The term “bullying” has been brought to the forefront of discussions by our national media today. As a result, many reports of bullying from students and parents are often actually something else altogether when they are taken by school officials. Although reports of interpersonal conflict are just as valid as reports of bullying, we respond to them in very different ways. It is important that we get the word out about both.
As school counselors, I see five tasks that we need to accomplish in order to help distinguish bullying from other forms of interpersonal conflict, and keep that term pure in how it gets used in our schools and communities.
1. Have a working definition of ‘bullying’ in your school. Teach it to staff and students alike in the classrooms in assemblies. By using common language, you will be able to more quickly and efficiently respond to real incidents when they occur.
2. Have a school-wide, systematic approach to respond to incidents of real bullying. Ideally, this is part of a broader PBiS-type behavior system and supported by staff and administration. Follow through appropriately when real bullying occurs.
3. Teach students the difference between bullying and other forms of interpersonal conflicts. This includes two-sided arguments and times when one student simply doesn’t understand appropriate personal boundaries and simple social cues. Ideally, this is interwoven into how you’re delivering counseling standards anyway, but classroom talks and assemblies are an ideal way to accomplish this.
4. Educate parents. This doesn’t have to be confrontational. Not too long ago, I received a concern from a parent about their child being bullied by another girl. As I listened to what was happening, it became clear that this was more of an interpersonal conflict where this parent’s daughter really didn’t want to hang out with the other girl, and the other girl just wasn’t understanding. “So, it sounds like the other girl just isn’t picking up on the idea that your daughter doesn’t want to be friends with her,” I suggested. ”Yes, that’s it exactly,” was this parents response. Problem solved, and I got the point across without saying as much. Also, encourage parents to be aware of cyber-bullying and how their children are interacting with other students online.
5. Make the eradication of bullying a priority at your school. Although I’ve listed this one last, it’s probably the most important. Students learn best in a safe environment, and that includes the ability to walk the hallways, use the restrooms, and play on the playground without fear of being threatened or intimidated by another student. Create a bully-free culture at your school.
So is bullying really a problem in our schools? I think it is. As such, we need to be able to respond to such incidents in order to minimize it’s effects on victims. By properly educating all school stakeholders on how we are dealing with this issue, we can achieve healthy school climates where students are able to learn and grow and work to their maximum potential.
Image Credit: Bullying – Vicky, used by permission under this Creative Commons license.