Written by Christine Cohen PhD, founder of the Stand By Me © Anti-Bullying Program
Bullying is a pervasive problem, nation-wide, with its resulting rates of depression, suicide, and retaliatory shootings endemic in the headlines. As a psychologist who works in the Texas public school system, I know first-hand the impact it can have. Just as it is important to reduce the incidence of bullying, it is equally important to give children tools to prevent and deal with bullying when it happens.
When it comes to safe-guarding the welfare of young people, particularly those of school age, schools and school districts across the country are under pressure to address the problem. State legislatures have taken legal action to require school districts to define bullying, to formally investigate complaints by students and parents, to publicize steps being taken to address it, and to make provision, both to safeguard the victim (even to transferring that student to another campus), and to discipline the bully.
One such definition, by the Texas state legislature, is that “Bullying” behavior
- Has the effect or will have the effect of physically harming a student, damaging a student’s property, or placing a student in reasonable fear of such harm.
- Is sufficiently severe, persistent, and pervasive enough that it creates an intimidating, threatening, or abusive educational environment.
This behavior is considered bullying if it:
- Exploits an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim, and
- Interferes with the student’s education or substantially disrupts the operation of the school.
The school board must have policies and procedures that prohibit bullying; prohibit retaliation against any person, including a victim or a witness, or another person, who in good faith provides information concerning an incident of bullying. They must have a procedure for notifying parents, establish actions a student should take to obtain help, and they must formally investigate and report such incidents.
Importantly, it also safeguards the victims themselves by prohibiting disciplining a student who, after an investigation, is found to be a victim of bullying, on the basis of that student’s reasonable use of self-defense.
As a psychologist, licensed specialist in school psychology, and founder of the Stand by Me© program, I work with student bystanders in public schools to teach them how to intervene when bullying happens. They learn how to support and remove the victim, thereby reducing the attention the bully receives for exploiting others, and defusing the audience. The number one reason students give me as to why student bystanders do not intervene when they see bullying, is because they are afraid of being targeted themselves. Even though, in our program, I teach student bystanders not to intervene in cases of physical aggression, but to alert an adult instead, it is evident in our training that students care deeply about the bullying problem and want to do everything they can to help.
Part of any defense against bullying is self-confidence, and bullying is not confined to the school environment.One way for students to build confidence in all settings is to take part in activities such as Krav Maga NYC. The self-defense taught through Krav Maga at the Krav Maga Institute NYC combines multiple skill sets. They emphasize building self-confidence, avoiding dangerous situations, knowing how to escape, how to get help, and how to fight back only if necessary. They help kids learn to stand up for themselves and to stand by their peers. Krav Maga NYC teaches that the best defense is to avoid the situation if possible and promotes skills such as de-escalation and “escape’ tactics. At the same time, if the child cannot avoid the situation, Krav Maga gives him or her the tools to be able to defend themselves.
In the past three years, the students with whom I work have safely intervened over 3,000 times in bullying situations . Kids are fighting back, in many ways, against bullying every day. It is important for parents to be aware of the high incidence of this behavior, to prepare their children to deal with it more effectively, and support their efforts to be bully-free.