Anti-Bullying Strategies and How My Experience with Bullying Could Have Been Avoided

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Elementary school should be a wonderful time in any child’s life. It is a time for them to learn, grow, make friends and begin to figure out what kind of person they want to be in life. But for some children, school is much more than that. It is a place of fear and anxiety. Children who are bullied cannot concentrate on getting the education they need. When I was in elementary school, I was one of these children. In third grade, a girl named Alyssa teased me every day. Most of the time it was because I wore glasses. At first, she would just call me “Bug Eyes”, but when other people started laughing and joining in, she got worse. Eventually, it got to the point where I ate lunch by myself because no one would sit with me, and I hid in the tire tower during recess so that I would not be teased. I couldn’t ask other students for help, and I was afraid to ask my teacher questions in class because I would be made fun of for it constantly. I began to look for reasons to stay home. Sometimes I would even fake sickness to get out of going to school. With bullying more and more in the public eye, I have begun to ask myself why this happened. The teachers must have known that I was treated differently. Maybe because I was never seriously threatened physically, they thought it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe because there were fewer resources for parents and teachers ten years ago then there are today, they didn’t know what to do. Now, there are many different intervention strategies when it comes to bullying. The most effective way to deal with bullying in schools is to understand how and why it happens and to intervene early through teaching effective coping strategies to the victim, peer mediation from other students, anti-bullying programs and classroom education

While it seems like the amount of bullying in schools is declining, it is still a serious problem. The National Center for Education Statistics’ “Indicators of School Crime and Safety” report from 2012 states that between July, 2010 and June, 2011, there were thirty-one violent deaths associated with schools. Three of these deaths were suicides (Robers iv). Three may not seem like a large number, but thinking about the fact that three young students killed themselves is very upsetting. While I never felt actually suicidal, I can imagine how a young child might feel like they don’t have any other choice. It is especially sad to think that if only a teacher knew how to intervene to help the bullied child, he or she could still be alive. The National Center for Education Statistics also reported that there were approximately 1,246,000 victimizations at school in the same year. This means that well over one million students were victimized. This is too large of a number, but what is even worse is that this number has increased from thirty-five to forty-nine victimizations for every one thousand students (Robers iv). The fact that victimizations at schools are on the rise is a serious issue. It is now more crucial than ever that students, teachers and parents learn strategies to handle bullying.

One of the more troubling facts in the National Center for Education Statistics’ report is that from the twenty-eight percent of students who reported being bullied, there was a higher level of girls who were bullied than boys. More girls said they were called names, insulted, made fun of, became the subject of rumors or were excluded from activities on purpose (Robers vi). Bullying from boys seems to be more physical while bullying from girls is often more mental and verbal in nature. In my case, I was never really threatened physically, but I definitely had rumors started about me and was more often than not left out of activities at school. I also wonder how accurate the reporting is, because I know that when I was bullied, if I had been asked to report about it, I would have been too embarrassed or nervous to be honest, even if it was anonymous. Although the numbers could possibly be inaccurate, either way it is important that they are dealt with, no matter how low they are.

During my research for this paper, I have realized that it is important to understand that bullying does not mean the same thing to everyone. There is an especially big difference between how children define bullying and how adults do. Peter K. Smith and Claire P. Monks’ 2006 article, “Definitions of Bullying: Age Differences in Understanding of the Term, and the Role of Experience states that while “bullying refers to behaviors that hurt or harm another person, with intent to do so; the hurt or harm may be physical or psychosocial and is repeated; and there is a power imbalance (be that social, psychological or physical) such that it is difficult for the victim to defend him- or herself” teachers, students and parents seem to have definitions that differ from this definition and each others’ (802). The article explains that adults, for example, usually agreed with the article’s definition that bullying had to be a repeated action, and that the “bully” had to be intending to hurt the victim. On the other hand, children tended to use the definition much more loosely. To a child, any time another student hurt them in some way would be defined as “bullying” (Monks 16). While I do think my experience fits the research definition of bullying, (because Alyssa teased me repeatedly and obviously intended to hurt me with her teasing) it is important to remember that just because a student’s experience may not match a textbook definition of bullying, they may still feel that they are being bullied.

