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Shining a Light on Bullying in Schools

Rabbi Mitch Malkus

As October is National Bullying Prevention Month, I am dedicating this blog to a continued awareness of and diligence in preventing and addressing bullying in school settings.

The most comprehensive data on bullying in the United States comes from a CDC study titled Bullying Surveillance Among Youth: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements.

  • 28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.
  • 9% of students in grades 6-12 experience cyberbullying.
  • 70.6% of young people say that they have seen bullying at school.
  • 1 in 3 young people admit to bullying others.
  • Research indicates that LGBTQ students are at a heightened risk of experiencing bullying because of their orientation.

These statistics are troubling to all educators and parents. Bullying occurs in every school setting and educators must acknowledge this fact and commit to continually addressing this issue because an essential aspect of our work is and always will be educating young people to understand their behavior, reflect on what is appropriate, and conduct themselves in acceptable, socially positive ways.

Bullying appears in many forms – physical, verbal, relational and damage to property. In our current environment we know that bullying takes places both in person and, increasingly, online often beyond the supervision of adults. The CDC study shows that children who experience bullying may exhibit headaches, changes in behavior, nightmares, school refusal and poor grades, low self-esteem, and self-destructive behaviors.

Since only about 40% of bullying behaviors are reported to adults, schools need to work to prevent bullying. The CDC has created guidelines for schools to support their prevention efforts. These include clear policies against bullying, creating cultures where students are respected and feel safe, and having adults take appropriate positions of authority related to bullying and bullying types of conduct.

At the same time as educators work to constantly address bullying, some experts have called not question the use of the word "bullying." Students and parents are often quick to label any and all unkind and behavior as bullying. Jim Dillon, a well-regarded educator with a concentration on bullying writes that "our well-intentioned efforts to prevent and reduce bullying have inadvertently created confusion and misdirection for educators; too much time and energy has been devoted to defining students' words and actions after they have done something wrong and less on actually helping students navigate their social world." Dillon suggests retiring the word "bullying" but increasing educational efforts within schools to address the social and emotional needs of students and to provide students with positive tools for their social realities.

I want to conclude by sharing a wonderful resource. American University School of Education has prepared a valuable infographic titled "How to Prevent and Manage Bullying in the Classroom and Online." It presents statistics, definitions, suggestions and resources to support schools and parents as we work together to prevent and manage bullying.

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