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Cruel not Cool: Bullying

The prevalence of bullying in schools has been proliferating in recent years, with a recent study indicating an alarming 35% increase in school bullying behaviors from 2016 to 2019. Data from the National Center of Educational Statistics reveal that almost one out of every four kids will be bullied at some time throughout their adolescence and it’s not just the students being bullied that suffer detrimental consequences. Bullying affects almost every student, including those who bully others, those who are bullied, and the bystanders who witness the bullying. The school nurse can play a significant role in preventing and reducing the incidence of bullying and identifying students at school who are bullied, bully others, or both.

What is Bullying?

The CDC defines bullying as “any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance, and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated.” Bullying that is done in-person is known as “traditional” bullying while “cyberbullying” occurs through electronic communication, such as on social media sites, through texting and messaging, or using chat rooms. There are three major categories of bullying: physical (hitting, kicking, etc.), verbal (teasing, threatening, hate speech), and social/relational (starting rumors, excluding from groups).

Why do kids Bully?

When children feel secure and appropriately supported by their family, school, and social group, they are less likely to bully others.  While many factors can contribute to participation in bullying behaviors, certain risk factors may lead kids to bully including family factors (violence in the home, lack of emotional support, low parental involvement), emotional factors (low self-esteem, insecure, easily frustrated), and peer factors (desire for power, concerned about popularity, socially isolated).

Negative Impacts of Bullying

Bullying can have lasting effects on both the victim and the bully. In addition to physical symptoms including stomach pain, sleep disturbances, headaches, fatigue, and decreased appetite, victims of bullying are at a higher risk for depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, and dropping out of school. Kids who bully are more likely to develop substance abuse problems, suffer from mental health challenges, and experience other forms of violence throughout their life. Students who are both victims of bullying and also bullies themselves suffer the most severe consequences.

School-based Interventions

School-based bullying prevention programs have been shown to decrease bullying by up to 25% and school nurses are integral to their development, implementation, and success. Along with being a part of a multi-tiered school support system, school nurses can help educate their school communities, help to identify students who are bullied and those that bully others, and appropriately screen students with frequent, unexplained somatic complaints for possible bullying-related causes. By providing a safe, supportive environment for students to voice concerns related to their health and well-being, including bullying, school nurses are critical to school-wide prevention and mitigation strategies that comprehensively address the various aspects of bullying behavior and the types of environments that support it.

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