It’s not just about kids: Challenging the status quo of bullying prevention

Carlos Ojeda

January 20, 2022

The statistics remain unsettling.

According to the American Society for the Positive Care of Children (American SPCC), in the last year, about 1 in 5 high school students reported being bullied on school property and more than 1 in 6 high school students reported being bullied electronically.

The widespread issue of bullying, whether in person or online, and its negative impact affects all involved “including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying, known as bystanders,” states the American SPCC, noting that bystanders are present 80 percent of the time during a bullying incident.

Bystanders can be friends, peers, coaches, teachers and other school officials. Additionally, strangers witnessing bullying on the Internet can be bystanders. 

Although a bystander is not the one bullying or the one being bullied, he or she is involved in the issue simply by witnessing and tasked with choosing a response. 

“Bystanders have the potential to make a positive difference in a bullying situation by becoming an upstander,” according to a statement at stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. “An upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying.”

When those who can help instead choose to turn a blind eye to the problem or become too lax in their response to an incident or their involvement in prevention programs, the result can be further negative behavior from the bully because he or she realizes there will be no consequences for the actions. On the other hand, the individual being bullied may develop a level of mistrust in the system because the behavior is not being addressed. 

“When no one intervenes, the person being targeted may feel that bystanders do not care or they agree with what is going on,” the website notes.

Some peers do not defend a bullied child at school out of fear of retaliation or putting themselves in a situation where they will then be bullied. Additionally, as parents and school staff members contend with other pressing issues, such as teaching during a pandemic and juggling in-person learning as well as virtual education, they may tend to downplay bullying occurrences as a matter of simply trying to get through the day without one more thing with which to deal.

Those are dangerous habits to develop, say the experts, and those actions can have profound consequences.

So how can school staff, parents and peers help?

First and foremost, every school official, parent and student should become familiar with not only the anti-bullying laws and policies established by the state in which they reside or work, but also the policies and procedures set forth by the individual school district. These guidelines can help school officials learn how to respond to a current bullying situation as well as proactively prevent future occurrences. 

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), strong anti-bullying policies established within the school district will:

  • Provide a clear definition of bullying, consistent with state laws, that includes prohibited actions.
  • State locations where bullying might take place, such as school grounds, school events and the internet, that are covered by the policy.
  • Describe graduated sanctions and consequences for incidents of bullying, including non-punitive alternatives, and may include a statement of rights to other legal recourse.

These policies and procedures also include cyberbullying, which can be occurring by strangers on the internet in the form of negative comments or other remarks on social media accounts. More likely, according to information at stopbullying.gov, cyberbullying happens between known individuals via text messaging and other forms of digital communication.

Parents must understand the importance their involvement or noninvolvement with their children play in helping to prevent bullying from the start.

Role models to help with moral engagement are just as important at school as they are at home.

Teachers, staff members and other school officials are tasked with helping students learn respectful behavior by their own actions.  Adults and peers in school buildings and other educational properties can provide consistent responses to unacceptable behavior which fosters moral engagement and helps builds empathy. The website also notes that teachers can provide social lessons in the classroom that help students understand their emotions and how their behavior can be a result of those emotions.

The stopbullying.gov website notes: “A morally engaged individual – including students, teachers, coaches, counselors, educators, parents, extra-curricular staff and faith-based leaders – can influence others through their positive social behavior.”

Addressing this problem must go way beyond a small section of a school handbook. There are innovative ways to used technology and based education technology to assist schools in preventing bullying events before they start and respond in advance. Some of the developments that are helping schools addressing bullying, preventing and acting are:

Netsupport DNA: designed to provide a school with insight into and alerts from any activity by a student that might suggest they are engaged in activity that would place them at risk.  School administrators can configure DNA to monitor the words students are using when they type text, copy text to a clipboard, or when they search on the internet. With advanced neurolinguistics, DNA avoids false alarms and track events during a given period of time. 

Bully box: an anti-bullying app designed to allow students, their parents, and teachers to safely and anonymously report acts of bullying. The platform consists of an easy-to-use website and a mobile app, as well as a management system which can be downloaded and installed free of charge by all schools. It allows reports to be made about students or any member of the school community who suffers from bullying or is a bully themselves.

Kindly: a digital solution that aims to end cyberbullying and make children feel safer. Is an open-source API that uses machine learning (ML) to detect the cyberbullying intent in text messages, and it. allows children to reconsider what they have typed and modify it, thus leading towards positive behavior change. 

BRAVE UP!: Is a safe, private, and secure channel where victims and witnesses can report bullying and cyberbullying. BraveUp enables students to communicate directly with the school counselor about a raising issue, making prevention easier. In addition to that, BraveUp collects data within school, analyze and make recommendations to improve face-to-face and digital school relationships.  It facilitates school management by providing tools for comprehensive diagnosis and key recommendations to continuously improve. 

Schools can shift their culture so that students feel safe and empowered. Prevent the development of bullying problems is the first step to create one respectful and empathetic society in the future. 

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