Today’s youth have more ways to connect than ever before. However, this increased connection also offers more spaces for bullying to occur. While many people are familiar with physical, verbal and social bullying, the rise in phone use, social media and other technologies has opened doors for cyberbullying.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in five high school students is affected by bullying each year. Additionally, one in six high school students is affected by cyberbullying. Short-term effects on victims include impacts grades, anxiety, depression and social isolation. Adults who were bullied as children can experience chronic depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and substance abuse.
Bullying does not just affect the victims, however. Bullies also experience negative psychological effects from their behaviors. Bullies are at an increased risk for social, academic and physical withdrawal. Their difficulties in maintaining healthy social relationships make them more likely to become abusive and/or antisocial later in life. Children who bully are less likely than their peers to be highly educated or successful in their careers as adults.
The National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) notes that a psychologically safe school climate can significantly reduce bullying behaviors and mitigate negative outcomes for victims of bullying both inside and outside of the classroom. Positive relationships between students, teachers and family members can foster a sense of safety, encourage healthy behaviors and promote lower levels of student aggression.
Develop Relationships with Students
The NCSSLE reports mentoring relationships have a strong correlation to curbing bullying behaviors. Mentoring relationships between students and educators can encourage students to share their experiences and concerns with school faculty and staff. This encourages both victims and perpetrators of bullying behaviors to remain involved, communicative and socially healthy.
Model Healthy Behaviors
Educators can model how to cope with their emotions and relate to others appropriately. When educators can handle their own emotions without shaming students or making them feel unsafe, students see the results of these behaviors. Educators who respond to students’ ideas and thoughts with encouragement and positive, curious energy demonstrate how to engage in healthy social interactions.
Identify Needs Early On
Bullying can be both a symptom and a cause of mental illness. According to the World Health Organization, more than half of mental illnesses present before the age of 14. Huge portions of each student’s week are dedicated to school, so educators are uniquely situated to identify red flags and provide support.
Create a Sense of Community
One way to establish those connections is to create a sense of shared experience and commonality with students. Educators can create a sense of community through professional learning communities, competitions between neighboring schools and meet and greet events that involve community stakeholders.
Establish Clear Structures and Routines
Children experiencing chronic stress often benefit from predictable routines. Expected and clear structures foster a sense of safety for students who may not already feel safe. School staff can structure activities with clear directions and expectations, consistently reinforce consequences for behaviors and establish daily morning routines students can count on.
Collaborate with Family Partners
Research suggests strong bonds with caregivers can offer a sense of protection and support resilience in young people who experience traumatic events. Educators should communicate proactively with students’ family members to address potential issues and collaborate on how to best support each student.
Educators cannot follow students everywhere, especially not into the ever-broadening social networks offered by modern technology. However, they can utilize their face-to-face time with students to foster a sense of psychological safety, encouraging them to share their experiences, connect with others and make healthy choices that will help them succeed in the classroom and beyond.