Bullying. It is a problem that seems to be pervasive in schools from the elementary grades through high school. Although not new, bullying today goes beyond the school hallways and neighborhood soda shops and infiltrates itself into social networking sites on the Internet. This combination of traditional and cyber-bullying causes damage with long-lasting and sometimes fatal consequences. As teachers, how do we protect our students from bullying, whether it be taking place in our schools or on the Internet? Is it even a teacher’s responsibility to step in to stop it?
Understanding Bullying in Schools
The involvement of teachers and administrators in trying to stop blatant bullying is under scrutiny. What should be done to protect students from malicious taunts and harassment by others? At what point are teachers and administrators held accountable for bullying in schools? Although these questions may be difficult to answer, the fact is that teachers do need to talk with students about bullying. Understanding basic facts about bullies and their victims can make the conversation easier.
Anatomy of a Bully
For bullies, it is all about intimidation and power. They can target people they know or pick someone out at random. They thrive on creating fear and derive pleasure from making others self-conscious and uncomfortable. Not all bullying will escalate to physical injury, but all bullying has the potential to. That is a key point to remember; all bullying has the potential to escalate to physical violence. Cyber-bullying goes beyond normal bullying. It is an attempt to destroy another person’s reputation. Malicious and destructive, cyber-bullying reaches an audience infinitely larger than normal bullying and can quickly spread vicious lies in under 140 typed characters. It results in whispers in the hallways, side-long looks, and a psychological assault on the victim’s ability to function in school and beyond the classroom walls.
Understanding Bullying Victims
Sometimes they just cannot say anything. A comment that everything is fine, should be a blatant red flag to a teacher or parent who has witnessed bullying either online or in person. The inability to advocate for themselves, does not mean that there is no problem, it simply means that those children need help. Their character is being assassinated on social networking sites, they are being talked about in the halls, and they are enduring in silence. If any child needs someone, whether it be a teacher, cafeteria worker, parent, or bus driver, to step in, it is the child who is being bullied.
Teachers cannot conquer bullying alone. The support of parents, co-workers, support staff and the victim’s peers to stand up and say that bullying will not be tolerated is the only way to stop bullies from causing harm. Teachers and parents must teach tolerance, the importance of self-advocating, and the necessity to stand up and speak out for those who may not be able to do so. There is no easy solution. There is no quick cure. Yet there is hope that tragedies like those seen in the last year can be prevented.
Updated: September 23, 2016
Originally Published: April 6, 2010