Bullying: Separating Reality from Myth in Schools

Chances are you know someone who’s been a victim of bullying. A recent U.S. Department of Education study cited by Mind/Shift estimates that up to 22 percent of 12 to 18-year-olds have been bullied.

With the popularity of social media, it’s easier than ever for students to bully their peers, be it online or in the classroom. (Have you read about the situation unfolding in Tennessee?)

School districts across the country are hoping to prevent such situations through better awareness and prevention. But those efforts don’t appear to be going well. Or at all. A recent survey by the Center for Disease Control, found that even with increased awareness, national campaigns, and legislation, the school bullying rate hasn’t changed since 2009.

So, what does this tell us about the conventional wisdom about bullying? For one, we have a lot to learn. “Most educators aren’t aware of the function bullying serves in school,” James Dillon, director of the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention, told Mind/Shift. “If you don’t understand it, you can’t treat it.”

To help school leaders get a better handle on what bullying is and isn’t, Mind/Shift assembled a list of realities about school-based bullying that you’d be wise to consider. Here’s just a few:

Students bully to improve their social standing.
Contrary to popular belief, children from broken homes are no more likely to be bullies than other students. Bullies emerge from all economic, ethnic, and family backgrounds. Bullies aren’t motivated by perceived deficiencies at home, but instead use force to climb the social ladder among their peers.

Cyber-bullying is an extension of what’s happening at school.
While social media is often seen as another outlet for students to bully classmates, the technology itself doesn’t always inspire new bullies. Many believe the anonymity provided online enables students who aren’t bullies in school to become abusive online. But cyberbullying expert Nancy Willard says that’s not true. “If this is happening online, it’s absolutely happening in school,” she tells Mind/Shift.

Victims don’t tell because they don’t think it’ll make a difference.
A study by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program found that just 10 percent of high school girls and 15 percent of high school boys who had been bullied reported the incidents. Of those who did report it, more than half said adults did nothing, or close-to-nothing, when presented with the information. That’s troubling.

Harsh punishment doesn’t work.
The most effective anti-bullying campaigns are those that empower students to speak up on behalf of themselves and their classmates. But, as the article points out, that’s often easier said than done. If students think the penalties are disproportionate to the crime, or if they fear repercussions for adults or classmates, they might not be inclined to speak up at all.

Says Dillon from the Center for Leadership and Bullying Prevention: “Harsh consequences delivered by controlling adults also deepens the chasm between the adult world and the student world.”

Want more realities? Read Mind/Shift’s full list.

Looking for a safe way to encourage students and others to speak out anonymously when they see classmates or friends being bullied in school? Here’s one solution that can help.

Author: Todd Kominiak

Todd Kominiak is Managing Editor of TrustED.

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