October 2016 is a special month and year, as it marks the 10th anniversary of National Bullying Prevention Month. We have seen a lot of progress in bullying prevention over these past 10 years, including the launch of stopbullying.gov (a federal government website dedicated to this topic) and the passing of anti-bullying legislation in all 50 states. On a personal level, 5 years ago I was honored to become the director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, a center with the mission of conducting research to better understand and prevent bullying and getting that information into the hands of people who can make a difference.
What do we know about bullying?
- Bullying is intentional aggression that can cause harm to the person being bullied. It involves a power difference (due to physical size, social status, race/ethnicity, and many other things) between the person bullying and the person being bullied. It usually happens over and over, as opposed to a one-time event.
- Bullying can be physical (hitting, kicking), verbal (mean teasing, threats), indirect (spreading rumors, excluding), or cyber (through computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices)
- About 1 in 3 children and adolescents are involved in bullying as a bully, a target, or both. Most of the time adults do not see it happening, kids do not tell it is happening, and peers see or hear it but do not try to stop it.
- Bullying can be very distressing to all involved. The target of bullying can experience anxiety, depression, school avoidance, loneliness, suicidal thoughts, and low self-esteem. Students who bully may be involved in other risk behaviors (fighting, drug and alcohol use) and are more likely to have legal, criminal, and relationship problems as adults. Bystanders who see bullying happen also experience anxiety.
What can we do to help stop bullying?
- Live the golden rule by treating others with the kindness with which you would like to be treated. We do not know what battles other people are facing or struggles they are having, so treating each person with dignity, respect, and kindness is the best way to prevent bullying.
- Find ways to cope with frustration, anger, and other normal feelings that may make us want to hurt others. Some people talk to a friend, others write in a journal, and others work it off through physical exercise. Stopping to think and pausing to post before are good ways to prevent saying something that may hurt something else.
- If you are being bullied, know that it is not your fault and you should not be treated this way. You have options, such as leaving the situation, being assertive that this is not OK, reporting it to a trusted adult, and surrounding yourself with safe people.
- If you see someone else being bullied, don’t join in. Speak up if it is safe to do so. Sometimes this is hard to do alone, so it helps to band together as a group to say it is not OK. Reach out and let the person being bullied know they are not alone. Report the incident – it is not ratting or tattling (this is what we do when we are trying to get someone in trouble), but it is reporting or telling, which is what to do when someone’s behavior is unsafe.
If each person does their part, it makes it easier for schools, parents, and communities join together in these common goals to create a culture and climate of support where bullying is not tolerated. I hope in another 10 years we won’t need a Bullying Prevention Month because every day will be a day where we are committed to treating others with dignity and respect.
To learn more, please check out some of these resources:
Dr. Amanda Nickerson is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. She is a licensed psychologist, a nationally certified school psychologist, and a speaker for Safe and Sound Schools.