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.

For School Staff, Suicide Prevention Resources

Teens may have a tough time coping emotionally with the stress, fear, and uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. AAP says that feeling depressed, hopeless, anxious or angry are signs that they may need more support.

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For school administrators and teachers preparing to address student mental health challenges in the next school year, resources are available on the website of the Suicide Prevention Center  of New York State (SPCNY).

“Staff are uniquely positioned to identify warning signs and subtle behavior changes, and schools should plan for what to do if suicide risk is identified,” says SPCNY. The center urges school districts develop written procedures for staff to follow when warning signs of suicide are observed or suspected.

SPCNY cites a 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Youth Risk Behavior Survey showing that 31.4 percent of New York State high school students reported feeling sad or hopeless, 17.2 percent seriously considered attempting suicide, and 7.4 percent reported a suicide attempt in the previous 12 months. “Because youth spend a large proportion of their time in school, schools play a central role in New York State’s effort to prevent suicide,” SPCNY says.

SPCNY’s website lists several suicide prevention training programs designed specifically for school staff. They include trainings on recognizing warning signs, helping at-risk students, and responding to a suicide or other traumatic death in the school community.

The website also lists resources for educators:

Crisis Text Line Marketing Toolkit

Kognito’s At Risk online modules can be accessed for free by New York City educators

Warning signs video

Warm handoff video

Act on Facts: Making Educators Partners in Youth Suicide Prevention – Three-minute trailer and full training modules

Sources of Strength is a suicide-prevention program that utilizes peer leaders to change unhealthy norms and culture and, ultimately, prevent bullying, substance use, and suicide.

Good Behavior Game is an evidence-based classroom program that improves self-regulation and co-regulation among 1st and 2nd graders. Longitudinal studies have found decreases in suicide, mental health problems, and substance use, among other outcomes.

JED Foundation provides resources and information for High School personnel

School Mental Health and High School Curriculum Guide

SPCNY also produced “A Guide for Suicide Prevention in New York Schools.” (Download PDF) The guide provides an overview of suicide risk factors, warning signs, and protective factors. It also outlines a wealth of information on prevention programs, targeting higher risk groups for support, and providing individualized intervention.

nys youth suicide guide

According to SPCNY, deaths by suicide in New York State have increased by 32 percent in the past decade, in stark contrast to gradual reductions in the death rate for other diseases such as cancer, heart disease or stroke. The rate of suicide in all age groups has continued to steadily rise in the last decade and the rate of suicide death among children 10 to 14 has doubled in that same time frame.

“Addressing the problem of youth suicide requires collaborative action across a variety of community agencies, but schools have logically assumed more of a leadership role in identifying, referring, and aiding youth with mental health needs,” SPCNY says. “Schools also play a critical role in promoting psychosocial competencies that reduce vulnerability to suicide.”

SPCNY notes that given that the developmental trajectory for suicide risk can begin early in life, schools are uniquely positioned for building resilience among their students and developing a caring community within a positive school climate and culture necessary for the prevention of suicide.

[If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.]

 

 

Congratulations, High School Class of 2020

In case you missed it, check out the wonderful high school graduation celebration broadcast on most channels Saturday evening May 16.

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The event was organized by The LeBron James Family Foundation and partners, and featured a message from LeBron James and a commencement address by former President Barack Obama.

The 1-hour celebration opened with a moving Star-Spangled Banner sung by an online chorus of graduating seniors.

The event also included appearances by Megan Rapinoe, Yara Shahidi, Olivia Wilde, Pharrell Williams, Malala Yousafzai, Zendaya, Bad Bunny, Timothée Chalamet, David Dobrik, Kevin Hart, H.E.R., Chris Harrison, Jonas Brothers featuring Karol G, Alicia Keys, Liza Koshy, Julianne Moore, Maren Morris, Kumail Nanjiani, Shaquille O’Neal, and Ben Platt.