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.

What Parents Can Do to Prevent Bullying

Children are less likely to report bullying if their parents use coercive discipline strategies such as threatening and yelling at their children (Unnever & Cornell, 2004).

  • One interpretation of this research finding is that children who feel bullied by their parents will not feel comfortable seeking help for bullying by peers.
  • Another reason why children do not tell their parents about bullying is that they feel ashamed or fear that their parents will be disappointed in them.
  • Some parents take a Spartan approach by telling their child to go out and stand up to the bully.
  • Spartan parents are in effect refusing to help their child and place them in a bind, since a child who was confident enough to stand up to a bully would not be seeking help. Moreover, parents who encourage their child to fight a bully are giving advice that can lead to serious disciplinary consequences, not to mention potential injury.   

Tips for How to Help When Your Child is Bullied

  • Help your child feel comfortable approaching you for help with bullying by sharing your own experiences with similar situations.
  • Set the stage for children to volunteer information by recalling your own interaction with a childhood bully or relating more recent experiences you have had at work.
  • When children do broach the topic of bullying, be careful not to overreact.Encourage the child to recount specific incidents so you can have a clear idea of what is going on.
  • It is helpful to take a matter-of-fact approach that this is the kind of problem that everyone experiences from time to time and that it is perfectly normal for parent and child to discuss how to resolve it.
  • Talk about strategies for dealing with people who use teasing and threatening as a way to control others.
  • If the bullying is serious enough to bring to the attention of school authorities, take a diplomatic approach that invites collaboration rather than putting the teacher on the defensive. Work from the assumption that teachers and school administrators are concerned about bullying and want to prevent it.

For more information, see http://youthviolence.edschool.virginia.edu

References

Cornell, D, Sheras, P., & Cole, J. (2006). Assessment of bullying. In S.R. Jimerson & M.J. Furlong (Eds.), The Handbook of School Violence and School Safety: From Research to Practice (pp. 191-210). Mahwah, New Jersey: Erlbaum.

Unnever, J. & Cornell, D. (2003). The culture of bullying in middle school. Journal of School Violence, 2, 5-27.

Unnever, J. & Cornell, D. (2004). Middle school victims of bullying: Who reports being bullied? Aggressive Behavior, 30, 373-388.

Williams, F., & Cornell, D. (2006). Student willingness to seek help for threats of violence. Journal of School Violence, 5, 35-49.