These frequently asked questions about bullying are extracted from key concepts presented in the California Department of Education’s publication titled Bullying at School. They are excellent tools for educators, students, families, and community safety partners who wish to educate themselves.
What is bullying?
There is not a specific, widely adopted definition of bullying. Although definitions of bullying vary, most agree that bullying involves:
- Imbalance of Power. People who bully use their power to control or harm and the people being bullied may have a hard time defending themselves.
- Intent to Cause Harm. Actions done by accident are not bullying; the person bullying has a goal to cause harm.
- Repetition. Incidents of bullying happen to the same the person over and over by the same person or group.
The following definitions are defined in the Oklahoma School Security Act to help recognize bullying behavior:
“Harassment, intimidation, and bullying means any gesture, written or verbal expression, electronic communication, or physical act that a reasonable person should know will harm another student, damage another student’s property, place another student in reasonable fear of harm to the student’s person or damage to the student’s property, or insult or demean any student or group of students in such a way as to disrupt or interfere with the school’s educational mission or the education of any student.”
“Threatening behavior means any pattern of behavior or isolated action, whether or not it is directed at another person, that a reasonable person would believe indicates potential for future harm to students, school personnel, or school property.”
Bullying has serious and lasting effects. Research has found bullying behavior causes increased mental health problems, increased thoughts of suicide, retaliation through extremely violent measures, decreased academic achievement, higher risk of abusing alcohol and other drugs, and truancy.
What do bullies do?
Bullying actions may be direct or indirect.
Direct bullying or identifiable bullying actions may include:
- Hitting, tripping, shoving, pinching, and excessive tickling
- Verbal threats, name calling, racial slurs, and insults
- Demanding money, property, or some service to be performed
- Stabbing, choking, burning, and shooting
Indirect bullying may be more difficult to detect and may include:
- Rejecting, excluding, or isolating target(s)
- Humiliating target(s) in front of friends
- Manipulating friends and relationships
- Sending hurtful or threatening e-mail or writing notes
- Blackmailing, terrorizing, or posing dangerous dares
- Developing a Web site devoted to taunting, ranking, or degrading a target and inviting others to join in posting humiliating notes or messages.
What are the warning signs of bullying?
There are many warning signs that could indicate that a student is involved in bullying, either by bullying others or by being bullied. However, these warning signs may indicate other issues or problems, as well. Below is a list of common signs:
- Reluctant to go to school or certain places.
- Silent about what is happening at school.
- Frequent lost or damaged possessions.
- Academic problems.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Low self-esteem.
- Social isolation.
- Quiet, depressed, irritable, or anxious.
- Gets into physical or verbal fights with others.
- Enjoys putting others down.
- Has extra money or new belongings that cannot be explained.
- Disrespects authority and disregards rules.
- Has an attitude of superiority.
- Quick to blame others.
- Needs to have power or control over others.
- Enjoys violence.
Do both boys and girls bully?
Yes. Typically, boys are direct and more physical while girls bully in more indirect ways. Some bullies use both direct and indirect strategies. Ultimately, it is important to the bully to be able to choose methods that produce the most success.
Although bullying among youths involves both bullies and targets of bullying, some students can be both a target and a bully at the same time. School districts must recognize bullying and develop policies that discourage such behavior and establish the consequences for students who bully at school. Everyone at the school, including parents, must understand that bullying is harmful and must take responsibility to recognize and stop bullying when it happens.
What do I do if my child is bullied?
When your child is being bullied, it is hard to concentrate on anything else. All you want to do is make it stop. Follow the steps below to be the best possible advocate for your child in a bullying situation:
- Stay calm. If you get upset, your child may think you are upset with him instead of at the situation. A knee-jerk reaction to something your child has shared with you may close off the open line of communication.
- Empathize with your child. It’s not their fault. No one deserves to be bullied. Tell them you are glad they had the courage to tell you.
- Ask open-ended questions. This will get your child to open up more about bullying and the severity of the problem. Continue to ask open-ended questions in the future to know if it is a reoccurring issue.
- Encourage your child to try new experiences. Help them get involved in activities, sports, and make new friends.
- Share your own experiences. Sharing your own experiences with bullying will help them understand that they are not alone.
- Brainstorm ways to solve the problem nonviolently. Encouraging retaliation may get your child hurt or suspended.
- Contact school officials to report any incidences. Document everything and stick to the facts. Nothing good can come from a heated argument. In fact, it may damage all open lines of communication with the district. Overreacting may have the opposite effect you intended to have, and the school may not take your future complaints seriously.
- Help be a part of the solution. Get involved in your child’s school. Volunteer to watch “hot spots” at school, shadow in the classroom, join the PTA, rally together for an Anti-Bullying event, and sit in on the Safe School Committee.
- Commit to making bullying stop. Work with your child and the school to provide a safe learning environment.
- Build resiliency in your child! This may not be the only time they come in contact with bullying. We need to do everything we can to help improve coping skills so that they can better handle these hardships in the future.
