Take Five for Education: UT Expert on Helping Kids Deal with Bullies

KNOXVILLE — A Florida father storms a school bus after hearing that his handicapped daughter was being bullied by classmates.

A 15-year-old Massachusetts girl hangs herself after months of hallway and online tormenting from classmates.

A 13-year-old Texas boy hangs himself in his family’s barn after being stuck in a trash can because he was small.

These stories, unfortunately, are just the tip of the iceberg. U.S. Bureau of Justice statistics say one in three children in grades 6-10 are either bullies or the victims of bullying.

Professor David Dupper of the College of Social Work at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, spent nearly 15 years working as a social worker in middle and high schools in Florida before his work in higher education. He’s written two books, numerous book chapters and many papers on topics including school violence, bullying, school discipline and at-risk students.

Dupper, also the father of three girls — a recent college graduate, a college sophomore and a high school junior — said parents and teachers must be proactive to prevent bullying and to intervene when their children are the victims of bullying. Here are five things parents and teachers need to know about bullying:

  1. Understand the difference between teasing and bullying. “Teasing takes place between peers who are comparable in status,” Dupper said. “In bullying, someone has power over another individual because they’re physically bigger or belong to a bigger group.” Bullying is often chronic. It occurs in places with little adult supervision, such as buses or bathrooms. Bullying tends to peak in the late-elementary and middle school years. “That’s when parents really have to be tuned in and encourage their children to tell them if anything is going on,” Dupper said. “Probe. Explore. Don’t be afraid to talk to your kids. They probably won’t speak up first; they think they can handle it themselves, or they’re afraid of making things worse if they tell an adult.”
  2. Understand the difference between genders when it comes to bullying. “Girls are usually emotionally bullied; boys get it both ways, physically and emotionally,” Dupper said. Girl bullies tend to gossip, make fun of their victims or exclude them from the group. Boy bullies verbally abuse, but often resort to physical assaults, too. While anyone can fall prey to a bully, kids most at risk are those who are loners or different in the way they dress, look or act.
  3. Teach kids the difference between standing up for themselves and dealing with a bully. “Never expect a victim of bullying to deal with the bully themselves,” Dupper said. Parents and school officials must intervene. “The only way a child is going to feel safe saying something to an adult is to know that the adult will take the bullying situation seriously and protect them.”
  4. Be informed about — and be an advocate for — school policies and laws concerning bullying. “Bullying is peer child abuse,” Dupper said. Parents should find out if their school district has a specific policy against bullying and, if it doesn’t, try to get one enacted. Parents also can encourage their children’s schools to mount anti-bullying campaigns with posters and discussions that provide examples of bullying behavior. Heightened awareness means “it’s much less likely a bully is going to get away with it,” he said.
  5. Don’t be a bully. “Kids model the behavior that they observe in their immediate environments and in the society at large. Kids learn by watching the behavior of adults. They can learn to intimidate and overpower others or they can learn to deal with others in respectful ways. The bottom line is — adults need to model the behavior that they want kids to exhibit,” Dupper said.

C O N T A C T :

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, amy.blakely@tennessee.edu)

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