You expect that your kids will learn about subjects like reading, writing, math and science in schools, but what about bullying? In what class would it be taught? And are students properly educated about it?
Perhaps bullying isn’t the most common school subject, but it should definitely be top of mind for parents, teachers and students alike — especially since 57 percent of children who are bullied don’t report it according to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2016. And being bullied doesn’t just make a child feel bad; bullied students have also indicated that bullying has a negative effect on their physical health according to NCES. And don’t forget: Bullying doesn’t just happen on the playground or in the hallways, but online. In fact, 90 percent of teens who have been cyberbullied said they’ve been bullied offline as well according to a 2015 study in Perspectives on Psychological Science.
All students should be educated about bullying at a young age. But are they? The Every Student Succeeds Act focuses on equal opportunities for students, which is important, but there is no act in place that fights for anti-bullying enforcement on school campuses.
We asked 13 kids who are currently in or recently graduated from high school in various states what they were actually taught about bullying in school. The answers vary widely. (The children’s names are withheld to protect their privacy.)
“Bullying affects others & lowers their confidence”
“I’ve learned that bullying also comes from the bully’s family background. Usually, they do this as a result of having bad parents, family upbringing or family stress.” — New York, graduated high school in 2015
“Bullying affects others and lowers their confidence, which would make them feel unhappy about themselves as a person, whether it’s physically or mentally. It could also lead to depression, self-harm and much darker places.” — California, current junior in high school
“Bullying was defined to us as the repeated abuse of a person(s) by a bigger, more insecure or even more popular person. Verbal, physical and online abuse all fall under the category of ‘bullying,’ as long as it is repeated. The repetitious aspect is always stressed, as there is a difference between bullying and just simply being mean.” — New York, current sophomore in high school
But just because they know what bullying is doesn’t mean kids always recognize it when it’s happening. We were surprised to learn that some students thought bullying didn’t exist at their school — despite statistics that state otherwise (more than 1 out of every 5 students report being bullied according to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2016). And perhaps even worse, some students think bullying is just a normal part of life.
‘I don’t see bullying in my school’
“Bullying wasn’t really taught, at least at my school. Maybe because it didn’t exist due to the diverse cultures and ethnicities or maybe because I never noticed it.” — California, graduated high school in 2015
“I don’t see bullying in my school, and maybe it’s because Olweus [a bullying prevention program] has helped or maybe I’m just not around those people.” — New York, current sophomore in high school
So, where’s the disconnect between the numbers and the kids? It seems it’s all in the way kids are taught about bullying — if they’re taught about it at all. We found that a number of students who learn about bullying either don’t find the topic engaging or are learning about it only after an incident occurs.
‘I don’t think schools are doing enough’
“It wasn’t until a girl a few grades below me was arrested for cyberbullying that we were given an assembly about the different ways to bully, what constitutes bullying and consequences for bullying. Now they hold the assembly every year.” — New York, graduated high school in 2014
“Some of [the information] was helpful for the beginning since I was only in fifth grade and was completely oblivious to bullying. But I think by eighth grade it was very repetitive. It became more of a recital than what is supposed to be an informing and engaging experience.” — California, current senior in high school
“I don’t think schools are doing enough. As an education minor, we learn that teaching kids tolerance isn’t enough. To live a happy, healthy existence, people don’t want to just be ‘tolerated.’ They want to be accepted and understood for who they are. I think that in order to improve this, we need to make time to make social justice topics a part of our lessons in school. Issues such as gender, sexual orientation, race and just acceptance in general need to be taught in schools from a fairly young age. This is often restricted because of conflicting ideals about things such as homosexuality. Teachers/schools are often uncomfortable teaching kids these things because they fear being reprimanded by parents that may not agree. But kids don’t just have proper social skills — they have to learn them, and if their parents aren’t teaching them these skills, then they should be a part of the K – 12 curriculum.” — Wisconsin, graduated high school in 2015
“I think [schools should’ve talked about bullying] more and insisted [on] it more during middle school and maybe the first year of high school. The approach should have been more cautious and serious.” — California, graduated high school in 2015
“Many times, teachers do not want to get involved in student affairs, so they neglect to recognize bullying as it happens. Teachers and administration need to be taught to recognize bullying even in indirect forms and have the ability to stop it as it happens.” — North Carolina, current senior in high school
“I don’t think bullying programs helped at all. The schools should make programs to help ease kids into the fact that in their life, yes, someone will slander their name to other people, and that is just how life is.” — California, graduated high school in 2015
A version of this article was originally published in April 2016.