Kids Getting Bullied: What Adults Can Do

Bullying can have serious immediate and lasting harmful impacts on children, yet 64 percent of those who are bullied do not report the experience to an adult, according to Bailey Huston, coordinator of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center. Huston spoke at “Kindness, Acceptance, and Inclusion in the Age of Covid-19,” a webinar hosted by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force on October 27 in a program marking National Bullying Prevention Month.

DOWNLOAD: Resources from PACER’S National Bullying Prevention Center

Huston reviewed the four main types of youth bullying: verbal bullying, using words to tease or harass; emotional bullying, such as manipulation, gossip, or exclusion; physical bullying, such as kicking, hitting, damaging or stealing property, or unwanted touching; and cyberbullying, using technology such as social media to hurt or harm.

“We all know that conflict is a normal part of a kids life, and it can be hard to figure out if it is bullying or just conflict,” Huston said. Yet, she added, it is crucial to understand the distinction. She explained that conflict is between individuals of equal circumstance who are not seeking to cause harm, whereas bullying involves a power imbalance where a perpetrator is not concerned about causing harm and may actually be motivated by a desire to control.

“Some common views about bullying are that ‘It’s part of growing up,’ ‘It makes you tough,’ ‘Kids will be kids,’ ‘It’s only only teasing,’” said Huston. “But bullying should not be part of growing up.” In fact, she argued, bullying can negatively impact a child’s education, health, and safety.

Students who are bullied may avoid going to school, which can cause a decline in academic performance and even dropping out, Huston said. Bullying can lead to stomach aches, headaches, and sleep problems, and emotional problems like depression and anxiety, she said. Finally, bullying behavior can result in physical harm to bullies and their targets, she said.

It is important to emphasize, Huston said, that bullying is a behavior, and behavior can be changed. The focus on addressing bullying should be on the behavior, and not the person, she said.

“We avoid using words like the ‘bully’ or the ‘victim,’” she explained. “Behavior like bullying can be changed. It is not a permanent part of who they are. This behavior does not have to define them. When you pull back those layers, we can see there are number of ways we can redirect the behavior in positive ways.”

Bailey advised parents to talk to children about bullying, and support and empower them if they are bullied. She encouraged parents to start a conversation with their children at a young age, and to provide constructive backup if and when they experience bullying. She said it is important for children to know that being bullied is not their fault and not their responsibility alone to stop the bullying. Huston said students should be encouraged to report bullying to a teacher or trusted adult, and advised against encouraging them either to stand up to the person bullying them or to just ignore the bullying.

Huston noted that PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center provides a wealth of educational as well as support materials on its website.

To address a serious bullying problem, Huston suggested developing actions plans. She said a “Student Action Plan” can reflect on the issue and develop steps to change the situation. A “Parent Action Plan” should keep a record of incidents which should include any written information, the date of the event or events and person or persons involved, and their child’s own account of what happened, she said.

Additionally, Huston said, parents should decide on the best approach for taking action—for example, whether to approach school staff, health professionals, law enforcement, or other community members about the problem. She said parents should learn their legal rights in the situation, and know the procedures for reporting a problem. Many schools have specific procedures for reporting incidents, but Huston noted that Pacer’s website provides a template letter that parents can use as well. (Click here to download).

For more resources, click here for The Sophie Fund’s bullying prevention page.