As bullying revives, so must solutions

After a decline in youth bullying, incidents may again be rising. Adults have wise approaches to fix it.

Pupils do a role-play lesson in social media use in Essen, Germany. Experts say teens teaching younger school mates how to deal with cyber-bullying have proven to be successful.

In recent years, bullying among American youths was in decline. Yet a new report from the National Center for Education Statistics suggests incidents are back on the rise. The report didn’t look at causes. One possibility is that efforts to educate young people about the issue have resulted in more cases being reported. Still, the problem has not gone away. It needs special vigilance to prevent harm to anyone.

The reasons that kids harass each other, either in person or remotely via digital devices, are complex. This means parents, teachers, and other caring adults need an approach that is thoughtful and flexible. Bullying has many forms, from verbal abuse (name calling, spreading rumors, threats, shunning, etc.) to physical abuse (hitting, tripping, and so on). Victims can experience depression, substance abuse, or sleep difficulties. They may develop academic problems or drop out of school. Some are physically harmed or die by suicide. First responders to an incident need to make clear to an offender that the behavior is wrong and that they will work with the individual to ensure that it stops.

Experts says there are some things adults should not do. Threatening severe punishment, for example, may be counterproductive as it may result in fewer reports of incidents by children or parents. Removing an offender from school should occur only after efforts to improve behavior fail, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

Adults can become too fearful that death by suicide is a possibility. Though a connection can be made between bullying and suicidal behaviors, that connection can easily be overstated and even counterproductive. Suicide is the result of many factors, including mental health issues. Even introducing the topic into a discussion about bullying among youths could lead to what the HRSA calls “suicide contagion.”

Many of those who bully others have been subjected to bullying themselves. Effective counseling includes changing attitudes rather than simply punishing. Talking with children about the problem, explaining why it is wrong and how to prevent it, will help. So will including school lessons that highlight models of positive behavior. With enough patience, and commitment, these approaches can again send bullying into decline.

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