Addressing bullying includes preventative measures and help for both bullies and bullied 

Carlos Ojeda

February 28, 2022

The mother of 12-year-old Drayke Hardman told an ABC affiliate news station in Utah that her son was a kind boy who loved to make people laugh.

While his quest to make others happy was evident to his family, the turmoil he was struggling with inside himself was not quite as noticeable. Drayke died by suicide in early February following reported instances of bullying in school. Now his family is on a mission to raise awareness about the effects of bullying, noting that prevention of aggressive behavior begins in the home.

The family’s advocacy is a good reminder that while it’s important to keep lines of communication open with youngsters regarding how they are being treated by others, it’s also crucial to offer help and constructive intervention to those who are doing the bullying. 

According to Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center (NBPC), “children who bully can be affected as much as those they target. Statistically, they are significantly more likely than others to experience school failure, depression, violence, crime, and other problems.”

Whether dealing with the bully or the bullied, the behavior cannot be ignored for either individual, and society can come together to offer support for all involved.

One of the most lingering effects for a child who is being bullied is a feeling of being unsafe. Children who are experiencing bullying are encouraged to seek help from a parent, school officials or another adult. But according to StopBullying.gov, many times children will not ask for help; therefore., it’s important to keep a steady watch for any warning signs, including decreased self-esteem, lost belongings, declining grades or changes in sleep or eating habits. 

“These warning signs can also point to other issues or problems, such as depression or substance abuse. Talking to the child can help identify the root of the problem,” the site notes.

In schools, bullying prevention programs are necessary to help all individuals. Information from an organized program can help detail procedures in bullying cases as well as unify prevention efforts going forward. 

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to prevent bullying is by addressing the needs of everyone involved – including the bully.

Bullying is a behavior, not an identity, an important distinction to keep in mind when addressing the situation. Labeling can imply that the behavior cannot be changed, says the NBPC, but it can be once the contributing factors of why a child exhibiting such behaviors are identified.

Experts agree, one of the most common reasons children bully others is due to undeveloped social skills. The American Psychological Association (APA) reports adolescents who struggle with social problem-solving skills are more at risk at being bullied or being the bully, or both, according to the organization’s research.

APA’s report notes that a child who is both the bully and the bullied has a negative self-image as well as a negative attitude about others. Lead author of the study, Clayton R. Cook, PhD, of Louisiana State University, said the solution is stopping the cycle before it begins.

“Behavioral parent training could be used in the home while building good peer relationship and problem-solving skills could be offered in the schools, along with academic help for those having trouble in this area,” Cook said in the report.

Likewise, an article published in Psychological Today written by psychologist J. Stuart Ablon challenges school officials, parents and other adults to not only take care of the needs of a child who is being bullied, but also consider ways they can help the aggressor. 

To accomplish this, Ablon suggests that adults not rely on punishment to “change” the behavior of a child who bullies.

“Research actually tells us that students who are aggressive, oppositional or otherwise behind in difficult ways are actually doing the best they can with the skills they have,” he wrote. “Students who bully are lacking the skills they would need to attain status and attention in adaptive ways – skills like emotion regulation, self-regulation, communication skills and social thinking.”

While there should be consequences for children who harm others, consequences alone won’t change the behavior for next time. Instead, Ablon said, going the extra step by teaching those skills can make a significant difference. 

“Bullies lack the skill, not the will, to behave better,” he continued. “Ironically, it is only by having compassion and understanding for the bullies that we best help future students avoid being victims.”

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