“I was just pointing out the obvious about their weight gain and thought it was funny, what’s the big deal? I’m not hurting anyone and I’ve done this all the time to them.”
I have had a lot of concerns brought to me, from both school staff and students, about bullying others and being bullied. This is a recurring theme every year. It can often seem overwhelming and challenging to address with high school and/or middle school students. Many of the students I’ve worked with think that what they are saying or doing is,”just a joke.” They don’t realize the severity of their actions and that the words or behaviors may be harmful.
Everyone has their own perception of a bullying situation, but for many of our students, it is really difficult to understand the consequences of bullying and the extent of their actions and behaviors. There are difficult situations that can arise from bullying behavior and it is critical that students receive in-depth knowledge of what bullying is versus what it isn’t, the different types of bullying, the different roles in a bullying situation, and the potential life-changing consequences.
Bullying is such a complex issue, involving a quest for power along with many other psychological factors, that it can be difficult for teens (as well as adults, at times) to fully understand this universal social problem. In addition, by the time students are in middle and/or high school, they unfortunately may already have experienced bullying, in some capacity. Through these personal experiences, students may have developed their own opinions on bullying and may have a hard time discussing the subject with an open mind. They can also be heavily swayed by their peers and can often be resistant to authority. It’s these factors, coupled with the fact that there are so many aspects to bullying, that make teaching this topic challenging.
Through the many years I have spent teaching students about bullying, I have come up with a process that has worked well with my students. I want to share this with you today, showing you how it’s possible to have these open discussions with your students and to provide them with the knowledge needed in order for them to help create solutions.
So far, I have found that breaking the information up into four sessions has been the most effective way for students to process and learn the skills, and for us to reinforce what they have learned. Of course, you will need to determine the best method for yourself based on your own time restrictions, student populations, and availability with your students.
Here are 4 Lessons you can do with your middle or high school students. These sessions can be done in large groups (Advisory/SEL programs), guidance lessons or push-ins, small groups, or individually:
Lesson #1: Define Bullying and Explore Why People Bully
Probably one of the toughest things for us when teaching about bullying to students in Advisory is getting them to understand exactly what bullying is. There are multiple definitions of bullying, but they all pretty much boil down to this: Bullying is unwanted aggressive behavior directed toward those who have, or are perceived to have, less power than the perpetrator. The behavior must be repeated, or have the potential to be repeated, and must be intentional. From a definition standpoint, it doesn’t sound too difficult to understand, but for our students, it can be hard to remember and apply when they are in the middle of a potential bullying situation. For many of our students, it can be one of the scariest experiences they’ve ever faced and can make them feel like they can’t share what happened with anyone else, which of course is not true.
Begin the initial session with students by reviewing the “definition” of bullying and ask for their feedback. Create a few, short scenarios to share with the students, as a sort of “pre-test” to determine their ability to identify a bullying situation versus one that doesn’t meet the criteria for bullying. I also reiterate to my students that if they see, or are involved in, a situation which appears to possibly be bullying, to report it to a trusted adult, such as a teacher, counselor, a coach, or a parent. In some situations, the involved parties may be aware that the behavior is repetitive and involves a power imbalance (real or perceived), but in some cases it may not be obvious, or at least in the moment. While we certainly don’t want our children to report every argument, tease, or mean moment as bullying, we definitely don’t want them to ignore a potential situation either. This is the tricky part and it then becomes our job to educate our students about bullying so that they are able to properly identify a possible bullying situation when it occurs.
In this initial lesson, also try to touch on the “why” aspect of bullying. It’s so important that we share with our students some of the underlying reasons why bullying occurs in the first place, to help them further grasp the complexities of this issue.
