With school starting again in districts all over the country, it is important for those of us in education to remember that in order for our students to learn and be successful in our classrooms, we must provide a safe environment in which children feel accepted and encouraged by their teachers and their peers. In other words, we need to work together to build bully-free schools.
We all know how common bullying is in schools, and we have certainly seen the terrible consequences of relentless bullying. The website eHow family recently provided some important information regarding this subject, and I would like to share some of its more salient points and conclude with a recent study regarding bullying and its possible affect on grades.
First, we are already aware that often bullies are kids who have been bullied themselves and are trying to regain some power by dominating someone else. But eHow family tells us that often these kids who become bullies were either abused by adults or witnessed some type of domestic violence at home. These kids generally target someone who is different or socially isolated to continue the pattern of abuse.
Kids who are bullied may experience problems in school, such as trouble concentrating. They usually experience difficulty interacting with their peers because they are self-conscious and afraid of rejection, especially if the child who is bullying them is accepted and liked by other children. The victim may begin to steer clear of school activities like class reports or presentations and group projects. Some will even stay home from school, resulting in excessive absences which lead to poor academic performance.
The self-image of a bullied child is adversely affected due to the emotional pain of name-calling and verbal harassment and the physical pain if they are being pushed, hit, etc. They begin to fear that all of their peers see them as the bully does; weak, or a “loser”. They may even begin to feel that they somehow deserve the bullying, which will negatively affect their social skills. And often, fear that they will be tormented even more if they tell an adult keeps them silent.
As children get older, their increased size and hormonal changes make them more aggressive. As a result, victims of bullying are at risk for more serious injuries. And both the victim and his bully have a greater risk of behaviors that include dropping out of school, running away from home, or alcohol and substance abuse. Teens who are bullied, as we have certainly read in recent news reports, may even become suicidal.
There are some devastating long-term effects of bullying which can last well into adulthood. Victims may have difficulty trusting others, fearing that they will always be hurt and betrayed which can affect their friendships and other relationships. It is also likely that that their relationship issues will affect future educational and career opportunities. A common issue shared by victims and bullies is anger. Victims may even hold on to a desire for retaliation.
Now, preliminary results from recent research indicate that bullying may contribute to a drop in high school students’ grade point averages (GPAs). The study polled 9,590 students from 580 U.S. high schools, and here’s what researchers found.
Compared to those who weren’t bullied, students who were bullied in tenth grade experienced a 0.049 drop in their GPA between ninth and twelfth grade.
Lisa M. Williams, the lead author and a doctoral student in sociology at Ohio State University, had this to say in a news release: “This effect, though small, is highly significant and suggests that bullying negatively affects GPA even after factoring in previous grades, family background and school characteristics often associated with achievement, which are all variables the study controls for.”
These effects were stronger among high-achieving black and Hispanic students. Black students, for example, who had a 3.5 in ninth grade and then were bullied in tenth, experienced a 0.3 points decrease by the time they reached twelfth grade. The drop was more significant for Hispanic students who started with a 3.5 GPA in ninth grade and reported being bullied in tenth; they experienced a 0.5 point decrease in their GPA by twelfth grade.
When you compare those statistics with those of white students with a 3.5 GPA in ninth grade who were bullied in tenth, their decrease was only 0.03 points by twelfth grade. So what is the difference?
“Stereotypes about black and Latino youth suggest that they perform poorly in school,” Williams said. “High-achieving blacks and Latinos who do not conform to these stereotypes may be especially vulnerable to the effect bullying has on grades.”
So, what’s the point? Very simply, no matter how you feel personally about the issue of bullying in schools, it is clearly a detriment in regards to students’ ability to succeed both emotionally and academically. We owe it to our students to do more than most schools currently do to get a handle on this pervasive issue.
I volunteered recently to take a newly enrolled student who is attending our school this year to escape ongoing bullying at his previous school. My question is this: If schools are doing all they can to establish a zero tolerance of bullying, why would any student have to leave a school to escape being bullied?
It is clear that we are not effectively resolving bullying issues in our schools. Too many of us have the attitude that bullying has always been around, will always be around, and we aren’t going to be able to stop it. We need to change that way of thinking.
I am not naive enough to think that all bullying is going to be irradiated in our schools, but we certainly owe it to our students to make it a priority to teach children at an early age that bullying is unacceptable. We need to teach, as part of our curriculum, how to affectively get along with others even when they are different from ourselves.
Every essential skill that students need to learn to be successful in and out of school requires repeated reinforcement. So too, interpersonal skills need to be reinforced just as persistently.
And when bullying occurs in our schools, we need to act every time, relaying the clear message that our schools are bully-free zones.
We can change the way children interact with other children, but like anything else we teach, it will take time, perseverance, and commitment. I think it’s well worth the effort.
What about you?