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Back to School Doesn’t Have to Mean Back to Bullying

Kids outside of a school wearing uniforms and backpacks. A little girl is smiling at the camera.

Across Westmoreland County, students of all ages are heading back to school. While many students are excited to head back to class, others are apprehensive about it – due to the fear of bullying.

Bullying involves unwanted, aggressive behavior that takes place between students. It usually involves a real or perceived imbalance of power, and is repeated over time. It can include physical assault, verbal abuse, exclusion, making threats, and spreading rumors. In our increasingly interconnected world, cyberbullying – or bullying that takes place online – is becoming more common.

Going back to school doesn’t have to mean going back to bullying. When parents and caregivers are proactive, they can often stop bullying in its tracks. They can also help children who are being bullied get the help and support that they need. Read on to learn more about bullying – and what you can do to help.

Who Is Affected By Bullying?

Bullying can affect any student. However, as noted above, it most commonly occurs when there is a real or perceived power imbalance between the student(s) who are doing the bullying and the student being bullied. Broadly, kids with one or more of the following risk factors are more likely to be bullied:

  • Are seen as being different from their peers, whether it is because they are new to a school, they cannot afford the “cool” things other kids have, or because they are overweight or underweight;

  • Are depressed, anxious, or have low self-esteem;

  • Are perceived as weak or otherwise unable to defend themselves;

  • Have few friends and are not seen as being popular; and/or

  • Do not get along well with others

In many cases, LGBTQ+ students, kids with disabilities, and students of color are more likely to be bullied.

Some kids are more likely to engage in bullying behaviors. In particular, kids seen as being popular or having social power may bully other students. In addition, some students who have low self-esteem or who are depressed may bully other students.

Both kids who are bullied and those who bully others can experience negative consequences. Kids who are bullied may suffer from depression and anxiety, health issues, and decreased academic achievement. Kids who bully may be more likely to engage in other violent and risky behavior, including drug and alcohol abuse, getting into fights, and being abusive toward romantic partners. Kids who witness bullying may also suffer mental health effects.

The bottom line: bullying can have serious, long-term effects on students. For this reason, it is important that parents and caregivers take steps to address bullying and similar problematic behaviors.

What Can Caregivers Do to Help?

Parents and caregivers may feel like there isn’t much that they can do to stop bullying. In reality, there are concrete steps that any of us can take to reduce the risk that our kids will bully others, to increase the likelihood that our kids will stand up against bullying, and to help kids who are being bullied.

First, parents should have open and honest conversations with their kids about bullying, including what it is and how they can recognize when someone is being bullied. These talks should be ongoing and can be tailored to address situations that arise – such as a group chat where kids are making fun of another student. You can walk them through how to respond, and what they can do if they experience bullying, either as a victim or a bystander.

Second, listen to your child if they tell you about being bullied or seeing or engaging in bullying behaviors. Try to remain calm, listen, and offer support instead of trying to solve the problem for them. Tell your child that they did the right thing by coming to you and reassure them that you can come up with a plan to address the matter together.

Third, encourage your child to find supportive friends – and to be a supportive friend as well. One of the most effective ways to counter bullying is for one student to stand up for another (which can be as simple as saying “don’t do that, they’re my friend”). Sometimes, kids engage in bullying because they want to fit in or because they are worried about being bullied themselves. Remind your child that bullies engage in this behavior to get approval from others – and if you take away that approval, they are more likely to stop.

Finally, take some time to learn about your school district’s policies and resources on bullying. While there are some situations that can be handled by students directly, there may come a time when you need additional help and support. This is particularly true for more serious instances of bullying, such as threats of violence or illegal behavior like sharing inappropriate photos of another student.

How Blackburn Center Can Help

Blackburn Center offers a range of resources for victims and survivors of all types of violence, abuse, and crime. We also offer community services, including education and training programs on topics like bullying for local schools and organizations. You can schedule a program by calling our office at 724-837-9540. Caregivers can also take advantage of the materials available on our For Parents page.

As always, we are here for you if you need us via our 24-hour hotline: 1-888-832-2272 (TDD available). All calls to our hotline are free of charge and can be anonymous.


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