Understanding Bullying in School Age Children

What is bullying?

 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) defines bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”

In a 2011 Pew Research study:

  • 12% of all teens report being bullied in person in the last 12 months
  • 9% of all teens say they were bullied by text message in the last 12 months
  • 8% say they have experienced some type of online bullying – such as through email, a social network site or instant messaging
  • 7% of teens say they’ve been bullied by voice calls over the phone

And as a result:

  • 25% of social media-using teens had an experience on a social network site that resulted in a face-to-face argument or confrontation with someone
  • 22% had an experience that ended their friendship with someone
  • 13% had an experience that caused a problem with their parents
  • 13% felt nervous about going to school the next day because of an experience on a social network site
  • 8% got into a physical fight with someone else because of something that happened on a social network site
  • 6% got in trouble at school because of an experience on a social network site

What does bullying look like?

A common misconception is that a child can only be bullied if they are harmed physically. Bullying does not have to be only physical. There are many different acts that constitute bullying. A few examples are:

  • Threatening to harm someone
  • Spreading disparaging rumors either in person or online
  • Physically attacking someone ie. Hitting, kicking, tripping, pushing, etc.
  • Verbally attacking someone ie. Name-calling, using racial, gender, or sexual orientation slurs, etc.
  • Taunting someone
  • Taking someone’s belongings and not giving them back
  • Forcing someone into a room or space and barricading the door

Lasting Effects

Bullying can have serious long-term consequences for youths including depression, anxiety, anger or violent outbursts, substance abuse, low academic performance, truancy, and even an increased risk for suicide. Although there is data that shows bullying and suicide are related, we are unable to say whether bullying is the direct cause of suicide. It is more accurate to say that bullying is one risk factor that increases the chances of suicidal behaviors in youths. Of note, the majority of children and youths who are bullied do not exhibit suicide related behaviors.

Bullying in Specific Populations

 Of concern is bullying in populations of youths who are already vulnerable. These include youths with physical disabilities, intellectual disabilities, LGBTQ youth, and ethnic minorities.

According to the National School Climate Survey done in 2013:

  • 1% of LGBT students were verbally bullied (e.g., called names, threatened) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 55.2% because of their gender expression
  • 2% of LGBT students were physically bullied (e.g., pushed, shoved) in the past year because of their sexual orientation and 22.7% because of their gender expression
  • 49% of LGBT students experienced cyberbullying in the past year
  • 5% of LGBT students feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation, and 37.8% because of their gender expression
  • 3% of LGBT students missed at least one entire day at school in the past month because they felt unsafe or uncomfortable, and 10.6% missed four or more days in the past month

What can be done by schools?

 Schools can help by engaging with their students to help them feel more connected and involved. Simple interventions like learning the student’s names, and asking them how they are doing shows that the school cares about the child’s wellbeing.

Encourage students to get involved in clubs, sports, or other group activities at school. Try to create a designated “safe space” where students can come work on homework, art projects, etc. in the presence of caring adults, and other children.

Sometimes lunch and recess can be the most isolating times of day, and kids who are bullied may be ridiculed for sitting alone, or may try to hide somewhere they are not noticed. Having a safe place for them to go gives them the ability to interact with others, and decreases social isolation.

Teaching coping skills, and problem solving skills at a young age provides students with the tools to build resilience, and aids them in seeking healthy outlets and resources when they are in distress.

Having a clear and firm anti-bullying policy can also be helpful. Schools should have protocols in place with regard to reporting, investigating, and stopping bullying.

It is also important to provide support to children who are bullying others. This behavior may stem from stress or abuse in their home, existing issues at school, or may indicate that they could benefit from mental health service. Including families in the process is also important, especially if the bullying behavior is a product of stresses in the home. Punitive actions alone by schools are unlikely to be helpful because it doesn’t address the origin of the bullying behavior.

Resources

Family Online Safety Institute

Helps parents with the challenge of monitoring online content, keeping their children safe when they are online, and tips on how to speak to children about their online presence and social media

Stopbullying.gov
Provides information about education, prevention, and management of bullying and cyberbullying. There is also a list of anti-bullying legislation that is categorized by state.

The Tyler Clementi Foundation

This website provides excellent resources for bullying in all age groups from elementary school through college. It also provides resources for workplace bullying and other useful categories.

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