What would you do if you found out someone you knew was getting bullied at school?
The Effects of Bullying and Cyberbullying
Unfortunately, bullying is all too common today and memories of bullying can still exist years after bullying ends.
“I was bullied at my last school and it made me feel insecure about myself,” said Isabella, a middle school student at Henry C. Lea Elementary. She still vividly remembers how students at her previous school would call her names, laugh at her, and bump into her on purpose. As a result, she felt upset and uncomfortable in her own body.
“Bullies might hit, kick or push to hurt people, or use words to call names, tease, or scare them.”
Dr. D’Arcy Lyness, a licensed child and adolescent psychologist and behavioral health editor at KidsHealth, writes in her article Dealing with Bullies.
Another point to remember is that bullying does not just happen in person. Even if students are not bullied directly, chances are they know others who have been bullied in person or online.
“Social media has had a negative impact on bullying,” according to a climate manager with the School District of Philadelphia. “Unfortunately, I think some students don’t understand the effects and consequences of cyberbullying.”
Cyberbullying and in-person bullying have consequences for learning. In fact, according to Bullying and Absenteeism: Information for State and Local Education Agencies by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Division of Adolescent and School Health, “21.2% of U.S. high school students reported missing school because of safety concerns were bullied both in-person and electronically.”
If a student doesn’t know when a bully is going to strike next, this uncertainty may lead students to feel that it is unsafe to attend school. Sometimes students are bullied for their appearance so they may not feel like going to school if they don’t have clean clothes.
Katrina Clark, a teacher at the Workshop School in West Philadelphia, was looking for ways to help improve the attendance at her school.
“When I learned that a major cause of attendance problems was the simple challenge of having clean clothes, I put on my problem solving hat and thought that we should get a washer and dryer,” said Clark. “We need a way of offering students these services so they can be in school as much as possible. If we know the solution, it just makes sense to make the solution accessible.”
Although this initiative is new at the Workshop School, creative ideas like this may be one way to help improve attendance and while also reducing bullying.
Empowering Students to Recognize and Stop Bullying
Although bullying is hard to get rid of, many people across Philadelphia are trying to help kids feel safe and decrease bullying.
“We have assemblies and Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in place to talk to students and parents about our anti-bullying efforts,” according to a climate manager with the School District of Philadelphia.
Fortunately, there are also many outside organizations that are eager to partner with schools to help students.
“For the past several years, we have been implementing the PRAISE Program (PReventing Aggression In Schools Every day), with funding from the Pew Foundation,” said Dr. Christine Waanders, Clinical Psychologist and Supervisor for School-Based Aggression Prevention Programs of the Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP.
“PRAISE was developed in partnership with students and teachers in Philadelphia, and we have provided the program to 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders and their teachers in at least 10 different Philadelphia schools,” Dr. Waanders explains.
“The PRAISE program consists of 20 classroom sessions where we use discussions, videos, cartoons, and role plays to teach students how to stay calm, handle conflicts, and be positive bystanders when they witness aggression or bullying.
Although conversations about bullying typically focus on the bully and victim, bystanders play an important role in helping to reduce bullying.
“Bystanders can be the most important people in a bullying situation,” said Levone Cannady, Education Specialist for WOAR, who leads anti-bullying workshops to parents and students around Philadelphia. “Sometimes, bystanders feel like they have nothing to do with it because they were just ‘standing there’ or ‘walking by’ when that actually gives the bully an audience or confirms that no one will step up when they see this behavior.”
Facilitators for the PRAISE program also teach elementary school students that bystanders have to make important choices.
“Bystanders have a range of choices when they witness bullying, but the first thing we teach students is that they should stay safe themselves,” Dr. Waanders points out. “Some kids may be comfortable standing up to someone who's being a bully, but it is not always safe. Other options are to get help from an adult or help the victim yourself.”
If a student does feel safe and decides to take a stand, it can make a difference.
“You can comfort the person targeted by the bullying, or stand with them to show your support,” said Dr. Waanders. “You can help them walk away from someone who is being mean to them. A simple place to start is to not laugh when you see a kid being mean to another kid.”
Cannady agrees that bystanders play an important role.
“As a bystander, you can be an inspiration or an instigator and it’s important that students exercise their options,” Cannady said. “Once you speak up, it can start a wave of support.”
Even though students might be afraid of being called names by speaking up, these trainings help students understand how they are helping the situation from getting worse.
“You may be concerned about being call
ed a “tattletale” or “snitch” but you actually aren’t,” Cannady said. “You are displaying the qualities of a brave and bold leader. Reporting is making sure someone gets help because they can’t help themselves or something dangerous may happen so you want to prevent it.”
“Violence isn’t the answer,” Nicole, a middle school student at Henry C. Lea Elementary agrees. “Say something. You have to let somebody know.”
“When kids join together they can change the way other kids act at their school,” said Dr. Waanders. There is power in numbers, so if you're afraid to take action by yourself. Get a couple of friends and do something positive together.”
Please Note: The author used pseudonyms for the students interviewed for this article.