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No student can make it through elementary education without a run-in with a bully at one time or another. Bullying is as prevalent in American schools as lunchboxes.

But what if it wasn’t?

It’s hard to imagine a peaceful afterschool bus ride or a playground where aggression is only ever directed towards the kickball.

But countless organizations exist that are trying to accomplish the seemingly impossible: put an end to bullying at schools nationwide!

Recently, the severest consequences of bullying have been extensively covered by national news media. You might have heard or read about the tragic case of Phoebe Prince, a student at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts who committed suicide on January 14, 2010 after suffering months of relentless bullying from her classmates.

Let me point out this important distinction between teasing—which might be a remark that, though hurtful, is a common occurrence that most people experience before leaving grade school—and bullying. Bullying is “aggressive behavior that is intentional and that involves and imbalance of power or strength. Typically it is repeated over time,” according to

After months of relentless and malicious pursuit, any person with feelings will try to find a way to make the torment stop. Tragically, Phoebe Prince felt that the only way to escape the bullying was to end her own life.

More often, though, people who are bullied experience a lack of engagement and learning in school, low self-esteem, fear, loneliness and depression. Unfortunately, 25 percent of teachers still see nothing wrong with bullying and fail to intervene. Even when students do not react violently towards themselves or others, bullying is a serious problem that should not be ignored by adults.

Some adults do not attempt to put a stop to bullying because they are unaware that the harassment is taking place. Some students feel that alerting an adult to the situation will cause them to be labeled a “tattletale” and instigate more taunting. But bystanders to bullying should take action to diffuse the issue because even students who are only privy to the situation are also negatively affected by feelings of fear, distraction and guilt.

It’s also important to keep in mind the fact that bullying comes in multiple forms; it’s limited to some big mean kid pounding on anyone who looks at him wrong.

Though bullying can manifest in physical violence, it also includes verbal harassment (like name-calling), nonverbal or emotional bullying (which includes passive-aggression like social exclusion and spreading rumors) and cyberbullying (via text messages or email, for example.) Though verbal bullying is the most frequently experienced kind of bullying by both girls and boys, it comes as no surprise that nonverbal bullying happens more often with girls while physical bullying is more likely to take place between boys.

Bullying should also be treated as a problem for the bully; it’s a sign of antisocial or violent behavior that can develop into criminal activities for many young people. While bullies exclude others from feeling like a valuable part of the school community, they might be acting out of similar feelings of exclusion or neglect themselves.

This anti-bullying ad shows an example of verbal bullying and how one student chose to stand up for another, putting an end to the teasing:

One way to best treat the problem of bullying is to incorporate all of the people involved in the situation to agree upon a solution. Teachers, administrators and parents should meet with students in a comfortable, encouraging environment and allow the bullies in addition to the bullied to create resolutions. Bullying is often difficult to discuss openly because of social shame and stigma, but when individuals engage in frank conversation about what’s going on, they learn a lot about themselves and how to empathize with others. These communication and conflict resolution skills will be invaluable as young people grow into the adult world.

Another way people are trying to approach the trouble of bullying is through legislation. According to Miriam Rollins, national director of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids and former prosecutor in an NPR interview with Michel Martin, right now is the time to focus on “evidence-based approaches at the federal level to help schools and school districts do what’s effective,” to combat bullying.

In the U.S., 42 states have passed laws regarding anti-bullying policies required for school districts. In North Carolina, the General Assembly’s School Violence Prevention Act (which you can read here as the Senate Bill 526) was passed in June, 2009 and requires that all local school administrative units adopt a policy prohibiting bullying and harassing behavior.

In the case of Phoebe Prince, Massachusetts legislators passed a bill regarding anti-bullying policies in 2010 and six students have been charged with various crimes in connection with her death which in some cases include assault with a deadly weapon and statutory rape.

Bullying is a social phenomenon that is familiar to many; however, the extent of the effects of bullying on the social fabric of our society is still unknown. By raising awareness and educating students, teachers, administrators and parents, we can eradicate harmful bullying from communities across the United States.

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