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April 27, 2021

Keeping Students Safe from Bullying: Strategies for Educators & Families

Bullying is a tough and continuously evolving topic to take seriously when it comes to whole child health and well-being, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. With youth spending more time online for school and social interactions due to the pandemic, cyberbulling (i.e. online bullying) has increased.  

According to experts, bullying is repeated aggressive behavior that includes an imbalance of power. Bullying comes in many forms: 

  • Verbal (in-person or online) 
    • Making threats  
    • Name-calling 
  • Physical (in-person)  
    • Hitting  
    • Damage to another’s property 
  • Social (in-person or online) 
    • Excluding someone from a group on purpose,  
    • Spreading rumors 

Survey data indicates that bullying is common, with nearly 1 in 5 high school students reporting they were bullied on school property in 2019. 

Among BIPOC and LGBTQ(IA+) communities, bullying is even more common. For example, compared to 22% of heterosexual high school students, 40% of high school students who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual and about 33% of those who were unsure of their sexual identity experienced bullying at school or online in 2020. In addition, with the onset of the pandemic, came the racist and xenophobic rhetoric against Asian-Americans, leading to an increase in bullying and harassment toward Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) youth and families. As a result, more families are keeping their kids home from in-person school due to concerns about safety from bullying.  

When having discussions about how some youth [i.e. BIPOC and LGBTQ(IA+)] experience bullying more than others, it is also important to keep in mind the lens of intersectionality.  

“It’s [intersectionality] basically a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other. We tend to talk about race inequality as separate from inequality based on gender, class, sexuality or immigrant status. What’s often missing is how some people are subject to all of these, and the experience is not just the sum of its parts.” - Kimberlé Crenshaw, Law professor at Columbia and UCLA  

This is why, when talking about the LGBTQ community, it is important to remember its racial diversity. People of color make up more than 30% of the individuals who identify as LGBTQ in the U.S. Specifically, Black people are more likely to identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender than any other racial group. 

The Gay-Straight Alliance Network recently highlighted youth identifying as both LGBTQ (and gender-nonconforming) and youth of color who shared their experiences of standing up to forms of harassment, including bullying. 

Both educators and families can play an important role in supporting youth who are experiencing bullying or teaching strategies to stop bullying behavior. We recommend the following strategies: 

  • Stay connected with kids and teens. Regularly checking in with young people, asking about their day or sharing stories over a family meal, can go a long way toward fostering a sense of belonging and identifying potential experiences with bullying. Strategies for Preventing Social Stigma Associated with COVID-19 supports educators and caregivers in addressing social stigma associated with COVID-19 and the concepts are applicable to any bullying situation.
  • Watch for signs of children being bullied. These might include unexplained injuries, damage to personal items, loss of interest in school or friends, and difficulty sleeping. 
  • Monitor and discuss media use. Children and adolescents are exposed to media all day long on computers, television, and mobile devices. Adults can help young people think critically about aggressive behaviors they see in the media by being open to conversation and using age-appropriate stories to role-play what they might do in situations that involve bullying or harassment. 
  • Help kids become upstanders. Talk with young people about how to step in and speak up when they witness bullying or harassment. Provide specific actions they can take to be an upstander, such as: 
    • Telling the bully to stop. (“Stop doing that, it isn’t cool to treat people this way.”) 
    • Getting others to stand up to the bully with them. (“Laughing along with a bully makes you a bully too. Let’s work together to stand up to the bully.”) 
    • Helping the victim of bullying. (“Sorry they said/did that to you. It isn’t your fault. How can I help?”) 
    • Telling a trusted adult about the bullying so they can help. (This may involve talking directly to an adult or anonymously reporting the incident at school.) 
  • Ask about school anti-bullying policies and practices. Connect with your child’s school or out-of-school program to ask about how they address bullying. Ask for ways you can support anti-bullying efforts and resources to use at home or to share with other families in your community. 

What are some ways you have addressed bullying in your community?  Share with us on Twitter at @HealthierGen and check out our evidence-based family engagement and social-emotional health resources for more helpful tips and tools. 

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