HRC Blog

Why Are Students Silent About Bullying?

Post submitted by Cathy Tully, Welcoming Schools Regional Consultant

welcoming schools logoLaShonda had not been at school for four days and even before that her attendance had been a problem. According to her Grandma, she cried and complained about not feeling well every morning. Although Grandma took her to the doctor, no reason for her symptoms was discovered.

As a school administrator tasked with improving attendance, I scheduled a time when I could go and see LaShonda and Grandma at their house. After a lot of talking, I was able to put two and two together and guess that LaShonda was being bullied by some of the girls in her class because of her weight.

Grandma was also a very large woman and this was part of the reason LaShonda had not told her Grandma about this problem.

After some discussion with LaShonda’s class about treating all people with respect, having the students participate in some role play exercises involving many different scenarios (including those involving appearance and weight) things improved - including LaShonda’s attendance. 

Time after time we hear about students who have been bullied by peers severely and repeatedly for years. Frequently, family members have no idea this is going on.

LaShonda’s case is one with a happy outcome, but often it is much harder to get at the truth. According to Robers, et al (2012), 28% of students ages 12 to 18 were bullied at school during the 2008-2009 school year. The highest prevalence of bullying seems to occur in Grade 6, with 39% of students reporting they were bullied and then gradually decreases to 20% in Grade 12. 

As family members and educators, we often wonder why these students don’t come to us for help. Reportedly, 18% of third graders don't report bullying to adults. By 12th grade that number is up to 47%.

When asked, students relayed four main reasons for not telling an adult. They report that negative messages about “tattling” and “snitching”; pressures on boys to handle things themselves; concern about retaliation; and a lack of confidence in adults’ actions.

While 90% of students in grades 3-5 felt sorry when they observe bullying, that seldom transferred into action, (Olweus & Limber 2010). The observers, or bystanders, whether in 3rd grade or 12th grade, often aren’t sure what to do.

Students themselves must be educated on the negative effects of bullying behavior on the entire school environment. They must have the opportunity to explore the choices they have when they observe bullying. They must have opportunities to engage in role play so they will know how to react without having to think.

And they must have the courage to collectively step forward and state equivocally that bullying behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Finally, schools must recognize and reward students for being the opposite of a bystander - an upstander.

Visit StopBullying.gov for a great infographic with more facts about bullying and citations for the studies mentioned above.

HRCF's Welcoming Schools program offers a wide range of resources for school administrators and educators to support students. Welcoming Schools’ new film What Can We Do? Bias, Bullying, and Bystanders shows how educators can address bias-based bullying by empowering students to be upstanders and engaging in open discussions about respecting differences.

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