Encourage Children to Seek Help for Bullying

— Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Apr 6, 2011

One of the principal barriers to prevent bullying is that parents and teachers do not know that bullying is taking place unless someone tells them about it. Researchers have found that most victims of bullying do not tell a parent or teacher when they have been bullied, and even if the bullying persists, many students will not seek help from an adult for weeks or months, if at all. As students enter adolescence, they become increasingly less likely to seek help for bullying (Unnever & Cornell, 2004).  

What Schools Can Do to Prevent Bullying

Schools should make an active, sustained effort to alter the normative beliefs and values that support a culture of bullying, particularly in middle schools, where teasing and threatening behavior is most common (Unnever & Cornell, 2003).

  • Rates of bullying soar when students perceive that bullying is a normative activity and that aggressive behavior is a way to achieve social status.
  • Bullies think that their actions will impress their peers and make them popular.
  • Victims do not seek help for bullying because they believe that their teachers are unconcerned and unwilling to help them (Cornell & Williams, 2006).

Schools should have clear rules against bullying in all its forms—physical, verbal, and social.

  • Teachers should make it clear that bullying is not an acceptable behavior and that they are committed to stopping it.
  • They should educate students in how to identify bullying and how to respond actively as bystanders who can discourage bullying by their peers.
  • Schools can take a proactive approach by stressing appropriate peer interaction and encouraging students to be accepting and tolerant of others who are different than themselves.
  • There are many bullying prevention programs and peer relations curricula available for schools to implement. 

Identify the Victims

Most importantly, schools should make a proactive effort to identify victims of bullying rather than wait until the victims ask for help. It is helpful to promote the idea that students should seek help for classmates who are being victimized. Some schools have used slogans such as “Friends don’t let friends be bullied.” Because most school cultures have strong prohibitions against “snitching” or “tattling,” it is useful to teach students the difference between snitching and seeking help: snitching is an action motivated by personal gain, whereas seeking help is an effort to keep someone from being hurt. 

Many bullying prevention programs use student surveys to measure progress in reducing bullying. However, because these surveys are anonymous, school authorities do not learn who is being bullied. Such surveys can be supplemented by asking students to write the names of any classmates who are victims of bullying. Many studies have found that peer nomination procedures are reliable and valid methods to identify students in need of help (Cornell, Sheras, & Cole, 2006). If teachers explain the purpose of the question and emphasize the difference between snitching and seeking help, students will identify victims of bullying that were previously unknown to the adults at school. School counselors can interview these students and determine how to help them.

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