying is through comprehensive, school-wide programs. Although teachers, counselors and parents may be able to deal with individual cases of bullying as they come up, it is unlikely to have a significant impact on the incidence of bullying in the school.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, there are important steps to take whether your school plans to implement a bullying prevention curriculum, develop an anti-bullying task force, or integrate anti-bullying efforts into established violence prevention programs. These steps include:
It is a step in the right direction that many schools already have bullying policies in place; however, because bullying has such serious effects and can be challenging to detect, it is an area that we need to continually take seriously and strive to eliminate.
Changing the social climate and social norms regarding bullying at a school requires an all-out effort from everyone from the administration, teachers, bus drivers and aides to custodians, cafeteria workers, parents and students. Weaving bullying prevention into the fabric of the school is the best way to effectively combat it.
Kathy Shapell has a master's degree in special education. She is the director of the Augusta Levy Learning Center for autistic children in Wheeling and the mother of two children.