Bullying and How Schools Are Responding

Updated on March 10, 2017
Al Greenbaum profile image

Al believes in a zero tolerance attitude to bullying and advocates clear policy guidelines in schools.


The Problem

A girl is in a hospital to have cosmetic surgery; the operation she undergoes has complications, leaving her with a crooked smile. The children in her school taunt her mercilessly—she takes her own life. Another girl is gang-raped, and the incident is recorded on a cell-phone and uploaded to Facebook. The girl commits suicide. A hardworking student is taunted for years for not being part of “the gang.” Feelings of helplessness overcome him, and he hangs himself.

In a class of thirty students, six are likely to be bullied. They will be bullied because of their appearance, their weight, their ethnicity, their perceived sexual orientation, or just for being different.

How People Wrongly Justify Bullying

To explain bullying some people try to diminish its effect by putting it down to a normal process that kids go through.

It is Part of Growing up.

It is not a rite of passage to endure harassment and in some cases campaigns of hatred against you. It doesn’t make you “tough” to put up with being ostracised, criticised, attacked and abused.

Boys Will Be Boys /Girls Will Be Girls

Being bullied is not inevitable. Children do not have to act in an anti-social way toward classmates they perceive as being different. Bullying will only thrive where it is given the tacit approval of those who observe it.

Some Students Have Victim Written on Their Foreheads

Students have the right to feel safe and secure in a school environment. It doesn’t matter if they are seen to be moaners or a little effete or bookworms or loners. If that is who they are, they can be that way if they want to. There is no compunction on them to be anything other than who they want to be.

Dealing with Bullies Toughens You Up

Having to put up with bullies every day of your life is exhausting. It saps your strength, makes you have a negative image of yourself and leaves you feeling depressed. Lifelong scars can be the only result of bullying.

What Do Schools Do About Bullying?

Schools have been under pressure in recent years to bring down bullying rates and make schools safe for all who attend.

Actions that may be taken include,

  • Escort of a student being bullied between classes by a teacher or older child.

The implicit message is that students are not safe at the school and the administration can do little about it. So, vulnerable students are taken into “protective custody” in between classes.

  • Increased number of teachers on recess and lunch duty.

This one does make some sense as recess or lunchtime is a prime time for kids who want to bully others.

  • Counselling of the bully and the bullied student.

The “no-blame” model involves working with both the bully and the bullied and parents, if necessary, to come to some resolution through discussing the issues involved and coming to more appropriate levels of interaction.

  • In school suspension/ Out of school suspension.

Depriving a student of interaction with classmates may work for some infractions like disrupting class but will it really stop the bullying behaviour when so many tacit behaviours like witnessing it and saying nothing are often displayed by other students and even some teachers, make harassing vulnerable students seem acceptable.

  • School expulsion.

This would be a bold move. Such actions would be categorical in saying where the blame lies but could lead to such a decision being contested in the courts. It is also doubtful that the bully would have his/her behaviour changed. They could easily go to another school and continue to harass others.

  • Creating a whole school policy that students, teachers and parents must follow.

This involves getting all students, teachers and parents to sign up to an agreed code of conduct that specifies the outcomes of well-defined bullying behaviour. For example, racial, sexual, ethnic or religious slurs would not be allowed on campus in any form. A prescribed list of outcomes for transgressions would be made clear. Teachers and administrators would be obliged to carry out the stages of enforcing the code of conduct. Students would be regularly reminded of what non-compliance would mean.

I think this is the most effective way of dealing with bullying. To make clear what bullying is and what will happen if you engage in it leaves no doubt. If teachers and administrators are proactive and do not ignore infractions I think this method of dealing with bullying has a very good chance of succeeding.

But I think there also needs to be an addition to all school’s mission statement, that all students are different and that diversity in religion, sexual orientation, appearance, ethnicity and other things are not just accepted but celebrated. There is no fear in being proud to be a Muslim, or being gay or black or tall or thin or fat. People are who they are and do not have to live up to laid down behaviours that are “acceptable”.

Why Do Kids Bully?

Research suggests that Bullying is a form of “social combat” in which those who bully feel that their actions will fast-track them to a position of social superiority within the school. But evidence also shows that it is a misconception. Students may be afraid of a bully and want to stay on his/her good side, but they will never trust them enough to be friends. The main feedback that bullies get is the momentary feeling of superiority, of being in control.Bullies lack social graces. They do not know how to behave in a group situation. To try and gain acceptance, even if it is through fear, they act aggressively towards others.

Child Being Bullied: Signs
Doesn't want to go to school.
Disturbed sleep
Doesn't go out of the house
Damaged clothing/school supplies
Unexplained bruising


There are still many schools, even those who have a written anti-bullying policy, who seem reluctant to get involved with cases of bullying. One can only speculate as to why this is so.

Perhaps they feel dealing with the harassment of students is just too difficult and may reflect on them if they take the side of a bullied student. They may also fear a lawsuit if they act against a bully. It might be a feeling that things have been exaggerated and that it was just “teasing” and everyone must learn to take a joke.

One of the saddest scenes in the excellent “Bully” (2012) was when a boy, Cole, is coming back from recess, closely followed by a flustered Vice-Principal and his victimizer. The lady talks to Cole and asks him to shake hands with the bully. As if just the mere shaking of hands will solve the problem. I am sure the poor woman could not help the fact she had nothing to offer in the way of sorting out the problem except for shaking hands. She clearly had no training in how to deal with bullying. She tried her best but she made things worse. My pity went to the bullied boy who, through streaming tears, told the administrator what he had endured from the other boy. Being called “a pussy”, being threatened and generally being pushed around, even though he tried to avoid his attacker as much as he could.

To deal with bullying in schools is not easy. The problem must be dealt with sensitively but at the same time, it must be made clear that the victimisation of any student, for whatever reason, is not acceptable. A School is somewhere students, teachers, parents and administrators are happy to interact with others who may not have the same life experiences they are used to. Diversity is not tolerated, it is celebrated. Although a common code of conduct of acceptable behaviour is adhered to in terms of civility around the school, there is no pressure on students to adhere to an “unwritten code” among fellow students of an acceptable way to act. Students are free to be who they are, not who people want them to be.


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