Bullying is a common phenomenon that goes through our classrooms on a regular basis. It can tear down a child’s self-esteem and make going to school an exercise in pain and anxiety, all while making the parents feel especially helpless. Often, bias plays a huge role in bullying as the reason why a child is being bullied and the reason why the bullying continues. In order to help empower students and parents to fight against bullying and stop the negative treatment, it is critical that they learn as much about this topic as possible.
What is a Bias?
Bias is when one person treats another person in a negative way because they either have a characteristic or are perceived to have a characteristic that falls into one of these categories:
- Creed: also known as a person’s beliefs
- Marital Status
- Sexual Orientation
- Ability or Disability
- Gender Identity or Gender Expression
- Political Beliefs or Social Affiliation
- Country of National Origin or Ethnicity
- Body Weight, Shape, or Size
Another commonly-used definition of bias or social bias is that it is a notion that has already been formed about a person on the basis of one of the categories that have been listed above. These beliefs must stop the person who is experiencing them from being able to view others without prejudice. If a person should act on his or her bias, then it will usually result in the mistreatment of another person or group of people, which sounds a lot like bullying.
Examples of Incidents that Involve Bias:
- Using racial or sexual slurs when describing someone or something.
- Using the word “gay” in a negative context or as a synonym for words such as stupid or dumb.
- Making jokes that revolve around stereotypes about a certain type of person or group, including “make me a sandwich jokes” and jokes that heavily draw on the way that a certain race of people behave for their humor.
- Removing symbols or displays of another’s religion’s holiday celebration because they do not match your beliefs.
- Using color coded signs or separated activities that are designed specifically for boys and girls based on beliefs about what all boys and all girls like.
- Avoiding or stopping people from joining a group because of one of the categories that are listed above.
- Writing about one or more of the categories listed above on social media with regards to another person or group.
What Causes Bias?
Bias is caused by fear of those who are different than oneself. These fears can either be justified, although the actions that they cause are never justified. They tend to be caused by misunderstanding of a person’s beliefs, or general hatred for a person because of what they believe or another personal characteristic.
What is Bullying?
Bullying is when one or more children acts with a heightened level of aggression towards another child that the other child is not comfortable with. There is usually a real imbalance of power or control, or at the very least a perceived problem with the balance of power. Often, the aggressive behavior happens more than one time, on a regular basis. Both the aggressive behavior and the repetition over time must be present in order for a child’s actions to be considered bullying. There are three main types of bullying.
- Verbal Bullying: the act of displaying aggression through words, either spoken, written down, or posted on a social media platform.
Social Bullying: the act of purposely damaging a person’s relationships or reputation in a social environment, which is also referred to as relational bullying.
- Spreading rumors about negative things that another person has done
- Using words to purposely embarrass someone in a public situation
- Purposefully leaving someone out of a group that he or she would clearly like to join or used to be a part of
- Telling other people not to have a relationship with another person
Physical Bullying: the act of hurting another person’s body or possessions.
- Hitting, kicking, punching, pinching, or any other action that would cause another person physical pain
- Spitting on someone
- Making hand gestures that are seen as rude or obscene
- Taking a person’s personal possessions or simply breaking them
What is the Link Between Bullying and Bias?
Bullies will almost always choose a victim that is an easy target. One of the ways that a person can be considered an easy target for bullying is if he or she already has a personal characteristic that makes them different. Children can perceive differences and will be more likely to support a bully who is acting aggressively to a person who is not like them, rather than a person who is like them. They will be more likely to reinforce the bully’s behavior, rather than directly intervene to stop the behavior. Bullies can also be prejudiced towards other people or other groups of people based on the biases that they might have learned from their parents.
How Do You Stop Bias Based Bullying?
There are a number of different strategies that can be used in order to reduce the amount of bias-based bullying that a child experiences or that goes on during the school day.
