Reducing bullying and cyber bullying

6. Don’t neglect elementary school students.

Both bullying and cyber bullying start young. Although we tend to neglect these topics until middle school, the fact is that the seeds of bullying are sown at a young age. And that includes cyber bullying: In a study conducted in 2008, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting found that 72 percent of all first graders used the internet at least once a week during the summer. Anecdotally, at MARC we have seen cases of cyber bullying involving second graders.

The good news is that young elementary students are very willing and able to internalize rules about behavior. Thus, it is important to teach them that being a good person on the computer is just as important as being a good person on the playground. MARC offers a curriculum on bullying and cyber bullying for grades K-5. You can read about it on our web site and request a copy online.

7. To get the kids to report, you must connect with them emotionally on some level.

We’re not saying you should be best friends with your students; only that your students need to know that you care about them and their welfare. Kids today are still reporting bullying to adults at very low levels. Boys particularly, in our research, are not reporting to educators. Why aren’t kids reporting?  More than 80 percent of the boys and girls in our research revealed that when they did report, no action was taken as a result. They took a big risk in “telling,” but as far as they knew, nothing was done.

Of course, confidentiality laws (both federal and, in many states, local) prohibit educators from telling a person specifics about any action taken against another student. But these laws don’t prohibit you from telling a student, “We’re not ignoring your report. We are working on it,” and that’s exactly what reporters need to hear.

8. Girls might need particular attention, socially.

In our research, male cyber bullies tended to attack strangers, acquaintances, or kids who were friends long ago. Girls, on the other hand, tended to attack their friends or those with whom they were recently friends. This is a finding of particular concern, because it means that girls are attacking the very foundations of their social support.

Adolescence is a time when kids are learning how to form the long-term friendships they will depend upon as adults. So be aware of the girls you teach: They might need your help in learning to appreciate and protect their social infrastructure—not attack it.

9. Take a moment to reinforce patient, kind, and friendly behaviors.

We all know that the carrot works better than the stick. When you notice a child being particularly good-hearted—especially in a potentially difficult situation, like when helping a classmate understand something, or sticking up for another child—be sure to let them know that you personally appreciate and admire their behavior.  Better yet, use a classroom recognition system for the students who behave so well.

10. Enlist the kids in your efforts.

Although adults can be key players, it’s the kids themselves who are the ultimate arbiters of their group’s social behavior. Ask your students what kinds of bullying problems they notice, and what rules they believe should address those problems. Then sit back and watch them enforce their own rules with enthusiasm!

The Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center is an academic center at Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts. We offer K-12 schools in Massachusetts free programs and services by running a training program for graduate and undergraduate students in higher education. Everyone benefits: Future educators receive unique field training, and K-12 schools receive high-quality, no-cost programs and services. Our web site ( offers many free downloads, games, tips, and curricula for all schools, and parent downloads that are available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Elizabeth Englander, Ph.D., is director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center (MARC) at Bridgewater State University. Kristin Schank is a graduate assistant at MARC.

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