Lesson #2: Understanding the Roles in a Bullying Situation
In your next lesson on bullying, discuss the various roles that are involved in a bullying situation. This is important for a number of reasons, one being that it can actually help to prevent bullying from occurring initially. It is also a key factor in our teens developing empathy and kindness toward all parties involved. I’ve witnessed, too often, situations where the victim receives the blame, being seen as weak or vulnerable, and viewed as someone who needs to stand up for themselves more. It can be difficult to change this stereotypical thinking, especially with teens who are just starting to assert their independence and may not be as open to looking at things from another’s point of view. (That is an entirely different lesson). That being said, by educating our students about the four different roles in a bullying situation, and exploring the long-term social, emotional, and even physical effects of bullying, we are giving them the opportunity to better understand and relate to the situation from multiple perspectives.
Ask students to name the roles in a bullying situation. Over the years when I have facilitated this lesson to my students, the majority will mention the bully and the victim. Some students will also mention the bystander or upstander, but the knowledge about those roles is usually limited. Understanding all four roles is a critical component in empowering students to let go of the stereotypical image they may have of bullying and to be more open to helping create solutions within their own community for this widespread social problem.
Lesson #3: Types of Bullying
Focus on the different types of bullying. Start with a review of the three main types, physical, social, and emotional bullying. Go over examples and make sure students interact in determining the correct category. Hands-on learning is a fantastic way to get students engaged in the activity. Remember, the goal is for our teens to be able to identify a situation as bullying when they are actually involved in one, whether that involvement is as the victim, upstander, bystander, or the bully. Next, move on to a discussion of the various subtypes, such as harrassment, assault, social exclusion, cyberbullying, etc.
Create short “real-life” scenarios for your students to help them identify the different types of bullying and to assist in recognizing which behaviors are considered to be bullying. Hands-on practice helps students to identify bullying, so they are better equipped to handle real-life situations. Having these open discussions in an environment where they feel comfortable and supported really helps them to let go of some of their preconceived notions about bullying and to become more empathetic toward those in their community who have been involved in bullying in one form or another.
Being able to identify the different types of bullying is so important because not only does it make it easier for students, and adults alike, to identify bullying when it occurs, but it also empowers them to report the bullying, which in turn can result in solutions being found and an overall safer environment created.
In the final bullying lesson, ask students to review prior lessons. Continue with a discussion of bullying types and subtypes. You can use role plays as an interactive way to engage your students. Role playing is an amazing learning tool for students, as they are able to actually portray themselves in real-life bullying situations, and are able to do so in a controlled safe space, where they can receive guidance on how to handle these tricky situations. It also allows students to better understand how the parties involved in a bullying situation feel.
After the students are finished with the role playing, follow up with a whole-class discussion of the skits that were presented. It’s important that the students have this time to process how they felt during the role plays, either as a participant or an observer; this also gives them an opportunity to brainstorm ways to intervene in, or prevent, bullying.
With the statistics about bullying as alarming as they are, we simply cannot sit by and accept bullying as just a part of life. Statistics show that 1 out of every 5 students have reported being bullied! That’s huge! Furthermore, it is known that bullying can provoke depression and in turn can increase the risk of suicide. Students at this age are very overly aware of others and how others perceive them. If a student feels like they are socially isolated from their classmates, this can result in the student going beyond to end their emotional pain.
I have heard from many educators that they aren’t given the time during the day to address bullying and other important social issues. If you are having issues with buy-in for your program, it is best to have a meeting with your school administration to discuss the need to target this issue. When it comes to saving time, there are step-by-step, ready-made lessons and resources out there that you can use to implement into your program. As you are planning out how to introduce this issue with your school community, prepare the bullying resources that you will be using and demonstrate the importance of this topic! That being said, I do hope the information that I have shared with you will be helpful with your own students or children, in whatever format may work best for you!
Already have a favorite way of teaching bullying? We would love to hear about it, Comment below and let us know!
Gordon, Sherri. “How Strong Is the Link Between Bullying and Suicide?”. verywell family, https://www.verywellfamily.com/how-strong-is-the-link-between-bullying-and-suicide-460620
National Bullying Prevention Center. “Bullying Statistics: By the Numbers. https://www.pacer.org/bullying/info/stats.asp