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Antibullying Initiatives in Schools

Wed, 10/11/2023 - 15:02

Families, Inc. therapist Dr. Dana Watson has been featured regularly on KFIN’s Breakfast Club to discuss maintaining a healthy mindset. The following is a transcript from a recent interview she had with KFIN’s Breakfast Club’s Brandon Baxter.

Brandon Baxter: What is bullying? Is it the same as teasing (although that can be hurtful, no doubt), is it? 

Dr. Dana Watson: Bullying involves repeated actions intended to cause harm in relationships where there is a real or perceived power imbalance. 

Bullying can be verbal (e.g., purposeful humiliation, teasing, spreading rumors, threatening), physical (e.g., hitting, kicking, shoving) or relational (e.g., social exclusion, spreading hurtful rumors). 

And bullying can be over the internet, too, right? They call it Cyberbullying? 

Yes. Bullying can occur on school campus or off campus (e.g., in the virtual learning environment or cyberbullying). Cyberbullying is willful and repeated harm inflicted using computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. The bully might engage in humiliation, public shaming, excluding someone from a chat or even sharing embarrassing pictures or texts. 

Cyberstalking, inauthentically responding to a post or message, trolling, and “catfishing” or false online personality. 

I feel like Cyberbullying is so bad because it never stops – like when school is over it can continue… 

Right. Cyberbullying is not limited to physical academic spaces. It can occur outside of school hours. Cyberbullying content can be very public and pervasive, and can exist permanently in a digital archive, such as via social media or text or direct messaging. Students who engage in cyberbullying may feel more emboldened about doing so online than they would in person because of the actual physical separation, lack of school staff oversight, and/or anonymity offered by online communication. 

And bullying also includes harmful behaviors based on gender or identity preferences? 

Bias-based bullying is bullying that specifically targets a person because of characteristics of their identity (e.g., race, language, sexual orientation, ability, body size, gender identity, religion and/or practices). 

So, as a psychologist, tell me why do people bully? What’s going on inside the mind of bullies? 

Bullying may serve a func1on for students who ins1gate it (e.g., help them to achieve popularity, attention). Understanding the func1on that bullying serves can help teachers and professionals at school to iden1fy other, more posi1ve ways for students to succeed. 

Students who ini1ate bullying may have been in a situa1on where they themselves were bullied. 

Students who bully others are at an elevated risk for conduct problems (e.g., domestic violence, substance abuse). 

Students who bully others need support from teachers and professionals in the school. 

I hate to ask this question because it feels like we’re blaming the victim – and so many kids are victims of bullying – but what can you tell me as a psychologist about people who are targets of bullies? Are there any characteristics that might make them more vulnerable to being bullied? 

Students who are targeted for bullying are often members of historically marginalized groups, such as racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ+ community, and children with different abilities or bodies. This can cause these children to disengage from school, which can negatively impact their relationships and academic achievement. They may even engage in self-harm. 

That’s just devastating. 

It is heartbreaking. And it might look like avoiding recess or pretending to be sick so they don’t have to go to school. They can become very depressed and anxious, sometimes even suicidal. 

Students who are bullied need support from teachers and professionals in the school. 

Yes. Listen, being hurt – physically or emotionally – at any age is horrible and can lead to so many devastating consequences from self-esteem to suicide. But children, particularly, have less power than say a 20-year-old who is being teased – again, all of it is bad and harmful and we must actively work to stop it. But a 20-year-old can get up and leave more situations or may have more physical power than an 8-year-old. School-aged children are basically trapped. 

That is why we need students who are bullied to continually be encouraged to report bullying to trusted adults: a neighbor, mentor, parent, friend’s parent, teacher, coach, etc. So, what kind of anti-bullying initiatives in schools are essential to create a safe and supportive learning environment for students? 

Schools play a vital role in preventing and addressing bullying behaviors. School-based initiatives raise awareness about bullying, prevent incidents, and support both the victims and the perpetrators. Anti-bullying initiatives in schools are crucial for creating a safe and inclusive environment for students. 

And schools must also educate bystanders. The children who sometimes stoke the fire to encourage the bully (they probably don’t want to be picked on themselves) or those who turn a blind eye to the bullying for the same reasons. We need those children to stand up and say, “This isn’t okay, stop it,” or to inform the teachers what is happening. 

What are some common strategies and initiatives employed by schools to address bullying: 

  1. Education and Awareness through workshops, assemblies, and classroom discussions, to educate students, teachers, and parents about different forms of bullying and their impact. 
  2. Schools should establish clear and comprehensive anti-bullying policies that outline expected behavior, consequences for bullying, and reporting procedures. They should implement a Code of Conduct that emphasizes respect, kindness, and empathy. 
  3. Prevention Programs to train teachers and staff on recognizing bullying signs, prevention strategies, and effective intervention techniques. Peer support and conflict resolution training are especially important. 
  4. Cyberbullying Prevention workshops for students and parents about online safety, privacy settings, and reporting cyberbullying incidents. 
  5. Set up Reporting Mechanisms for Anonymous Reporting and designate staff to be trusted adults that can handle reports and ensure appropriate action is taken. 

And obviously schools would make counseling services available, I would think? 

Definitely. Most schools partner with counseling agencies to help mitigate the emotional impact that occurs when children are bullied. They can also provide counseling to the children who are bullies, to help them learn empathy and how to make amends for their actions. 

So how can schools offer a chance for bullies to become better people, to learn the skills they need to end that behavior? 

Promote inclusivity and foster an environment where differences are respected. 

Recognize and reward positive behavior, creating an atmosphere where kindness and empathy are valued. 

Are there real-world examples of schools successfully implementing anti-bullying strategies? 

Absolutely! There are recognized programs that are making a difference here in the United States (like the PBIS Program, No Bully Program, and Restorative Justice program) and abroad – Ireland, Finland, and Norway have some of the most recognized programs. 

If your child is struggling with being bullied in school or in person, they may experience mood or physical changes. Call Families, Inc. at 870-933-6886 to get them the support – to get your whole family the support – you need. 


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