An additional study from 2006, “Teachers’ and Pupils’ Definitions of Bullying” brings up a good point about why bullying may often go unnoticed or unreported by teachers. The article explains that when asked, most teachers defined bullying through physical acts. According to the article, “most of the teachers in his sample...defined bullying in terms of physical and verbal abuse and forcing people to do things they do not want to do” (Naylor 555). This is definitely part of the definition of bullying, but the article goes on to explain that teachers often leave out name calling, rumors, staring (to intimidate) and the taking of the victim’s belongings as forms of bullying. They also tended to leave out the act of excluding a student as a form of bullying (Naylor 555). It is upsetting to learn this since my bullying started with name-calling. Rumors were started about my home life that I was too poor to afford new clothes and that my food had come from the dumpster outside, which lead to my exclusion in the cafeteria, because the other students said this was why they could not sit with me at lunch. By the end of the year I was being left out of every activity the other students could exclude me from. What if a teacher heard Alyssa call me a rude name, but did not think it was serious enough to report? Maybe if my teacher had taken more serious action in the beginning, the bullying may not have gone on for so long.

Bullying has short and long-term effects that can be used to recognize victims. short-term effects of victimization. The 2005 article, “Bullying in School: An Overview of Types, Effects, Family Characteristics, and Intervention Strategies,” written by Paul R. Smokowski and Kelly Holland Kopasz, lists some of these affects. Short-term effects include anxiety and depression, absenteeism, bad grades and loneliness (103). The article states, “victims may gradually see themselves as outcasts and failures” (Smokowski 104). I know that this was the case for me because I felt like if I couldn’t even defend myself against a bully, then I really couldn’t do anything. Also, because I was afraid to participate in class and ask questions, my grades were not as good, so I felt like I was as stupid as the other students said I was.

The article also explains that students who are bullied don’t just suffer in school, but at home too. It reports that a bullied child may complain about "psychosomatic symptoms such as headaches or stomach pains in the morning," and that they may have nightmares and trouble sleeping (Smokowski 104). I know that I often felt sick in the morning. I was usually told I had to go to school anyway because I never had a fever or was actually ill, so it was thought that I was faking. I didn’t feel well, and the stomach pains were real, but they were due to the nervousness I felt about going to school. I don’t remember whether or not I had nightmares while I was being bullied, but I do know that I often cried when it was time to go to bed because I knew that it meant the morning would be here soon, and I would have to go to school where I would be bullied all day long. It is sad that bullying does not only affect students at school, but also in their home life.

Until every child grows up learning that bullying is wrong, there needs to be a way to deal with bullying while it happens. There are many different strategies that can be used to help stop children from bullying and to help children that have been bullied cope with it. There are a few different ways that dealing with bullying can be approached. On a small scale, adults can look at specific victims and bullies and deal with their direct issues. While dealing with specific incidents of bullying, parents and schools should be working on dealing with the bigger issue of bullying in general. In this paper, I would like to first discuss the ways in which specific acts of bullying should be handled for the bully and the student, and then a discussion of more general anti-bullying strategies will follow.

In a bullying situation, there are always at least two people involved: the victim and the bully. One of the first things that should be looked at in a bullying situation are the victim’s coping strategies. Simone Paul, Peter K. Smith and Herbert H. Blumberg’s 2012 article, “Comparing Student Perceptions of Coping Strategies and School Interventions in Managing Bullying and Cyberbullying Incidents” explains that there are three types of coping strategies for victims of bullying. Two of them are internal and can be discussed together because of this. They are productive and non-productive. Productive coping strategies include problem solving skills, maintaining a positive focus, relaxing, and physical activity, and non-productive coping strategies are listed as worrying, wishful thinking, and self-blame (Paul 129). Not that any child should have to deal with being the victim of bullying, but children who develop positive coping strategies may have an easier time dealing with bullies than those who do not. I know that I worried and blamed myself constantly for my bullying, but maybe if I’d learned early on how to relax and maintain a positive outlook, I would not have felt so overwhelmed by my bullying situation.

The last type of strategy listed in the article is the one most important to this discussion: reference to others. Reference to others is a victim’s ability to reach out to other members of his or her social group, seek spiritual guidance, or find professional health (Paul 129). This is where the most proactive forms of anti-bullying strategies can and should be found. When I was being bullied, there was no way I would have reached out to my peers, and I did not think asking a teacher or other professional in or out of school would have helped because bullying wasn’t really discussed in my school, so I did not know what would happen even if I did ask for help. In researching this paper, I have found several important strategies that I know would have helped me when I was a child and can help current victims of bullying today.

