The Internet and social media have put bullying in the spotlight. Bullying has gone beyond stealing someone’s lunch money to being the source of severe anxiety and depression in children. Let’s us discuss the long Bullying Debate!
Statistics vary, but the United States Department of Health and Human Services estimates one in three to one in four children experience bullying at some point. To curb this number, many schools have adopted zero-tolerance policies regarding bullying, but studies show it’s not working.
This has created the bullying debate: can it be stopped in schools? And what needs to be done? In order to answer that, we need to understand why some experts claim we need bullying to exist, why it has escalated into something serious and what has been working in some schools.
Perhaps the most controversial voices in the bullying debate are the ones that question if bullying is actually a problem. Experts argue that the goal shouldn’t be about eliminating bullying altogether, but instead focus on how to help children resolve the conflicts they are experiencing.
They argue that children need to experience handling conflict and realize life won’t always be easy. When we eliminate conflict, we’re not properly adjusting them for the real world.
Susan Porter, Dean of Students at The Branson School, wrote an article for Independent School that discussed some of the biological reasons why bullying happens:
- Children aren’t able to read facial cues as well as adults, so they can easily misinterpret emotions and react negatively.
- Children tend to respond more emotionally than logically to conflict.
- As we age, we gain more control over our emotions and ability to make sound decisions.
These facts show that bullying isn’t necessarily an indicator that something is pathologically wrong with a child. It’s a natural part of growing up. Porter also talks about how the expanded definition of bullying to include sarcasm, social exclusion, teasing, etc. exaggerates the issue.
Some experts also argue that parents are to blame for the bullying issue we’re experiencing today. Parents are guilty of using social media and online communities to gossip and call out other parents. Children quickly get labels and some issues escalate far beyond where they should.
Why it’s a Problem
While experts like Porter make a case for why bullying cannot be eradicated, schools still have to deal with the negative consequences of bullying.
Victims, bullies and bystanders are at-risk for the following:
- Psychological issues such as anxiety and depression
- Substance abuse
- Poor performance at school and/or avoiding school
In extreme cases, victims may also resort to suicide or a violent outburst at their school. On the other side, children that are labeled as bullies tend to have more criminal activity and abuse their spouses later in life.
The Children’s National Medical Center has found a cluster of symptoms that bullying victims may suffer from: headaches, stomach aches, difficulty sleeping and anxiety or depression. They call these symptoms part of the “bullying syndrome” and estimate 10% of bullied children battle with this.
With such harsh (and potentially fatal) symptoms, it’s easy to see why so many people are working to stop bullying entirely.
There are not any federal laws that address bullying, but some states have created laws. Recently, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton signed the Safe and Supportive Schools Act. This act is meant to help define bullying, prevent bullying through training teachers and staff, help support development of school policy and also allow schools to have the tools they need to thoroughly investigate bullying incidents.
The act also lists “cyberbullying” as something that falls under the school’s jurisdiction. Cyberbullying refers to verbal attacks online, usually on social media sites.This has led to some complaints that schools are able to have too much control on what goes on outside of school walls. Politicians have gone as far as calling it a “Big Brother” move.
Most other school districts simply adhere to a “zero-tolerance” policy. This means that any act of bullying can lead to punishment, and that punishment can be severe, such as lengthy suspensions. Studies have shown that students that have had out-of-school suspensions are more likely to drop out of school and get in trouble with the law. There doesn’t appear to be a correlation between strict zero-tolerance policies and decreased bullying.
What has been successful are awareness programs, training and support groups. Many schools are also finding that programs that reward positive behaviors are much more effective than those that punish negative behaviors.
The bullying debate will continue to be something people clash over, but the end goal for all is the same: creating a safe and supportive environment for all children.
- Reconnecting Youth – This is a one-semester class that helps students learn healthy habits and how to deal with crises.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Training Program – This is specifically geared toward children with behavioral disorders and helps them learn self control.
- Positive Action – This program encourages character development, good grades and helps build social skills. Games, songs, role playing and other activities make this a fun and engaging program for all children to enjoy.
- Too Good for Violence – Students learn important social skills and character traits to thrive. Some schools have even incorporated community activities to make the program more well-rounded.
- Peacebuilders – This program is designed to reward positive behavior in students. Skills like how to praise others, seek out the right advisors and how to notice and correct hurts we cause are some of the lessons in this program.
While bullying cannot be controlled completely, iterating on programs that work will hopefully redirect bullying back to a part of growing up and not something to fear. In the meantime, the bullying debate will continue until we are able to see substantial results in schools.