We have all heard of him, that mythological creature… the school yard bully. He wanders across the playground stealing lunch money, beating kids up, and tossing anyone in his path into the trash can. Does this classic version of bullying still exist? I think the answer is yes and no. Which begs the question what is a bully and how can schools prevent bullying?
In order to deal with bullying situations appropriately, you have to get past the stereotypes of a bully and focus instead on bullying behaviors. One thing that I like to point out to my students is the difference between who you are as a person and the behaviors that you choose. This distinction is especially important when discussing bullying with students. Bullying behaviors range from one time name calling to socially excluding someone, all the way up to a physical assault. If students think of a bully as someone like our classic example, then they may fail to see behaviors that they use, as a bullying behavior. After all, if they exclude someone or talk badly about a fellow classmate, they are not bullying, because they do not fit the stereotype of a bully. The hard truth is, when we engage in gossiping or picking on someone, we become a bully. I hope that if students understand that they can be a bully, they will think about it the next time they hear a friend making fun of a kid at school.
So, what can a school and a school counselor do about bullying? In order to prevent bullying situations, schools must use preventative and reactive approaches. One preventative approach is to create and foster a positive school environment where respect for others is valued. My school uses a positive school wide behavior support program known as Positive Behavior Intervention and Support or PBIS. This program emphasizes teaching and modeling the schools expectations, reinforcing socially appropriate behaviors through individual and group incentives, tracking and analyzing office referrals, and providing more intensive support for students who use maladaptive behaviors. When you have created a positive school environment based on mutual respect, students will care about one another. In this environment, students will stop a bullying situation from occurring, by speaking up and asserting to the “bully” that those behaviors are not accepted.
School Counselors are one of the key components for creating a positive school environment and assisting both the student who used the bullying behavior and their victim. Counselors in the school environment help teach, model, and reward respect, discuss bullying with students, and teach students what to do to stop a bullying situation. School counselors must also provide reactive services when dealing with a bullying situation.
These reactive services can be, individual counseling for both the bully and victim, bringing the bully and victim together so the victim can tell the person how they have hurt them and how they expect to be treated(only if the person wants to), can also help prevent future problems. Most importantly schools must send the message that bullying behaviors are not tolerated and provide follow up to the bullying victims to ensure that things improve after the intervention.
One factor in this issue that needs more attention is the out of school environments that schools have very little to no control over. Despite the fact that many bullying situations occur after school or on-line, it seems the first group that gets the blame are schools. Of course the school plays a huge part in our battle against bullying, but the influence that parents have over this, plays an even bigger role.
David McCord is a school counselor for Montgomery County Public Schools. His theoretical interests are in solution focused theory and play therapy