Bullying has been getting media attention recently, and rightly because bullying can lead to significant mental health problems. In 2016, Bullying UK reported that 1.5 million young people experienced during the year. Almost 1-in-5 of those children were bullied every day.
And it’s not just face-to-face bullying: cyber-bullying, through social media, can be relentless as young people often have 24-hour access to social media.
Schools can be an especially fertile breeding ground for face-to-face bullying and cyberbullying. At times, it may seem to be a problem that is too big to handle—for all involved.
However, there are things that schools, parents, and even students can do to prevent bullying.
What is bullying?
Most people think bullying involves physical violence from one person to another. But bullying can take many forms, most of which don’t include any physical contact. Bullying can also be verbal, social or psychological, and these forms of bullying can be harder to spot.
Bullying happens whenever one person is repeatedly caused to feel distressed, unsafe, or inferior by someone else. It could be through spreading rumours, social exclusion, taunting and name-calling, and threats of, or actual, physical harm. It’s often said that “sticks and stones can break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Nothing could be further than the truth. Physical wounds heal quickly. Emotional damage can last a lifetime.
Whatever way a person is bullied, bullying can have a massive impact on the victim’s physical and mental health. A survey by Bullying UK revealed that 40% of young people who experienced bullying considered suicide and 39% had self-harmed. Sadly, over 200 young people lose their lives to suicide each year. Bullying is often a contributing factor.
In the long term, bullying can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and a host of other mental health issues, including PTSD.
What can schools do to prevent bullying?
Schools can work to foster a positive community within their learning environment.
For example, they can:
- Instil an expectation of tolerance for all peoples and backgrounds
- Facilitate discussion among students about what bullying is and how it affects people
- Work to resolve conflicts between students before they get out of hand
- Collaborate with parents to make sure they are aware of what bullying is and how to address it at home
Another thing that schools can do is to ensure that they train their staff to recognise bullying and know how to address it immediately and proactively. This is particularly important with non-physical bullying, as it can be subtle and difficult to spot.
What can parents do to prevent bullying?
First, parents can recognise the signs of bullying and be aware of any behavioural changes in their children.
These might include:
- Saying that their possessions were broken, or that they lost them
- Trouble sleeping
- Problems eating
- Avoiding school, such as pretending to be sick
- A drop in performance at school
- Getting in trouble at school
Next, parents should become actively involved in their child’s school and PTA organisations—getting to know your child’s teachers and other parents. Being an active member of their child’s learning community means more than dropping them off at school in the morning and picking them up in the afternoon.
Parents should ask if their child’s school has an anti-bullying programme. If not, they might start one themselves. They should also talk to their child about what happens at school, taking an interest in their activities—what excites them about school, and what they don’t like.
Finally, parents need to be on the lookout if their child tries to be vague or avoids answering questions. That can signal a problem, too.
What can parents do about cyber-bullying?
Parents also need to be aware that their children are spending more time online, which leaves them vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Someone makes an insensitive post, which gets “liked.” The next thing they know, there is a torrent of “likes” and comments on the matter. While many adults might see that as trivial, it can be overwhelming for a child, and contribute to them believing that everyone else agrees. The effects of cyber-bullying can be devastating.
To prevent cyberbullying, parents must cultivate a relationship with their child. Doing so can encourage them to feel comfortable talking about such issues with their parents.
Parents should also:
- Be aware of what social media platforms are popular with kids and learn how to navigate them
- Keep computers in common areas of the home
- Not allow computers or other tech devices in bedrooms
- Listen to their child without overreacting when they do disclose cyberbullying
What can young people do to prevent bullying?
Despite what they make think, young people have a lot of power when it comes to bullying.
First, they can choose not to respond to the bully. If they are having problems online, encourage them to print out the messages or posts, so there is a record.
Second, they must not support bullying done by others. When they do, it sends the message that bullying is OK.
Lastly, there is also training available for children on how to address bullying. Sponsored by Kidscape, a U.K.-based organisation, students can participate in the ZAP programme. The ZAP programme is a one-day class that helps teach students assertive communication skills. They also learn what to do if someone bullies them.
When it all gets too much
Sadly, too many children and young people loose their lives to suicide each year, and many more self-harm. If you or your child are in this situation and you are contemplating ending your life, help is available. If you feel you are in immediate danger, call 999 and ask for an ambulance.
Papyrus UK is a national charity offering support to young people who are feeling suicidal. Their helpline operates 9 AM to 10 PM weekdays, 2 PM to 10 PM weekends and bank holidays. You can call them on 0800 068 4141 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have listed several other local and national resources on our crisis support page, so check that out, too.
Clearly, bullying can be addressed successfully. However, there is no one solution for preventing bullying. Instead, it requires a coordinated effort by parents, schools, and young people themselves.
If your child is being or has been, bullied, you might want to consider counselling. Counselling can help your child deal with the consequences of bullying, helping them process their emotions and, hopefully, avoiding long-term psychological harm.
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