How Adults Can Stem the Tide of Bullying

By Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

laughAs we observe National Bullying Awareness Month this October, and we ask our children and our schools to prevent bullying, we ought to take a hard look at ourselves too.  Are we promoting bullying by repeating and laughing at fat jokes?  Are we encouraging bullying by scornful and sarcastic remarks that we make about gays and others? Are we a party to bullying when we don’t step in and say something when we observe it?  Are we allowing bullying to fester when we don’t report it to the school?

We know that youngsters learn what they live, and that children, even at a very young age, hear much more than we think they do. They are also very adept at picking up non-verbal cues. What messages are we sending our children? Are we tacitly encouraging them to be bullies?

Youngsters who are bullied may develop anxiety about seeing the perpetrators at school and elsewhere. Their school performance may be affected and they may shun other activities. They may become depressed, and sadly some even take their own lives as 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer did last year.

Parents, teachers, and school administrators need to be vigilant about bullying. We need to talk to children about both being bullied and about being bullies. But first and foremost, we should be role models for kindness, caring, and understanding.

Current and prospective laws against bullying may be too simplistic to solve the problem. Aren’t we as adults essentially responsible for bullying? The prevention of bullying begins with all of us examining our words and our behavior.

As an educator and a parent, my heart goes out to all who are bullied. It’s a fact that for students to succeed in school, they must feel safe and supported.  But bullying happens, even though school officials certainly do not sanction it. 

When I dealt with bullying incidents as a school administrator, I remember how painful and frightening it was for the victims. Their main fear was retaliation if they reported that they were bullied. 

There are school district policies, administrative regulations and guidelines that spell out the consequences for bullying.  But because bullying often takes place during less structured times of the school day – lunch, recess, going to and from class, and on the bus – it is incumbent upon students to report it.  Principals, teachers and other school personnel typically take bullying reports very seriously. 

Not so long ago, schools took the position that they were only responsible for what happened at school. If a fight took place on Friday night at the mall, school districts used to say it was not their concern. Now if the impact spills over into the school day and affects students, school districts will take action.  

Another game changer has been cyber-bullying. In the last several years, social media has created and enabled a new platform for bullying, and cases are proliferating.  As a result, schools must now investigate and impose consequences for cyber-bullying, in addition to face-to-face bullying. 

According to cyber-bullying statistics from the i-SAFE Foundation, more than one in three young people have experienced cyber-bullying. Unfortunately, more than half of these students do not tell their parents. Thus, it is crucial for students who are bullied or cyber-bullied to immediately report it to an adult – parent, teacher, administrator or guidance counselor. When bullying is reported, the school will act on it. 

Parents should speak with their children about bullying and cyber-bullying to make sure they are not engaging in it. Discuss how hurtful it is, and emphasize that what is online stays online forever. Emphasize that online misbehavior could affect your child’s future.  It’s equally important to encourage your children to tell you if they are bullied off or online.  Reassure your child and make sure to remind school personnel that retaliation cannot be condoned. Be sure to discuss Internet safety with your children, and monitor what they are doing online. 

By all means, parents should inform schools if there is bullying, and join with schools to promote bullying awareness and prevention programs. Remember October is National Bullying Awareness Month.

Here are some resources on bullying from the Learning First Alliance: 

◦   National Parent Teacher Association’s (PTA) Connect for Respect initiative

◦   National Education Association’s (NEA) Bully Free: It Starts With Me

◦   American Federation of Teachers’ (AFT) “See a Bully, Stop a Bully” initiative

◦   American Association of School Administrators’ (AASA) Special Edition on Bullying at School and Online initiative

◦   NASSP’s Bullying Prevention Initiative

◦   National School Boards Association’s (NSBA) Students on Board initiative

.    National Association of State Boards of Education’s (NASBE) resource on State Bullying Laws.


Photo by FreeDigitalPhotos.Net

Posted on October 3, 2012 by Meryl Ain, Ed.D.

Dr. Meryl Ain has worked in several large New York school districts as a central office administrator, teacher, and school building administrator. She writes about education and parenting for Huffington Post, several other publications, and on her blog. You can also follow her on Twitter.


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