What does "Bullying" actually mean? Why is it a problem? What can be done to address it? While bullying has been a popular topic in the last few years, there are still many myths and misconceptions about what bullying involves and how to prevent it. For October's National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month we'll be exploring the topic of Bullying.
What is bullying?
Bullying is defined in 3 parts:
- Aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
- Involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
- Involves an imbalance of power (power can refer to grade, age, level of ability, physical strength or social status).
Bullying goes beyond playful reciprocal teasing and can take on many different forms: derogatory comments, name calling, social exclusion, physical (hitting, kicking, shoving, spitting), spreading lies or false rumors, taking or damaging belongings, and being forced or coerced to do something they don't want to do. Bullying behavior is often targeted at students who are in minority groups (racial, religious, sexual orientation) and in today's age often happens online or via phone in the form of cyberbullying.
Why is bullying a problem?
Over 13 million American children are bullied every year, making it the most common form of violence experienced by youth. Students who are bullied often experience lasting effects of low self-esteem and depression and can sometimes impact their academic performance, lead to depression and suicidal thoughts. Bullying is often seen as a normal part of childhood, but that is only because it is such a common occurrence. However, students that are bullying and those who are observing are also negatively impacted by bullying behavior. Students that act as bystanders are often fearful and insecure in the school environment and through these incidents may learn that physical violence and coercion of power is the solution to addressing differences or conflicts. Schools with bullying issues can be difficult environments for students to learn.
Often adults may not see the bullying acts (if done away from supervision or through cyber bullying) and to protect their social standing students will often be wary of sharing incidents with teachers or partners. Furthermore, it can be difficult to identify which students are instigating bullying behavior because those children are typically skilled at ingratiating themselves with parents and teachers.
What can be done to prevent bullying?
While there is no single or simple solution to address bullying, schools, educators, parents and community organization can all work together to address and minimize bullying behavior. The first step is to educate all parties on what bullying looks like and how to identify it. Next, it's important to create positive environments that create trust and openness, reward students for inclusive behavior and take immediate action when bullying is observed. If a student feels secure in their environment and in the adult relationships they have they'll be more likely to come forward and seek support. However, it's key that all adults model and reinforce non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken so that they are teaching students that there are healthy ways of addressing issues without relying on their power or coercion. It's also critical to work with mental health staff, if needed, to provide support for students who have been negatively impacted by bullying or are exhibiting bullying behaviors.
What is CIty Year Jacksonville doing?
City Year's model in schools is called "Whole School, Whole Child" which means that the work that City Year AmeriCorps Members do in schools is focused on both the individual supports that a student needs as well as improving the school-wide culture. City Year teams are, by nature, positive role models to students. Every day, students see diverse City Year teams working together cooperatively and inclusively, setting a model for how they too can work with one another in a fair and inclusive way. City Year teams also regularly put on events and positive school climate initiatives that make school a more inviting, engaging and trusting place for students.
As caring, near-peer, adults in the school, City Year AmeriCorps Members are able to be an extra set of eyes in the classroom and throughout the school. In the classroom, while a teacher is focused on instruction, the City Year AmeriCorps Member is circulating the room and is able to stop and address issues as they come up. Sometimes these issues are students who are struggling to focus or interpersonal conflicts with students that may involve bullying. City Year AmeriCorps Members are able to not only help students navigate these conflicts, but they are in a position to notice and advocate for students who may need additional support. Students see the red jackets as a symbol of trust and are likely to confide in them if they are being bullied.
City Year teams also provide behavior coaching to individuals and groups of students who have been identified as needing development in social-emotional learning skills. The Social Emotional Learning (SEL) core competencies defined by CASEL (The Collaboration for Academic, Social & Emotional Learning) are: self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision-making. By helping students become more aware of their own feelings and actions and how they impact others, students build empathy and skills in self-regulation so that they learn more positive and healthy ways for navigating their social environments and relationships. Through one-on-one and small group activities, City Year AmeriCorps Members lead interactive activities and have coaching conversations with students to help develop these skills every day.
How can I get involved? Where I can I learn more?
Participate in PACER's Unity Day on October 19th and learn more about how you can help prevent bullying by exploring the following resources:
- PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center
- CASEL (The Collaborative for Academic, Social & Emotional Learning)
- The Bully Project
- National Education Association (NEA): Teaching Students to Prevent Bullying
- US Dept of Health & Human Services: Stop Bullying
- Violence Prevention Works
- Stomp Out Bullying