Bullying: Real problem / Real Solutions

Bullying is a hot topic. Children have killed other children. Schools have been put on high alert for weapons. The media sensationalizes the effects of bullying after every high profile event. But that is not the real story.

Bullying is an integral part of our culture. It happens every day in classrooms, in bathrooms and hallways, on playgrounds and in the neighborhoods of all communities. It is insidious and it is hurtful. Children who are bullied, physically, emotionally or socially, are deprived of their right to go to school and to live in communities where they feel safe.

Adults often fail to recognize "garden variety" bullying as a serious problem, partly because they "survived" it when they were growing up, and partly because they wouldn't know how to address it if they did take it seriously. But the statistics are very real. At any given time, between 15-25% of U.S. students are the target of bullies and about 15-20% are engaged in bullying behavior. , We know that as many as 7% of America 's eighth-graders stay home at least once a month because of bullies. Being bullied is also linked to depression and low self-esteem

Is this a change from earlier generations? Not really. Most adults easily remember a specific bullying incident from their past. If they were the victim, they remember the panic, the sick feeling, wondering why no one was helping. If they were the bully, they remember the feeling of power and perhaps the shame for what they did to others. Some were bystanders. They remember the anxiety of not wanting to be the next target and often guilt for failure to intervene, even though they didn't know how.

Is Bullying Really That Harmful?

Bullying, intimidation and interpersonal conflict are encountered in one form or another by all of us. Children struggle with being called names, being picked upon, being excluded, not knowing how to make friends, or being the ones acting unkindly or aggressively toward others. While boys typically engage in direct, more physical bullying methods, girls utilize more subtle indirect strategies, such as spreading rumors and enforcing social isolation. ,

Bullying is the deliberate and repeated infliction of harm on another person. It takes many forms. It may involve one child bullying another, a group of children against a single child or groups against other groups. It is not unlike other forms of victimization and abuse in that it involves:

  • An imbalance of power
  • Differing emotional tones, the target of the bullying will be upset whereas the bully is cool and in control
  • Blaming the target for what has happened
  • Lack of compassion or concern on the part of the bully for the feelings and concerns of the targeted person
  • A cycle that will continue - and may escalate - without intervention

Bullying includes many behaviors. Common forms of physical, verbal, emotional and social bullying are shown below:




Social Bullying




Peer pressure







Acting superior

Making fun of


Making fun

Being mean

Taunting / Baiting


Bad language

Not caring

Set up to get in trouble


Verbal Abuse

No conscience





Ganging up on someone












Internet harassment


Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, perpetrated by an individual or a group, the key component of bullying is that the physical or psychological intimidation occurs repeatedly over time and is designed to hurt. Young people who are bullied are more likely to be depressed, to feel isolated, anxious, to have low self-esteem and to think about suicide. Bullying, as most children know, starts early and it is devastating.

What About Bullying in Schools?

Bullying in schools is a long-standing dilemma. Seventy percent of teachers believe that they intervene "almost always" in bullying situations, while only 25% of students agree with their teacher's assessment. One in four teachers see nothing wrong with bullying or putdowns and estimate that they intervene in only 4% of bullying incidents. It is well known that students often do not tell teachers or administrators about bullying precisely because they do not believe they will be helpful and because they are afraid that the bullying will get worse.

Who Are The Bullies?

Many bullies are children who have been bullied or abused themselves. They turn from being victims to bullies as soon as they are big enough, strong enough or clever enough to bully someone else. Bullies have a need to feel power and control. Some derive real satisfaction when inflicting pain on others, have little empathy for their targets and defend their actions as being justified. These bullies have little anxiety and do not feel bad about themselves. ,

Who Are The Targets Of Bullying?

Anyone can be a target of bullying. The personal skills children have may affect the length and severity of bullying, but no one is immune. It is widely believed that children are more vulnerable to bullying if they have poorer social skills, lower self-esteem and a small or nonexistent support group. It is also recognized that some children prefer negative attention to no attention at all. These children seem to make themselves targets by teasing bullies; egging them on, then not knowing what to do when the bully turns on them.

What Is the Role of Adults?

All forms of bullying are opportunities to teach children how to get along, how to be considerate of all people, and how to be part of a community or group. But, children do not learn to solve conflicts and get along with others naturally. They have to learn specific skills that will prevent and thwart problems with bullying. As soon as children are old enough to interact with others, they can learn not to be bullies and not to be targets. This includes giving them the words to express their feelings, skills to monitor and change their behavior, and conflict resolution strategies.

How many times have we heard some say, or even said ourselves, "Let them work it out." If they could, they already would have. Children do not automatically learn to solve these kinds of problems and get along. We need to teach them.

