National Bullying Prevention Month Advocacy Guide
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“Preventing bullying matters because bullying is harmful, and that harm is not short-lived. This is the kind of psychological and emotional harm that can last for years.”
Dr. Shari Bauman, Bullying Expert & Professor of Counseling at the University of Arizona
Bullying can affect people of all ages emotionally, mentally, and physically. While it is an issue that predominantly affects children and adolescents, bullying can still be problematic through adulthood. The effects of childhood bullying can be long-lasting, with many adults being able to vividly reference times they were bullied decades after it happened.
“Preventing bullying matters because bullying is harmful, and that harm is not short-lived. This is the kind of psychological and emotional harm that can last for years,” says Dr. Shari Bauman, a professor of counseling at the University of Arizona and bullying expert.
And it’s not just the victim who can be permanently affected by bullying: “A bully may find that their behavior works and use those tactics throughout their life, whereas the victims who don’t know what to do or don’t feel like they have any agency may always find themselves allowing those things to happen. So bullying matters at the moment, but it also matters all through life. It’s important that we understand it first, and then look for ways to tackle it.”
Currently, there is a lot of research on bullying, including a project by Dr.Bauman: “Our surveys show almost all kids disapprove of bullying and say, ‘That’s not a good thing.’ However, the surveys also show rates of bullying in those same classrooms,” she shares. “We also see that bullying varies from classroom to classroom in the same school. We think perhaps that the way relationships are formed and maintained peer-to-peer and teacher-to-student—as well as the kind of climate that’s created in the classroom for how people treat each other—may be more important than a specific anti-bullying program. If kids care about one another, then when they see something happen, they will say, ‘We don’t do that here.’”
October is designated as National Bullying Prevention Month to bring awareness to this problem and help reduce instances of bullying. There are many ways for kids, parents, teachers, and citizens to get involved this month.
While recognizing and bringing awareness of bullying during October is a good first step, anti-bullying work must occur all year. Keep reading to learn more about bullying, how to prevent it, and how to promote this month.
Meet the Expert: Sheri Bauman, PhD
Dr. Sheri Bauman is a retired professor of counseling at the University of Arizona. She earned her PhD in counseling psychology from New Mexico State University.
Before starting a career in higher education, Dr. Bauman was a teacher and school counselor for more than 30 years. Her research centers on bullying, cyberbullying, and peer victimization. She is a well-regarded expert in this field with over 65 publications and seven books. She is a frequent presenter on this subject and attends conferences and workshops nationwide. She is also on the board of trustees of DitchtheLabel.org, an anti-bullying charity, and serves as their research consultant.
What is Bullying?
While what bullying constitutes may seem obvious, coming up with an official definition took a while: “The CDC has an official definition that took several years to agree on. Most scholars would say that there are three characteristics of an event that you would call bullying,” explains Dr. Bauman. “The first is that it was deliberate aggression. The second: that it was repeated or had a strong likelihood of being repeated. And the third is the power differential between the perpetrator and the victim. So maybe the bully has greater physical size, that’s the stereotype, but may have more social capital such as being more popular, wearing the right brands of things, having a cool phone, or being an athlete or well-known in the school.”
It is hard for experts to pin down exactly how often bullying happens. “You can read studies that will give you a very wide range,” says Dr. Bauman. “The most consistent number I read is that around 30 percent of kids experience bullying, but how the question is asked determines what that rate is.”
What the research is showing, according to Dr. Bauman, is that some kids may report hurt feelings around being called a name, for example, but then there are no follow-up questions as to whether or not that was harmful, repetitive, or if there was a power differential. So while a student may have disliked being called a name, that instance may not rise to the level of being called “bullying.”
There are several different kinds of bullying. The first (and what most people think of) is physical bullying. This can involve hitting, kicking, pushing, tripping, and damaging property. Other kinds of bullying include verbal bullying, where a bully will say mean and hurtful things, and social bullying, where the bully excludes the victim from a particular social group, spreads lies or rumors, and may encourage others to exclude the victim.
Cyberbullying, which is bullying via any electronic device, is a newer kind of bullying that is also extremely harmful because it can be covert.
Unfortunately, not all bullying ends when students leave school: “Workplace bullying is a big issue that is finally getting more attention. People tend to think that when you graduate from school, you graduate from bullying. That’s not always the case. Workplace bullying is very common and very distressing to the victims. We also see bullying in international relations, in government, and in celebrities. Young people see these things too, so there’s an indirect message of ‘adults can do it but you can’t’—and we all know how well that works,” shares Dr. Bauman.
It is essential to reduce and prevent instances of bullying because they can be very harmful. For some kids, the bullying is so severe that they attempt suicide. Unfortunately, some kids, such as a 12-year-old in Utah, are successful, and their young lives are cut short: “For hundreds of years, people assumed that this was just a part of growing up—sort of a phase or a stepping stone. It was part of becoming an adult. Some even believed it would toughen you up because the world is rough. We have come to realize that this is not a harmless aspect of growing up, but in fact, has very long-lasting implications for physical and mental health and long-term well-being,” says. Dr. Bauman.
There are many efforts to curb bullying, but much more work is needed. “There are a lot of campaigns like National Bullying Prevention Month and assemblies, for example. Those are not useless, but they tend to have a very small effect if they’re not part of a greater systematic approach. In fact, two of the most successful anti-bullying programs in the world with the best results only have a 20 percent reduction in bullying and 17 percent in victimization. It’s noticeable, but you still have a lot of kids out there being hurt,” shares Dr. Bauman.
Dr. Bauman believes comprehensive, ongoing programs and policy changes that are efficiently implemented are the keys to lasting change. “I’d like to see teacher training programs and initial teacher orientation programs. They need to be systemic. Everybody needs to understand the problem and how it affects people. They also have to know what to do about it and how to do it. It’s really important to train all adults who work with kids, including other staff. Often a custodian, for example, may see some bullying and can do something.”
She continues, “The second part is developing an anti-bullying policy with input. There are standard policies that you can get online, which a lot of states and districts just cut and paste. They don’t develop one that takes into account the unique characteristics of their schools and districts. You have to have teachers, administrators, parents, and kids involved in crafting the policy so that all the voices are heard. There has to be buy-in. Then, once you have a policy, you have to implement it consistently,” says Bauman.
One program she has seen work well is a designated bullying response staff member. When there is an instance of bullying, this person, who has the specialized training, is called upon to help students and staff work through the problem. This person can be a school counselor or administrator who can evaluate the incident and help develop workable solutions that are not punitive.
How to Recognize National Bullying Prevention Month
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and can be an excellent opportunity to raise awareness around this serious problem: “I’m of the opinion that if one person becomes aware and changes their behavior, or if one person feels empowered to bring about change, then it’s worth it,” shares Dr. Bauman.
According to Dr. Bauman, one important piece of awareness campaigns needs to be an understanding of what bullying is and isn’t. “People need to understand that it isn’t all aggression. Often the media and people will say any act is bullying, and it may not be. It may just be conflict because there’s no power differential, or it’s a one-off incident,” she says.
As a researcher who has spent countless hours talking to kids on this subject, Dr. Bauman offers some advice to parents and adults. “My strategy would be not to ask my kid, ‘Are you being bullied?’ I would say, ‘I read all this stuff about bullying. What’s that like in your school?’ That really gives them the opportunity to talk about it,” she says.