With 20 percent of students ages 12-18 experiencing bullying and 70 percent of students and school staff having witnessed bullying, it’s important to learn how to help prevent it and what to do if your child falls victim.
Bullying can be:
- Physical. Hitting, pushing, and shoving.
- Verbal. Taunting, insulting
- Relational. Using gossip, rumors, or purposely leaving out others
- Cyber. Using technology and social media to harm others
Dr. Stephen Leff, a clinical psychologist and co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP), said there’s a big difference between an incident that can be a one-time teachable moment and bullying.
“Bullying is defined as repeated aggressive or mean behavior that happens in the context of a power imbalance,” Dr. Leff said. “It’s not playful in nature, and it’s not kids roughhousing that gets out of control. It’s planned, mean behavior repeated over time … and needs to be taken very seriously.”
The Violence Prevention Initiative at CHOP is a hospital- and community-based effort that applies a research-to-action-to-impact approach to address exposure to and impact of violence in the lives of youth and families.
Dr. Leff said, while some groups of children, such as children who are overweight or have learning or developmental disabilities, are at greater risk, bullying can happen to anyone.
“We tell kids you’re not the only one going through this,” Dr. Leff said. “Children can be bullied because of their weight, the way they look, the way they act—it’s very hard to predict.”
Talk to your kids
Dr. Leff recommends that parents talk to their kids regularly: Talk about their day, their friends, who they sit with at lunch.
“We need to get in a good pattern so that, when there’s a problem, we’ve established a strong communication channel with our kids so we can talk about it,” he said.
Bullying warning signs
Take note if your child:
- Starts complaining of headaches and stomachaches
- Develops sleep problems
- Wants to avoid school
- Has challenges with the school day, like not eating lunch or not sitting with friends
“These are signs they may be being bullied—maybe but not necessarily—but it’s enough to get more information from them,” Dr. Leff said.
If your child is bullied
The No. 1 rule at Violence Prevention Initiative: Stay calm. Listen to your child, take the complaint seriously, and gather more information.
Ask your child:
- How often does the bullying occur?
- What led up to it?
- What happened after it was over?
- Who else knows about it?
- Has anything been helpful so far in stopping it?
“Provide reassurance that you’re going to talk with the folks at school to develop a plan so they don’t have to feel this way,” Dr. Leff said.
The next step is to contact the school, not the bully and his or her parents.
“There’s a huge risk of either parent getting upset, feeling disrespected, and this turning into the kind of thing you don’t want to model for your children,” Dr. Leff said.
Talking with school officials
The same rule applies: Remain calm.
“We’re the best advocate for our kids when we don’t lose our own cool,” Dr. Leff said.
When meeting with school officials, Dr. Leff recommends:
- Take along a friend who can help you stay calm
- Find out how the school will investigate
- Ask how long it will take
- Ask for a champion at school—someone your child can go to for support
- Document your contact with the school
- Summarize your understanding of what happened at the meeting and the details of what happens next so you can check on progress.
Everyone plays a role in prevention
- Stay calm in front of the bully
- Leave the situation
- Go to a safe place for support with teachers or friends
- Avoid bullying hot spots—areas with less supervision like a corner of the playground or an empty hallway
Be a positive bystander
If you witness bullying
- Walk away to get help
- Comfort the victim afterward
- Don’t laugh at a bully’s joke
- Don’t pass on a mean post or picture
Teachers and parents as role models
Dr. Leff said teachers and parents can be positive role models in preventing bullying by showing and teaching children empathy, how to look at other people’s perspectives, and how to find appropriate ways of expressing themselves when upset that don’t involve aggression.
Violence Prevention Initiative success stories
Among the initiative’s successful programming are its Friend to Friend (F2F) intervention and Preventing Aggression in Schools Everyday (PRAISE) program.
A number of studies have shown that the F2F intervention is one of the first programs in the nation that has effectively decreased the level of relational aggression with girls in urban schools and significantly improves the classroom climate even among nonparticipants. This pull-out lunch program teaches problem-solving and conflict management skills, and participants teach their classmates what they are learning.
The PRAISE program is classroom-based teaching for third through fifth graders covering problem-solving, perspective taking, and how to be a positive bystander.
Both F2F and PRAISE have been conducted across many schools within the School District of Philadelphia.
Visit www.chop.edu/violence to learn more about Violence Prevention Initiative’s youth violence prevention research and programming.