Guide to Bullying Prevention

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Chapter-by-Chapter Overview

Chapter 1 presents:

  • Common bullying myths such as “it’s all part of growing up,” “being a target of bullying builds character,” and “kids can work it out among themselves.”

  • The real cost of bullying to schools, young people, and society.

  • What the growing body of research on bullying tell us about what it takes to prevent this unnecessary “rite of passage.”

  • Ways to address varying types of bullying, including harassment directed at gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender youth; sexual harassment; hate crimes; cyberbullying; and hazing.

Chapter 2 presents:

  • Ingredients and tools for successful bullying prevention practice.

  • Ways to create a caring school culture.

  • Proven bullying prevention strategies.

  • Discussion about how bullying prevention links to character education

  • The legal obligations related to harassment

  • Ways to tie together all of your prevention efforts

  • Recommended bullying prevention programs and criteria for selecting a program.

Chapter 3 presents:

  • Tools for classroom teachers to help young people develop the pro-social skills, including constructive discipline tips and classroom management techniques.

Chapter 4 presents:

  • Effective intervention strategies: What should you do when you witness a bullying incident? How can teachers, administrators, and parents work with a target, bystander, and bully to leverage the teachable moment and repair damage before it gets out of hand.

Chapter 5 presents:

  • Information for young people, including tools for students to explore the power dynamics of bullying at their school and ways become an ally to targets.

The Importance of Language

Throughout this guide the term target” is used to describe those who are victims of bullying. The term “victim” can be problematic for those at risk for internalizing the victimization and seeing themselves as weak and ineffectual, so the term is avoided.

With other forms of violence, the term “survivor” is often used. However, the term survivor carries with it the assumption of distance from the act—something that cannot be assumed in the context of bullying. The word “target” is also problematic; it is a view through the eyes of the bully and does not give voice to the experience of the person being bullied. We have, however, chosen to use the word “target” for expediency and because no better alternative exists.

Similarly, we use the term “bully” for ease of reference. In the spirit of separating the person from the behavior, it’s helpful in your own efforts to avoid such labels and refer to “bullies” as “perpetrators of bullying,” and “victims” or “targets” as “people who have been bullied.” This language is particularly important when addressing complex cyberbullying behaviors; given that the speed of the message and the invisibility of the bully can engage other participants, it is often difficult to determine the messages originator, and the message gains momentum when other people choose to respond.

It is most constructive to identify the behaviors of the participants and to avoid viewing the roles of bully, bystander, and target as fixed personality traits.

Throughout the Guide we use the term “parents” to refer to all legal guardians, family members, and significant adults in young people’s lives.

A Word Before You Get Started

The real experts on bullying at your school are the students, your staff, and you. Take what we offer here, add your own wisdom and experience, and make it your own. At the heart of best practices in bullying prevention are authenticity, self-direction, and determination. As you refine your practice and learn what works at your site, find ways to share your experience with others—direct from the field.
This Guide was researched in 2002-03, and a rough draft completed in 2003. Following a loss of funding, the Guide was edited and prepared for publication by Don Gorton over the period 2005-07. While the Guide has been updated to reflect newly developed information that became available after the initial research and write-up, it is important to note that cyber-bullying has taken on larger and more troubling dimensions in the first decade of the 21st century. Educators, parents, and students alike should take notice of this phenomenon and ensure that anti-bullying practices respond to harassment effected over the Internet or by use of cellphone and other portable communication devices. Cyberbullying is specifically addressed at Chapter 1.

Chapter 1: Understanding Bullying

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet.

Common Myths About Bullying

Myth #1: “Bullying is just a part of growing up.”

Sadly, this observation holds true for most young people, and for many of the adults in young people’s lives whose childhoods were marred by bullying. But it need not be true. In fact, one of the greatest obstacles to children’s development of pro-social skills is the belief by important adults in their lives that a certain amount of abuse of young people from their peers is a normal fact of life.

Some adults even believe bullying can be beneficial—in toughening up children or helping them to learn to stand up for themselves—mistakenly thinking abuse somehow leads to the development of character and social skills. Research does not support this belief; in fact, it shows the opposite. Children who either witness or are subjected to physical and emotional abuse over time, without the caring intervention of adults, may perpetuate those behaviors in their dealings with others—in extreme cases leading to dramatic acts of violence such as those witnessed at Columbine High. These children also may turn their anger inward and manifest symptoms of depression, an inability to cope with life’s challenges, and low self-esteem. In extreme cases, targets may resort to suicide.

Children who are targets often exhibit poor social skills, opening them up to further isolation and torment. Such isolation and taunting begin a downward spiral where a target’s plummeting self-esteem and lack of social support deprive him or her of the means necessary to improve his or her social and emotional health.

By the Numbers

  • 60% of students said they agree bullying helps students become tougher.8

  • 30–45% felt bullying taught others about unacceptable group behavior.9
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