What a Parent Can Do:
- Listen to the Child’s Concerns: often, a child will feel as though he or she is alone in the world and is the sole person that is standing up to his or her bully. By listening to a child’s concerns, the parent can show that he or she is on the child’s side. The child also might have ideas for what would be effective in stopping the bullying.
- Support Ideas for Stopping the Bullying Behavior in the Moment: it’s all well and good to talk about stopping the bullying outside of school, but the real test of a anti-bias-based bullying strategies is when the child is actually in the classroom, confronting the bully. The child should be able to come up with a plan of action on his or her own, with a little bit of assistance from the parents. If the child decides that he or she feels okay with standing up to the bully directly, then the parents should support that idea, as long as it won’t get the bullied student into trouble.
- Control Your Emotions: it can be extremely painful for a parent to watch his or her child being bullied, especially as a result of bias, but it will do no good for the parent to become emotionally involved to the point where he or she is no longer effective. Keeping emotions under control will help a child remain calm about the situation and be able to come up with answers on his or her own. Not freaking out about bullying will help a student feel as though he or she will be able to handle it.
- Get the Child Involved in Other Activities: one of the easiest ways to lessen to a bully’s power is to help build a child’s self-esteem through other activities. By getting a child involved in activities that are not connected to the school, he or she will have the opportunity to make friends, gain new skills, and have something to look forward to that will act as a shield against future bullying efforts.
- Talk to the Child About Bias: once the parent understands why the child is being bullied, or the personal characteristic that seems to be the reason for the aggressive behavior, the parent can explain bias. They can explain how biased people tend to act, explain their actions, and then make the child feel as though he or she has nothing to be ashamed of. This shame can be lessened by finding the child positive role models with the same personal characteristics and generally promoting an environment of tolerance.
- Talk to the Teacher: the parent then needs to address the situation with the teacher. The teacher should be aware of the precise nature of the bullying so that he or she can be on the lookout for the behavior and be able to increase an environment of tolerance. If the teacher is at a loss about what he or she can do, some of the ideas presented below can help get him or her started.
- Talk to the Principle: this should only occur if the parents have already talked to the teacher at least three times. If the teacher seems to not be able to be effective in stopping the child from being bullied, then the principle needs to be contacted. The principle will be able to intervene with more strength and talk to the student that is doing the bullying, or even contact the parents of the child who is doing the bullying. Although this can seem to be an extreme tactic, it is also very effective. Often, when the parents of the child doing the bullying are informed about their child’s actions, they will take steps to address those actions so that they do not continue.
What a Teacher Can Do:
- Denounce Acts that are Clearly Based on Bias: a tool that teachers have at their disposal that others do not is the fact that they command the attention of the students who are often involved in the bullying. By having a short series of lessens, teachers can inform children about biased behavior, what the consequences for such behavior is, and why being biased, although natural, is really the result of ignorance.
- Create Lessons About Bullying Itself: students know that bullying behavior is wrong. They will usually not take the action against bullying because they are scared that they will become a target. However, if many students stand up against a bully, then the risk that they will become victims is greatly reduced. By educating all students about their roles in bullying and how they can help, it will be possible to empower students to take a stand. Speak Up at School is an excellent resource for both students and teachers.
- Avoid Blaming the Victim: it is critical that the victim not be blamed for the bully’s actions towards him or her. Telling a student to not act or dress in a certain way absolves the bully from his or her actions and essentially puts the victim in the wrong. Always make sure that the person who is being bullied feels that his or her needs are being taken care of.
Bullying that is based on bias can be extremely painful for the person who is going through the process and can cause them to have difficult getting through the school day. In order to address any bullying at all, as well as bullying that is specifically related to bias, it is critical that the parents and teachers present a united front against the bully and make it very clear that actions that result from bias will not be tolerated. Bias comes from a place of fear and resentment, not understanding and enlightenment. Teachers and parents need to work to create an environment of tolerance that will support the victim and reduce the amount of negativity towards his or her personal characteristics. A life should also be created outside of school that will help a student feel strong, confident, and better equipped to deal with the problems that he or she has in school.