Statistics show that one out of every five students reports being bullied at school. Considering how many instances of bullying go unreported, these figures are alarming. To make matters worse, widespread access to the internet has resulted in nearly 40% of teenagers experiencing cyberbullying. While this technology is not inherently evil, we need to learn how to use social media responsibly to avoid hurting others. Whether in-person or online, bullying has an adverse impact on children’s lives, ranging from social isolation and depression to suicide ideation and self-harm.
The detrimental effects of bullying on children’s well-being and public mental health dictate that we find practical ways to prevent such occurrences. While these issues are currently being addressed to some extent, we can do much more to make sure children grow in a safe and healthy environment.
What Is Being Done
Most governments have not enacted any legislation that directly deals with bullying. However, there are extreme forms of bullying that are considered punishable crimes.
Instances of bullying that are considered crimes in most countries:
- Assault or theft
- Sharing intimate images without consent
- Sexual harassment
- Child abuse
- Identity theft
- Hate speech
Although no laws directly address bullying, many governments have introduced legislation to promote equality in the workplace and society in general. Enactments like the Equality Act of 2010 in the UK ensure people will not face discrimination and are not subjected to hateful speech because of their social and racial backgrounds. Additionally, the Education Act of 2002, section 175, obliges British schools to ensure that their functions relating to the conduct of the school are exercised to safeguard and promote the welfare of their pupils.
Bullying occurs almost everywhere, even in the highest-performing institutes. Most schools implement anti-bullying policies by raising awareness about the definition of bullying and teaching students how to treat others with kindness and respect.
If the school staff observes instances of bullying, the consequences would be suspension, expulsion, or exclusion from school, depending on the severity of their actions. Although administering consequences for violent behavior is necessary, it is not effective enough to solve the problem. Furthermore, school programs that try to resolve hostilities by having students confront their bullies or “work it out” can increase bullying.
What Can Be Done
Following the UK, more countries should enforce laws to ensure children’s safety at schools. Authorizing schools to have measures set in place to prevent different forms of bullying could lead to positive results. However, although it is crucial to ensure children’s well-being, too many strict laws may violate freedom of speech and shape an authoritarian environment. Dictatorial learning environments reduce autonomy and encourage mulish followership.
There should exist a clear line between hate speech and free speech to avoid restricting children too much. Children should learn how to express their opinions without discriminating against other people. While everyone has the right to speak their mind, they also have the right to live in a society free of discrimination or exclusion. The role of the government is to impose laws that recognize hate speech as criminal activity besides supporting freedom of expression.
Although bullying prevention programs at schools are not entirely ineffective, school policies could be amended to target the problem more efficiently. Instead of compulsory participation in anti-bullying programs that suggest confrontational solutions to the problem, the schools should provide an environment where students can openly discuss bullying.
Clear communication on setting boundaries for oneself and deciding what acceptable or unacceptable behavior is, teaches children how to form healthier friendships. Furthermore, students should be taught how to respond to bullying. Although standing up to bullies is a common suggestion for a solution, children should avoid violence and report bullying to adults and authorities.
It is crucial to help children ask the right questions and find the correct answers. An example of questions worth addressing are:
- What is bullying, and how do you describe it?
- Why do some people bully others?
- Have you ever been afraid of going to school? Why?
- How can school staff help stop bullying?
- Have you or your friends purposefully left out another kid?
- What would you do if you saw another student getting bullied?
- How does it make you feel when you see others getting bullied?
- Have you ever tried to help someone who was being bullied? Why?
Moreover, children should not be the exclusive targeted audience in bullying prevention awareness. Parents, school personnel, and other volunteers should be educated on how to take action in situations where a child is being bullied.
Besides trustworthy adults at home and school, any random bystander who might witness bullying could offer substantial help. Often, passersby are unsure how to react, so they remain passive and leave the area. Only a limited number of people decide to help, which usually includes extroverts and empaths. Schools should implement role-playing games to teach children to show empathy towards other children in difficult situations. Even computer simulations that encourage children to think of ways to intervene could be beneficial. Sympathetic and supportive bystanders could help decrease bullying incidents or at least their severity.
Additionally, schools should educate students on using social media responsibly. Instead of administering punishment for cyberbullying at school, which could be disruptive in a learning environment, school staff should teach children how to communicate online without violating other people’s rights.
Aggressive or overly strict behavior at home does more harm than good. A hostile environment at home has proven to increase the chances of a child bullying others at school. Furthermore, excessive scrutiny frustrates children and destroys their self-esteem. The alternative is to reinforce positive self-image in children and have daily conversations with them. Parents should try to include themselves in their children’s lives. Below are several ways parents can keep up with their kids:
- Ask about their feelings
- Read class newsletters or school flyers
- Attend school events like celebrations and events
- Meet teachers and councilors
- Keep in touch with other students’ parents
Parents play an essential role in teaching children kindness and respect since they model their parents’ behavior. They can learn how to respect other people’s civil rights by watching their parents exhibit similar behavior.
Parents should also encourage their children to do what they love. Engaging in one’s favorite activities helps one meet like-minded people who have similar interests. Belonging to a community of friends with shared interests protects children against bullying and boosts their confidence. However, the social responsibility to intervene and stop bullying falls on each and every one of us. Therefore, we must remain educated on how to behave before, during, and after bullying occurs, as legislation alone will not entirely solve the problem.