One interesting way to deal with bullying that I have read about is teaching other students how to handle bullying situations. Peer mediation is used to handle other conflicts in school, and it could also be effective for bullying. According to Cindy Copich’s 2012 article, “Youth Court: an Alternative Response to School Bullying,” “Students that bully are in need of positive role models, including adults and students in their school that demonstrate effective social relationships and skills” (Copich 5). Peer mediation, or “Youth Court” as Copich calls it, allows both sides to be heard. In this way, neither student feels ignored. It also takes out some of the intimidation felt when students speak with adults. Youth court may help students learn to talk out their problems in other settings as well. Communication is difficult for young children, and learning the most effective way to speak with one another may allow for less frustrated children who would otherwise turn to yelling and intimidation. If Youth Court had been available when I was in elementary school, I may have felt more comfortable addressing my bullying situation.

Students should not and cannot be expected to handle bullying situations all on their own. In her 2012 article, “Peer Victimisation: Strategies to Decrease Bullying in Schools” Tracy Perron explains the various strategies that can be used by the school itself to combat bullying. While she explains that discipline for the bully is important, anti-bullying programs are even more so. Perron states that schools with school-wide anti-bullying programs have less cases of bullying overall than schools that do not. She also writes that schools that include the parents in anti-bullying programs (parent-teacher meetings about bullying, for example) are more successful (Perron 27). She writes, "This information would indicate that anti-bullying programmes should not just focus on the school itself but should also be directed at the parents” (Perron 27). This may seem obvious, but I know that my parents did not have any access to anti-bullying information, and would only have known to reach out to my school if I had asked for help, which I did not know how to do.

Coping strategies, peer mediation, and anti-bullying programs are all effective ways to address bullying in schools, but in doing my research I have found that incorporating anti-bullying ideas into classroom education is also important and not really used that often. Students who are exposed to lessons that discuss why bullying is wrong and hurtful (for both the victim and the bully) might have a better understand of how everyone is affected negatively by bullying. Elizabeth Walton wrote an interesting article about teaching anti-bullying in 2012. It is called, “Using Literature as a Strategy to Promote Inclusivity in High School Classrooms,” and it discusses using novels that include bullying as a subject as a way to approach it with high school students. Walton explains that “such texts can be used to promote inclusivity by developing sympathetic understanding, by addressing sensitive issues using the characters and context of the text, and by engaging in critical literacy that exposes power and positioning in texts” (224). While this article is aimed at high school students, there is no reason this couldn’t also be used for younger children. A quick search on Amazon.com shows that there are plenty of age appropriate books that could be useful. A few that I thought looked good are: Bill Cosby's The Meanest Thing to Say, Becky McCain's Nobody Knew What to Do: A Story About Bullying, and Oliver Button is a Sissy by Tomi De Paola. Allowing students to learn about and discuss bullying through fictional works is a great way to make it more comfortable for them.

What I have learned most about anti-bullying strategies and looking back at my own experiences with bullying, is that there is no one answer to end bullying. Parents, teachers and students must understand how to recognize and define bullying, and they must work together to address the issues. Bullying can be identified and dealt with through effective coping strategies by the victim, peer mediation from other students, anti-bullying programs and classroom education. With all of these elements working together, bullying can be reduced greatly. I know that if I had felt that I had access to these resources, I would have used all of them, and my bully would not have been able to have such a strong, negative influence on my childhood.

Works Cited

Copich, Cindy. "Youth Court: An Alternative Response to School Bullying." International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 1-8. EbscoHost. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Monks, Claire P., and Peter K. Smith. "Definitions of bullying: Age differences in understanding of the term, and the role of experience." British Journal of Developmental Psychology vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 801-821. EbscoHost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Naylor, Paul, Helen Cowie, Fabienne Cossin, Rita de Bettencourt, and Francesca Lemme. "Teachers' And Pupils' Definitions Of Bullying." British Journal of Educational Psychology vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 553-576. EbscoHost. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Paul, Simone, Peter K. Smith, and Herbert H. Blumberg. "Comparing student perceptions of coping strategies and school interventions in managing bullying and cyberbullying incidents." Pastoral Care in Education vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 127-146. EbscoHost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Perron, Tracy. "Peer Victimisation: Strategies to Decrease Bullying in Schools." British Journal of School Nursing vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 25-9. EbscoHost. Web. 24 Feb. 2014.

Robers, Simone, Jana Kemp, and Jennifer Truman. "Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012." National Center for Education Statistics 1 (2013): 1-185. EbscoHost. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.

Smokowski, P. R., and K. H. Kopasz. "Bullying in School: An Overview of Types, Effects, Family Characteristics, and Intervention Strategies." Children & Schools, vol. 27, no. 2, 2005, pp. 101- 110. EbscoHost. Web. 25 Feb. 2014.