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There’s been renewed concern about bullying in U.S. schools in recent years — and it’s not unfounded. One out of every five students is bullied at school, and fewer than half of those students report the bullying to an adult at school.

That means roughly 10% of students at any given school in the United States are being bullied without their school’s knowledge or resources to help.

Compounding the issue is the rise in cyberbullying, which makes it difficult for educators and school security officials to see bullying in action. Of students aged 12-18 who reported being bullied at school, 15% were bullied online or by text.

The impacts of bullying are vast, to say the least. Bullying presents major problems for school safety and performance in the short term, and it can have long-term effects on society. When no one intervenes in acts of bullying, the behavior can escalate — with increasingly detrimental results.

To safeguard students in schools, educators and school officials should have a comprehensive understanding of how bullying works, its impact, and ways they can safeguard students.

The Impacts of Bullying on Targets

Bullying can have profound psychological, emotional, and social consequences. In the short term, kids who are bullied are more likely to experience depression and anxiety, difficulty sleeping, health complaints, and decreased academic achievement.

The trauma from bullying can also have severe long-term effects. Bullied children may feel angry, helpless, and isolated from their peers. Adolescence is when children first build their self-esteem, and if they’re constantly told they’re not good enough, they may just start to believe it.

As such, bullied children are at risk for suicidal ideation and are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school, altering the trajectory of their lives. They may turn to drugs or alcohol to cope with depression or anxiety, which may persist into adulthood.

The Impacts of Bullying on Others

The consequences of bullying aren’t limited to bullied kids. An environment that includes bullying is anxiety-producing for bystanders. Even just witnessing bullying behaviors makes children more likely to use tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs, experience mental health problems, and miss or skip school. If no intervention takes place from school authorities, it opens the door for escalating bullying and violence.

Finally, kids who bully others are usually experiencing trauma themselves. Some youth who bully are reenacting bullying they experience at home. They may feel unaccepted or excluded at school, or they may not have social skills or know how to handle their emotions.

These are kids desperately in need of help. Without it, they’re more likely to abuse drugs, engage in unprotected sex, get into fights and vandalize property, and become abusive to their romantic partners or children as adults. Youth who bully are at an increased risk for suicide-related behavior, just the same as bullied victims.

How Can We Stop Bullying?

While the effects of bullying are damaging to the entire school ecosystem, the good news is there are ways to effectively prevent and address bullying so that students can feel safe and included and perform at their best in the classroom.

Bullying is most effectively managed proactively. When school administrations invest in the strategic scaffolding of a violence-free, positive environment, the less likely bullying is to flourish.

Anti-Bullying Policies

A strong anti-bullying policy provides a clear definition of bullying and lays out the consequences, including non-punitive alternatives. Include a statement of rights and legal recourse, too.

Train staff on this policy and how to enforce it through staff meetings, training sessions, and by teaching through modeling. Likewise, ensure all students and families are regularly educated about the policy through multiple channels (emails, newsletters, social media, etc.). Teach students how to recognize bullying and how to respond safely and effectively, whether as a bystander or victim.

Create a Positive, Inclusive Environment

Bullies seek to harm or intimidate people they perceive as vulnerable. The top reasons students cite for being bullied are their physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, or sexual orientation.

When you create a culture that acknowledges diversity and lifts up all students, there are fewer vulnerable targets for bullying, and likewise, fewer kids bullying. School-based bullying prevention programs decrease bullying by 25%. They’re strengthened by enumeration in anti-bullying policies: the listing of characteristics of students that could be the basis of bullying. When a school explicitly states “We do not tolerate bullying of students for these reasons,” it shows bullies the school institution values and protects all people.

Foster Empathy and Kindness

Starting in elementary school, educators can help students develop pro-social behaviors, like social intelligence, empathy, and resilience, by baking them into existing classroom curriculum. Engaging in dialogue with children, as opposed to an authoritative monologue, empowers children to have self-confidence. Teaching self-acceptance and the acceptance of others at a young age can deter bullying behavior down the road.

Because of the power dynamic that exists when bullying occurs, general conflict resolution methods are not appropriate or effective. Instead, referring both bullies and bullied students to counseling is a more effective approach. Empathetic institutions don’t see bullies as problems but rather focus on the problems driving the misbehavior of that student.

Provide Resources for Reporting and Intervention

Kids that are being bullied need resources that empower them to respond. Every school needs a place on their website where parents and kids can easily find the school’s anti-bullying policies and report bullying. Include contact information for the school guidance counselor and resources that answer common questions like, “What is bullying?” and “How can I stop bullying?” Urge students to notify law enforcement if they are being threatened and provide contact information to do so.

Building A Safe Environment

When students feel respected and connected at school and home, they’re able to show up ready to learn. It takes a collective effort from educators, parents, and the broader school community at large to surround our youth with a culture of tolerance. Prioritizing bullying prevention and providing support to affected students is of the utmost importance — it can save lives and promote a better future for students and our communities.

With school violence, response time matters. Schedule an appointment today to learn how AI-powered Vyze™ security analytics can make safe schools the standard, not the dream.

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