Teach your child how to report bullying incidents to adults in an effective way. Adults are less likely to discount a child’s report as “tattling” if the report includes what is being done to him that makes him fearful or uncomfortable, who is doing it, what he has done to try to resolve the problem or to get the bullying to stop, if there were any witnesses to the incident, and a clear explanation of what he needs or wants from the adult to stop the bullying.
How do I report bullying incidents to my child’s school?
Bullying incidents should be reported through the school’s chain of command or to the policy indicated personnel, if applicable. In most cases, incidents are appropriately addressed with the classroom teacher. If you feel that the classroom teacher is not properly handling the situation, it is recommended that you notify the school principal in writing of the incident and carbon copy (cc) the district superintendent. A letter should state the facts of the incident (free of opinions or emotional statements), your desire for the incident to be resolved, and request a follow-up letter regarding the school’s action in the incident. Provide any documentation you may have of the incident, including witnesses, doctor’s notes, police reports, cyberbullying online printouts, and other information appropriate to the incident. A letter can serve multiple purposes. It will alert school administration of the bullying, your desire for interventions against bullying, can serve as a written record when referring to incident, and provide documentation if you need to escalate the incident up the school’s chain of command.
If the school principal has not resolved the situation, the next step would be to notify the school district’s superintendent. Follow the same recommendations as notifying the school principal. If you would rather have a meeting to discuss the incident, request the meeting in writing and send a follow-up letter summarizing the discussion after the meeting. This will serve as a written record and provide documentation if you need to escalate the incident.
The final step in the school’s chain of command would be the locally elected school board members. You must submit your written request to the school board president or policy indicated personnel to be placed on the school board meeting agenda. School board meetings are subject to the Open Meetings Act.
How do you file a complaint on a school district?
Upon receipt of your complaint, the State Department of Education (SDE) staff will receive all information and documentation to determine whether there is evidence of noncompliance with state law. The SDE does not have authority to investigate complaints of bullying or harassment. This information is submitted solely for purposes of assisting the monitoring compliance with state bullying statutes. All information below must be provided with the complaint form to be evaluated by SDE staff. This complain may be shared with District officials by SDE staff during the compliance review process.
- Incident notification to district
- Correspondence regarding the incident to the teacher
- Correspondence regarding the incident to the counselor
- Correspondence regarding the incident to the principal
- Correspondence regarding the incident to the superintendent
- Letter requesting to appear before the district’s board of education
- Minutes from the district’s board meeting
- If applicable, physical evidence (notes, e-mails, web site, audio, video, police report)
What can I do if I witness a bullying incident?
If you witness a bullying incident, follow the steps below to appropriately intervene and address the incident:
- Intervene immediately.
- Identify that the incident was bullying.
- Request more information separately with the students involved.
- Tell the students you are aware of their behavior.
- Make it a teachable experience.
- Document the incident.
- Maintain records.
- Inform the parents and appropriate staff for further investigation.
What are ineffective ways to prevent bullying?
In recent years, increasing numbers of educators, health professionals, parents, and other adults who interact with students have come to understand the seriousness of bullying. Many proven and promising prevention and intervention strategies have been developed. Unfortunately, some misdirected intervention and prevention strategies also have emerged. Research has shown that the following are strategies that do not work or have unexpected negative consequences.
- Zero tolerance or “three strikes and you are out” policies: While this may be effective in small cases, studies show that it is ineffective as a broad-based policy. With threats of severe punishment, it may discourage students from reporting incidents and bullying can often be an early indicator of other behavior problems. Children who bully are often in need of positive role models that they may only encounter at school.
- Conflict resolution and peer mediation: Bullying is not a conflict between two people of equal power with equal blame for the situation. Also, facing those who have bullied them may further upset students who have been bullied.
- Group treatment for students who bully: Group members tend to reinforce bullying behavior in each other.
- Simple, short-term solutions: Focusing on bullying in a piecemeal way (e.g., in-service training, school assembly, lessons taught by individual teachers) will do much less to prevent bullying than a school-wide initiative
What can communities do about school bullying?
Bullying does not begin and end at the school doors. Bullying is not a school problem; it is a community problem. Community members play a large role in effectively preventing school bullying by providing a united front to prohibit bullying. All community members play a vital part and can share their expertise, resources, and skills. Community members can contribute support to combat bullying by taking the following actions:
- Report incidents to school staff if any bullying or harassment has occurred in or around school grounds or at school activities.
- Participate in bullying prevention or Safe School Committees.
- Volunteer to mentor those who bully and targets of bullying.
- Provide support for parents whose children are experiencing bullying problems.
- Demonstrate to all students the concern and support of the community by supporting positive school projects, sports, events, and field trips.
- Model good character and responsible citizenship.
- Consider adapting the school rules against bullying and the protocols to apply to businesses, recreation agencies, and churches in the community.
- Stay informed and aware of school bullying policies and state laws regarding bullying and harassment.
- Partner with schools and organizations to encourage positive behavior, valuing differences, and promoting sensitivity to others.
- Pledge to prevent bullying