Bullying hurts – physically, emotionally and psychologically. It’s not just the burly kid stealing one’s lunch money anymore. It’s the one making fun of someone’s physical attributes. It’s the one behind a computer screen spreading rumors. It’s the one that takes “teasing” way too far. According to Education Corner, 90% of students in grades 4-8 report having been harassed or bullied, and over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. Bullying is a serious epidemic, occurring widely in schools and communities.

What is bullying?

U.S. News & World Report says, at its most basic level, bullying is behavior that hurts or harms another person. According to data released in 2019 by the National Center for Education and Statistics, 1 out of every 5 students report being bullied. This includes being made fun of, called names or insulted (13%), being the subject of rumors (13%), being pushed, shoved, tripped or spit on (5%), and being excluded from activities on purpose (5%). These are the facts, and they are alarming:

  • Jairo, 16, has a prosthetic leg. His classmates tripped him and manipulated photos on the internet with mean words, leading him to uproot his life and change schools.
  • Miriam, 8, was compared to animals and made fun of for being “fat.” She has since stopped eating and is in the hospital for anorexia.
  • Phoebe, 15, was harassed via text messaging and Facebook until she took her own life.

As stated by the Center for Violence Protection, most school-aged children are exposed to bullying in some form due to the unequal balance of power and influence that is so common in youth relationships and peer groups. Parents, teachers, administrators and even other students can team up to establish safe and inclusive environments by facing these challenges head on. Here are crucial steps to take to combat bullying.

1. Recognize the problem

To diagnose bullying as an issue, adults must be aware of the symptoms. A change in a child’s behavior, avoiding school, lunch or recess, or a decline in academic performance are potential indicators of bullying. Parents and school staff must pay attention.

2. Speak up

This goes for parents, teachers and students. Encourage students to inform adults about what they see, hear and witness. Parents and school staff can educate students on respectful behavior and teach them skills to combat and intervene when bullying strikes. If you see something, say something – and do something about it.

3. Encourage peer support

Students often know about bullying and dangerous situations long before adults are made aware. Bystanders in the classroom can have a much larger impact on kids their age than adults. It takes a brave soul to stand up for someone, especially in middle school, so remind children of the power they have.

4. Establish monitoring and supervision

Improving visibility can go a long way. Campus Safety Magazine suggests having teachers or trained volunteers monitor the hallways between classes can curb the more traditional forms of aggression. Keeping responsible eyes and ears peeled on hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms and under stairwells can expand awareness.

Bullying's Impact

Dr. William Copeland, Duke University - Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, says victims of bullying experience elevated rates of anxiety disorders. Additionally, bully/victims – bullies who are also bullied – have a higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts. The effects of bullying can carry into adulthood and have lifelong consequences.

A New Pattern

They say it takes a village to raise a child, and that reigns true. Exceptional individuals are produced at school and in communities, with other exceptional individuals leading the way and setting a prime example. Educators, leaders, parents, peers and community members can all play a role in preventing bullying and harassment. The world can be a better place, as long as intentional steps are taken to ensure children become better humans.

Cue the domino effect.

To foster a culture of caring and respect in your school, home and community, check out Edutopia’s resources dedicated to prevent bullying and harassment.