Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but only in the last few years has its harm become so apparent (“When a Bully Targets Your Child,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 14). That may be the result of the media’s attention to the number of young people who are driven to commit suicide. But even when it does not cause such tragedies, bullying leaves indelible scars.
Bullying can start in kindergarten, but it peaks in middle school when puberty makes its first dramatic presence. It’s estimated that about one in five students report being bullied each year. I suspect the number is higher because not all students report being victimized. They may feel embarrassed or intimidated.
The question is what to do about bullying. Parents can still report bullying to school officials. But even the most concerned officials find their hands tied when the complaint involves cyberbullying. Since it takes place off campus, there is very little that can be done legally. But even when it takes place on campus in the form of verbal abuse, traditional forms of punishment rarely work for very long. In fact, they may even exacerbate the problem.
Instead, I first suggest coaching the student being bullied on ways of standing up to the bully. If that doesn’t work, I recommend the use of restorative practices. Bringing together the students involved under the supervision of a trained practitioner is more likely to end the behavior. If bullying takes the form of physical abuse, however, then school officials have a legal duty to intervene in order to protect the victim.
When I was teaching at the same high school in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I witnessed several wild fistfights between students. Those students had crossed the line between bullying and assault. Fortunately, the school district had two officers permanently stationed on campus who were able to separate the brawlers.
The opinions expressed in Walt Gardner’s Reality Check are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.