By Gayle Macklem, MA, NCSP, LEP, Adjunct Faculty in the School Psychology Department October 05, 2015

Mental Health Tips from William James College Faculty: Bullying by Gayle Macklem, MA,NCSP, LEP.

Bullying is aggressive behavior that is usually repeated, involves a power imbalance, and occurs with a goal to cause harm. The consequences of bullying can be very serious, affecting feelings of safety as well as the ability to learn and achieve in school. There are several forms of bullying: physical, verbal (threatening, taunting, teasing), social or relational (excluding others or spreading gossip), and cyber (email, tweets, text messages, mobile phones, and developing a website to taunt or humiliate a peer). Social factors contribute to a culture of fear and disrespect that fosters bullying. Bullying is common but it is neither normal nor inevitable. Addressing and ultimately eliminating bullying requires a sustained commitment from the entire community.

Tips for Changing a Culture of Bullying

Tips for Parents

  • Model non-aggressive problem solving and sensitivity to others’ feelings. Do not permit aggression in the home, especially between siblings. Sibling aggression can be even more damaging than schoolyard bullying. 
  •  Work with schools when there is a problem. Ask questions of school staff about what they are doing to curb bullying. Ask to see the school safety policy or anti-bullying policy. 
  • When children report being bullied the first thing they need is to be believed and have their concerns and distress taken seriously. But do not tell them to fight back or try to contact the family of the bully yourself. Ask the school for help. Be mindful of cyberbullying: monitor closely your children’s electronic devices and online behavior. 
  • However, taking away the electronic devices has not been demonstrated to be helpful, as the threat of losing them prevents children from telling adults about cyberbullying. Close supervision and teaching children how to block harmful communications works better. 

Tips for Schools

  • Develop comprehensive anti-bullying programs and clear policies that are consistently used to build a climate of respect. 
  • Establish a team of professionals to facilitate planning. Staff training makes a big difference, as teachers and school staff members need to be encouraged to pay attention to complaints of bullying and then intervene. 
  • All students need skills training. This includes both victims and bullies themselves. In addition, bystanders need to be taught how to quickly identify bullying and how to intervene safely so they do not become the next victim.