by Ann Geddes
Bullying should not be viewed as just typical child’s play. It harms youth physically, emotionally and academically. Kids who are bullied can develop significant mental health issues, such as anxiety and depression. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school. In rare cases, children who are bullied may retaliate through violent acts.
Years ago, when I learned from my son that he was being severely bullied in middle school, I reported this to his guidance counselor. I was told “If he didn’t act so weird he wouldn’t be bullied.” I made an appointment to discuss the bullying with the school principal. He said that my son would need to confront the children who were bullying him directly in a school meeting. Terrified, my son refused to do this. Nothing further was done. In the end, the bullying became so severe that my son became profoundly depressed and ultimately had to change schools. A positive climate in his new school resulted in no further bullying, but the bullying that he had experienced led to lasting negative consequences.
Thankfully, much has improved since my own son’s experience.
For over a decade, the Maryland State Department of Education has instituted programs to prevent bullying in schools, and to positively intervene when bullying occurs. Prevention efforts include:
- Annual professional development for administrators and all staff
- School-wide evidence-based anti-bullying programs
- School climate improvement efforts
- Collaboration with families and the community
Intervention policies incorporate professional development for school staff on how to respond appropriately to students when bullying occurs, along with support and counseling for the victim with protection from retaliation. At the same time, interventions have been developed to prevent bullying, by addressing the social-emotional, behavioral, and academic needs of students who bully.
There is evidence that these efforts have paid off. Students report that bullying has declined significantly over the years. In the Maryland Youth Risk Behaviors Survey (MYRBS), the number of high school students reporting that they had been bullied on school grounds in the previous 12 months has dropped from 28.4% in 2005 to 17.7% in 2014 – a decline of 38%.
This is good news. Yet we are a long way from “zero bullying.” Indeed, the rates of bullying in middle schools, which only recently began to be tracked, are alarmingly high: 40.9% of middle school students reported having been bullied in the previous 12 months in the 2014 MYRBS.
While the actions of schools are important, parents too can have an impact on bullying. The Maryland State Department of Education has put together some tips on what parents can do to prevent bullying.
- Download Family Fact Sheet on Bullying: English language; Spanish language
- Download the Educator Fact Sheet on Bullying
- Visit StopBullying.Gov for additional resources for parents on preventing and responding to bullying