Why schools should start bullying prevention programs today

Proper interventions and responses from educators can make a difference in social and learning outcomes for students.
By: | October 1, 2021
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In the hallways. On the stairs. In classes. In cafeterias. In locker rooms. Online. Bullying might seem to have no place in K-12 schools, but it continues to happen in public and private spaces within districts, even when codes of conduct, security cameras and staff supervision are in place.

More than 20% of students ages 12-18 say they have been targets, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). And 40% of those believe it will happen to them again.

Those disturbing numbers are important for administrators and school leaders to discuss as they try to come up with more cohesive strategies to prevent it. Today marks the first day of National Bullying Prevention Month, which is the perfect time to seek solutions and ask tough questions.

“Bullying has a devastating impact on children, and can often cause long-term effects,” said Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, which launched the October initiative in 2006. “National Bullying Prevention Month is a wonderful opportunity to encourage everyone to act with kindness, acceptance and inclusion, and to show solidarity with the one in five students who report being bullied each year.”

PACER is one of several organizations that offer a huge database of resources for educators and schools trying to tackle bullying, providing free guides, a four-week activity kit for learning and class projects, a strategic plan for Unity Day on Oct. 20 and images or posters that can help promote the cause.

PACER notes that bullying prevention strategies, such as activities around National Bullying Prevention Month, have the power to reduce by 25% the amount of teasing, taunting and violence that occurs in schools.

Inside the numbers

Bullying takes different forms but the most common are students being made fun of, called names or becoming the subject of rumors. But there are far more serious consequences when it becomes physical or more aggressive. From the NCES data, 4% report being threatened with harm, 5.3% say they’ve been shoved or spit on and around 2% say they are being forced to perform tasks they don’t want to. Another 5% are simply from excluded from activities.

Students in middle school are most susceptible, especially 6th-graders, where 30% report some type of bullying. It is not quite as prevalent in high school but does exist, and is most seen in 9th and 10th grades, at just under 20%.

Students who are bullied come from different demographics.

  • Students from families with household incomes of $25,000 or less are far more likely to be targets of bullying than those whose families earn $35,000 or more.
  • White and Black students are more likely to be bullied than Hispanic or Asian students, thought it occurs among all groups.
  • Those who attend schools with smaller enrollment are more likely to be targeted than those who attend large schools.
  • Boys and girls are equally susceptible.

Incidents not only occur on campus but online and happen more frequently as students work remotely off of school-based devices and servers. Cyberbullying affects students as young as 9, who either have been targets themselves or have seen it occur in spaces such as gaming or chats. Nearly 50% of students ages 9 through 12 say they’ve been cyberbullied.

When it occurs, students experience a range of negative emotions and thoughts, including depression, anxiety, self-harm and even suicide. They are also more likely to have difficulties learning, get lower grades, struggle to focus in class and may even drop out.

Prevention strategies

The tools PACER provides on its website can help schools get started in forming more effective plans. The organization says the more proactive and less reactive schools are in addressing bullying the more successful they are at combatting it.

Aside from the abundance of resources specific to each grade level, PACER offers questions and answers on a range of topics including:

  • The importance of self-advocacy
  • Strategic plans for kindness, acceptance and inclusion
  • The impact of bullying on student health
  • How to redirect bullying behavior

Some strategies work better than others. According to the Youth Voice Research Project, students report that educators who are open to dialogue, who will provide “check-ins” after bullying occurs and who are willing to offer further guidance can be extremely impactful in stopping bullying in the future. They say teachers who turn their backs on them or try to deflect the cause or merits of their reporting can be defeating.

Aside from addressing the general population of students, PACER says school leaders should have strong plans in place for students with disabilities who are more frequently the targets of bullying. Federal law prohibits harassment of individuals with disabilities, and schools must take proper action to address it and prevent it. If they don’t, they may be violating their ability to free appropriate public education and could face lawsuits from families.