Definition of Bullying
Bullying is a very common experience among boys and girls during the school years. Bullying is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power or strength. Bullying typically involves repeated acts by a student or individual intended to exert unwarranted control over another student or person. These negative acts may be direct physical or verbal actions, and/or indirect actions, such as the manipulation of friendships, mean emails, and the exclusion of others from activities. Examples of bullying may include but are not limited to:
Physical – kicking, hitting, pushing, taking and damaging belongings
Verbal – name-calling, insulting, threats, teasing and racist remarks
Social alienation – gossip, excluding from a group (especially in middle school)
Sexual harassment – unwelcome comments or advances
Bullying behavior is learned early and can be resistant to change. There is evidence that bullying can lead to domestic violence in later years. Victims of abuse may have suffered from bullying in their childhood while perpetrators may have been bullies during their school years.
Bullying can occur at school, at camp, during group activities, over the internet, or at home among siblings. Boys tend to use direct physical bullying while girls are more likely to use indirect tactics such as social isolation or spreading rumors. Bullies tend to act aggressively, exerting a lot of power and prestige over peers. Students high in the social pecking order may pick on weaker students.
Adult interaction is necessary, since failure to intervene can lead to increased levels of violence. A lack of responsiveness gives implicit permission for bullies to continue the behavior while victims feel unsafe because perpetrators go unpunished. Victims of bullying may fail to report it to adults, teachers or parents because of fear of retaliation or embarrassment. Factors such as warm, caring adults and consistent discipline at school can counteract risk factors and promote a positive climate and positive involvement of peers.
Massachusetts Anti-Bullying Legislation
The new law increases efforts to educate students about bullying including regulations on student handbooks and classroom instruction; institutes new rules and expectations for reporting incidents of bullying; provides new opportunities for training for all adults in schools on how to identify, prevent and manage incidents of bullying; and enhances efforts across state and local education, health and law enforcement agencies to build more collaboration to ensure the new efforts are effective.
The law includes new reporting requirements for all school staff to fully and swiftly detail any instance of bullying or retaliation to the appropriate school official. Additionally, the measure directs the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to establish statewide academic standards that include instruction in bullying prevention and requires schools statewide to provide age-appropriate instruction on bullying prevention.
Both public and private schools are now required to develop detailed bullying prevention, intervention and notification plans and to publish those plans in student handbooks. There is also a requirement that each school district will begin to provide targeted professional development to build the skills of all staff members in schools (including teachers, administrators, custodians, athletic coaches, bus drivers and others) to prevent, identify and respond appropriately to bullying incidents. ESE must provide school districts with a no-cost method for fulfilling this requirement.
Finally, the law extends beyond the classroom to include incidents that occur in the community and online bringing a new focus on so-called cyber-bullying and extending rules and penalties to apply to electronic and other communications.
In addition to the new rules, supports, opportunities and expectations established by the law, there is also a provision designating the fourth Wednesday in January as "No Name Calling Day" to increase public awareness of the devastating effects of verbal bullying, to encourage students to use positive dialogue and pledge not to use hurtful names on this designated day, and to promote tolerance and respect for differences across the Commonwealth.
Effects of Bullying
Bullying, harassment, and intimidation have a negative impact on the school climate and, for many children, can be a major distraction from learning. Bullying can create unnecessary anxiety that affects the ability or desire of a student to attend school, focus on learning, travel on the school bus, feel safe in common school areas such a the playground or cafeteria, or participate in extracurricular activities. The failure to consistently address bullying activities also gives other students the message that it is acceptable to engage in negative behavior by anyone, both children and adults (i.e., teachers, support staff, parent volunteers). Cyberbullying is also becoming a major problem among America’s youth especially teenage girls.
Warning Signs of Bullying
- Avoiding certain situations, people, or places. For example, pretending to be sick to avoid school.
- Changes in behavior such as being withdrawn and passive, being overly active and aggressive, or being self-destructive
- Frequent crying or depression
- Exhibiting low self-esteem
- Being unwilling to speak or showing signs of fear when asked about certain situations or people
- Unexplained injuries or physical symptoms such as stomach pains and fatigue
- "Night terrors" or other sleep disturbances
- Torn or missing clothing
- Damaged personal property such as toys, games book bag, etc.
What Parents Can Do
- Gather more information
- Monitor your child's activities and relationships with others
- Supervise electronic communication like the internet, social networking, text messages, etc.
- Do not attempt to bring the victim and the bully together.
- Do not contact the parents of the suspected bully
- Communicate your concerns to the child's school and develop a collaboration plan to address the issue
- Inquire about the school's policy regarding bullying and harassment
- Seek out support from school administrators and mental health staff, if needed
If You Suspect Your Child is a Bully
- Address behaviors openly and honestly with your child
- Let your child know bullying is unacceptable
- Develop firm and clear rules for behavior
- Follow up with praise for compliance and consequences for noncompliance
If Your Child is a Bystander
- Teach your child how to help without getting hurt
- Tell your child not to cheer on or even quietly watch a conflict. This merely encourages the bully who wants to be the center of attention
- Encourage your child to tell a trusted adult about the bullying. Talking to an adult is not "tattling." It is an act of courage and safety. Suggest going with a friend to make it easier.
- Help your child support others who tend to be victims. Teach your child to include these children in activities.