During the past few years, the importance of addressing bullying has become increasingly apparent in the social work community. Research and anecdotal stories highlight the ways that bullying can negatively affect the school environment as well as interfere with students’ academic lives and mental health. The National Association of Social Work has called upon social workers to increase bullying awareness, reduce incidents of bullying and assist victims of bullying.
Children who are victims of physical bullying may be hit, shoved or kicked. Their property may be destroyed or vandalized. They’re often physically intimidated by children who make it clear that they’re not afraid to hurt others. Children who become victims of physical aggression become fearful of going to school.
Social work interventions often include creating safe environments for children because physical bullying can occur anywhere — such as on the bus or on the playground. It’s important for schools to establish policies to protect children and to continue monitoring safety issues after a child reports bullying behavior. Children who are subjected to bullying need to feel safe and it’s essential that adults respond to physical bullying in a helpful manner.
Bullying doesn’t necessarily need to become physical for it to be harmful. Children who are teased and called names can suffer serious effects. Verbal bullying may also include threats and subjecting others to obscene words or gestures. Unfortunately, many people believe that being picked on is a normal part of childhood and some adults just don’t take it seriously. Social workers should educate school officials, parents and other adults about the ways in which verbal bullying can be detrimental to a child’s well-being. Social workers can help children and adults learn to recognize verbal bullying and establish clear consequences for offenders.
Cyberbullying occurs on the Internet. Children may be harassed or picked on via social media, text messages or emails. While some cyber bullies try to publicly humiliate a victim, others subject victims to constant harassment.
Parents often benefit from learning about social media and the various ways children can become targeted. Keeping computers in common areas of the home, holding frequent discussions with children about cyberbullying, and providing them with reassurance that they can ask for parental assistance are all important steps in reducing cyberbullying.
Relational bullying is a less obvious form of bullying. It’s frequently passive-aggressive in nature as bullies try to ruin a peer’s reputation. Bullies may exclude victims, or attempt to publicly embarrass them, speak negatively about them or spread gossip.
Social workers can educate children, parents and teachers about how to recognize relational bullying. It can also be helpful to educate bystanders to respond assertively when they notice another peer being subjected to relational bullying. Social workers should assist adults in providing support to victims of relational bullying in an effective manner without minimizing the seriousness of the situation. As with other types of bullying, teaching assertiveness skills can help reduce bullying when both victims and bystanders are willing to speak up.
There are many helpful resources for professionals, parents and students.
Stopbullying.govoffers tips on how to prevent bullying as well as how to respond to various types of bullying.