Bullying is a common problem in the United States, with 1 in 5 high school students experiencing it at school while 1 in 6 have been bullied through technology [*]. These statistics emphasize the importance of bullying prevention in schools.
The American Psychological Association (APA) describes bullying as the act of verbally abusing, persistently threatening, and showing aggressive physical behavior toward other people. It is often targeted at individuals who are perceived to be smaller, weaker, younger, or at a disadvantage [*].
If you care for school-age children, keep reading to learn about the effects of bullying, different types, and strategies you can follow to prevent it.
Understanding Bullying: Types and Impact
Researchers analyzed 165 articles about the health and psychosocial consequences of bullying victimization in a 2017 study. Evidence shows that there is an association between bullying victimization and mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation and behavior. Moreover, bullying victimization was also associated with the use of tobacco and illicit drugs [*].
You need to familiarize yourself with the different types of bullying because it is key to early intervention. Bullying comes in these forms:
- Verbal bullying involves the use of words to tease, name-call, insult and hurt others. This type of bullying is challenging to identify because the person doing the bullying can disguise their comments as jokes. Watch out for a noticeable decline in self-esteem, increased anxiety, and distress after interactions with specific individuals.
- Physical bullying happens when people use physical behaviors such as hitting, kicking, punching, and slapping to bully others. It is also the easiest to identify because it can leave visible signs of aggression such as bruises, cuts, or injuries.
- Relational bullying involves behaviors that are meant to harm a victim’s reputation or relationships. Examples include gossiping, spreading rumors, and excluding the victim from social situations. Kids who are bullied this way tend to withdraw from their peers and become isolated.
- Sexual bullying involves the use of inappropriate words and actions that are sexual in nature. One example is spreading false information about someone’s sexual activities to shame them. Other examples include making unwelcome sexual comments or jokes and inappropriate touching.
- Prejudicial bullying is characterized by words or actions that are based on prejudices towards people with a different race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or personal attributes and are meant to discriminate against the victim. Examples include the use of slurs, social isolation, hate speech, racial profiling, and prejudicial jokes.
- Cyberbullying involves the use of the Internet or other forms of digital technology to bully another person. It can happen on social media platforms, messaging apps, email, online forums, or gaming platforms. Cyberbullying can be done anonymously, which makes it more challenging to identify the perpetrator.
Creating a Bully-Free Environment
A bully-free environment ensures that children feel safe and supported, so they are more likely to participate actively in classroom activities and extracurriculars. Educators and school staff can contribute to preventing bullying in the following ways:
Educating Students and Staff
The first thing you can do to prevent bullying in school is to educate students, teachers, and school staff about it. Caring adults should learn how to identify bullying behaviors to help with early intervention.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends conducting staff training on bullying prevention. Staff can undergo meetings and training sessions to learn the school’s policies and how to enforce rules. Students can also participate in lessons and activities about bullying prevention. This includes role-play presentations, discussions on reporting bullying, and classroom meetings [*].
School Policies and Programs
Educators are encouraged to understand their states’ anti-bullying laws [*]. Schools should also develop policies about bullying, how students can report it, and how to respond when an incident occurs.
For example, your school can establish procedures for reporting violations. It should be simple, so students are more likely to report these violations. Make sure that reports are confidential so everyone can submit them without fear.
Strategies for Bullying Prevention
Bullying prevention in schools involves a combination of strategies. Aside from implementing school policies and educating school staff, the following can also help:
Promote a positive and inclusive school culture
A school that encourages respect, kindness, and empathy can help prevent bullying incidents. Promote an environment where everyone can feel included, whether there are differences in race, ethnicity, gender, and other characteristics. It would be helpful to have events and activities that celebrate the different backgrounds and talents of students.
Involve parents and caregivers
Schools need to collaborate with parents and caregivers on discussing anti-bullying topics at home. Keep an open line of communication about school policies, programs, and resources about bullying prevention. These are also opportunities for parents to learn how to promote positive behavior at home.
Responding to Bullying Incidents
As a parent or educator, it’s important to remind students that there are many ways to respond to bullying. One way is to speak up when they think they might be a victim. Telling a trusted adult is one of the best approaches to stop bullying.
A training resource on how to cope with bullying can serve as a helpful guide in dealing with the situation. Families and schools can post it in a heavily visited room. And children keep the file on their phones so they can access it anytime.
School authorities should address bullying incidents promptly when they occur. This communicates that bullying is not tolerated in school.
Empowering a Bully-Free Future
Victims of bullying can experience psychological distress and other mental health issues, which could affect their lives. Empowering a bully-free future for students is important because it can help protect their emotional and mental health. Schools that focus on bullying prevention also promote a positive and inclusive culture, which can contribute to a supportive learning environment for everyone.
We can cultivate kindness and respect towards other people by starting with ourselves. Students can practice having compassion through self-love affirmations. These are positive statements that aim to promote self-acceptance and boost self-esteem. Some examples are, “I am worthy of love just as I am,” and “I deserve kindness from myself and others.”
Create a school culture that values kindness and respect
Parents, teachers, and caregivers know that your commitment to creating a bully-free school can positively impact children’s lives because it increases their safety in a positive learning environment. By promoting a culture of positivity and inclusivity, you are empowering students to become more compassionate, empathetic, and responsible members of society.
About The Author
Michael Vallejo is a Child & Family Therapist with a private practice in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Through Mental Health Center Kids
he hopes to support other therapists, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals with visually appealing online resources to support the well-being of kids in their care.
Bullying. (n.d.). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/bullyingresearch/fastfact.html
APA Dictionary of Psychology. (n.d.). https://dictionary.apa.org/bullying
Moore, S. E., Norman, R. E., Suetani, S., Thomas, H. J., Sly, P. D., & Scott, J. G. (2017). Consequences of bullying victimization in childhood and adolescence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. World Journal of Psychiatry, 7(1), 60. https://doi.org/10.5498/wjp.v7.i1.60
Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). (2023, September 8). Stop Bullying home page. StopBullying.gov. https://www.stopbullying.gov/