AFT - American Federation of Teachers

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Frequently Asked Questions

Given the pervasiveness of bullying, schools are in a position to proactively address the growing occurrence and effectively intervene to ensure the safety of our students. Teachers can play a significant role in addressing both the dangers associated with bullying as well as preventive measures so as to create a warm, inviting and positive environment for students to feel safe.

What is bullying?
Bullying is intentional, negative and aggressive behavior that is repeated over time and exists in a relationship where there is an imbalance of power. Bullying may be physical (hitting, kicking, spitting, pushing), verbal (taunting, malicious teasing, name calling, threatening), or psychological (spreading rumors, manipulating social relationships, or promoting social exclusion, extortion or intimidation).

What is cyber bullying and what makes it different from traditional bullying?
Cyber bullying refers to electronic bullying through e-mails, instant messaging, cell phones, web pages, blogs, chat rooms, Facebook, Myspace or other information communication technologies. Roughly one in three teenagers – and nearly half of 15- to 17-year-old girls – say they have been the victim of an online rumor, threatening messages or other forms of bullying via electronic communication.

Unlike traditional bullying:

  • Cyber bullying is not done face-to-face but rather through technological tools, often leaving the target wondering who the bully is.
  • The accessibility of electronics and Internet allow youth to cyber bully anywhere, including at school or at home, and any time of the day or night.
  • Victims of cyber bullying often do not report their case because of fear that their computer or phone privileges will be taken away by an adult.
  • In the cyber world, bystanders may come across harmful material on a Web site or in a message but will not witness the face-to-face confrontation, therefore, they are unclear about what they should do when they read malicious postings.

How common is bullying?
Most studies show that between 15 percent to 25 percent of American students are bullied with some frequency. This percentage jumps to 40 percent to 50 percent for cyber bullying. Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than other children to be depressed, lonely, anxious, have low self-esteem, feel unwell and think about suicide. 

Why is bullying sometimes hard for educators to detect?
Many times, educators are unaware of bullying problems. Why? Bullying often takes place in areas that are not well supervised by adults, bullying can be subtle and hard to detect, and also because many children do not report it out of fear of retaliation and/or punishment.

What can educators do?
Bullying can be reduced significantly when there is a schoolwide commitment to end it. Like most effective interventions, strategies to prevent bullying should be comprehensive and multifaceted. This means that bullying interventions should be implemented schoolwide, classroomwide and individually; must include all staff, related personnel and administrators; and should have input and commitment from students and family members. Most important, staff must be trained to:

  • Identify bullying behavior and differentiate between normal peer conflict and bullying;
  • Teach students about both bullying and caring behavior; and
  • Intervene with bullies, victims and bystanders.

In addition to schoolwide interventions to reduce bullying (or instead of them, when there is no comprehensive schoolwide program), classroomwide interventions are necessary. Classroomwide interventions for bullying include setting up an environment that expects and rewards caring behavior. This environment should reward those who stick up for victims and deter bullies, and should emphasize the importance of including all students in activities. Teachers can also use the classroom to teach students about tolerance and respect to help students better handle instances of being bullied themselves, or of observing someone being bullied whether in person or online.

Bullying is a very serious problem and, if allowed to continue, can cause long-term problems for both the bully and the victim. Adults need to be aware of bullying and must intervene whenever bullying occurs. Bullies and victims alike need to know that adults are there to defend and protect victims and that they will not allow bullying to continue.