When preschoolers begin to call people names or use unkind words, we should intervene immediately and consistently. In kindergarten, children learn the power of exclusion. We begin to hear things like, "She's not my friend and she can't come to my party." Respond with, "You don't have to be friends with her today, but it's not all right to make her feel bad by telling her she can't come to your party."

In the early elementary grades, cliques and little groups develop which can be quite exclusionary and cruel. Children need to hear clearly from adults, "It's not all right to treat other people this way. How do you think she feels being told she can't play with you?" Kids don't have to play with everyone or even like everyone, but they can't be cruel by excluding others.

Boys who are physically small or weak are more prone to victimization. Older or larger boys who make fun of or pick on smaller or younger boys need to be identified at the earliest moment. The message needs to be crystal clear. "This is not okay. Think about how he must feel. How could you include him and let other kids know it's not all right to treat others this way?"

Children who are not bullies or victims have a powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. We need to teach these children to speak up on behalf of other children being bullied. "Don't treat her that way, it's not nice." "Hitting is not a good way to solve problems, let's find a teacher and talk about what happened.

What Are Some Good Ways To Respond To A Bully?

It is helpful to have a range of statements, behaviors or actions in mind as children are role-playing. The following chart will help you get started.



"That wasn't nice."

Walk away

"Don't do that."

Join another group

"I'm going to tell if you do that again."

Laugh and leave

"That really hurts my feelings."

Ignore them

"That's not a very nice thing to say."

Act like you don't care

"Give that back or I'll tell the teacher."

Avoid the bully

Make a joke - "Whatever" "No kidding"

Get away and tell

"Leave me alone"

Ask a friend to help


Children should also develop action plans to get help. This might include:

  • Go and tell a teacher
  • Tell a parent or another adult
  • If they are really afraid, run to someone who can help

What If I See a Child Being Bullied?

Once our awareness of the range of bullying behaviors is heightened, it is surprising how often it happens in our presence and how differently we hear the comments around us. If you become aware of bullying, action should be swift and consistent. It should also consider the need for prevention in the future as well as addressing the immediate situation.

If you witness bullying as it is happening, intervene with the clear message:

  • It is not all right to treat one another this way and the behavior must stop.

To teach and reinforce prevention skills, a conversation with both children at the time of the bullying or later in a separate conversation with the bully should include:

  • How does it feel when you treat another person that way?
  • How do you think the other person feels?
  • Have you ever felt that way? When?
  • Did you like feeling that way?
  • Why do you think it matters how other people feel when you treat them badly?
  • What could you do next time instead of behaving as a bully? Develop a specific plan for alternative behaviors.

A subsequent, private conversation with the child who was being bullied should include:

  • How did you feel when the bullying was happening?
  • Do you have some ideas about another way you could respond if it happens again?
  • Role-play other responses to empower the child for future situations.
  • Let the child know that you will be watching more closely to help insure their safety and well-being.
  • Encourage the child to come and tell you about future occurrences. Be sure the child understands that it is not tattling to tell when you need help or to help someone else.

What About the Kids Who Aren't a Bully or a Target?

Children often witness bullying: in school buildings, in classrooms, on the playground, in homes and in the neighborhood. Ask any children from kindergarten through high school who is bullying whom. A teacher or parent may not know, but the children always know and they don't want to be next. They are also highly conflicted because they don't want to be marked as a "tattle tale."

Being glad you're not the target of a bully is a natural response. But it is a response that isn't very satisfying and most children feel that they should be doing something. These children are eager to learn what to do and how to intervene effectively. They are eager to become " advocates ;" someone who speaks up for someone else.

Advocates are those children who are neither bullies nor targets and they have the most powerful role to play in shaping the behavior of other children. They tend to have better social and conflict management skills. They are more willing to assert themselves without being aggressive or confronting. They suggest compromises and alternate solutions. They tend to be more aware of people's feelings and are the children who can be most helpful in resolving disputes and assisting other children to get help.

Children love being advocates. They understand readily that when you speak up for what you believe in, for what you know to be right, you take a stand. They get that they literally stand up, look out at the world and say, "This is who I am, and this is what I stand for."

The goal of each classroom and each family should be to feel comfortable and confident in declaring:

  • We stand for treating people fairly, with respect for who they are;
  • We stand for speaking up for those who are not treated with respect;
  • We declare that we want to go to school and live in a community that treats everyone with respect;
  • We declare that we can be counted on to remind other people when they are not treating others with respect and consideration for their individuality; and
  • We promise to act against bullying whenever and wherever we see it.


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Take A Stand Program