Empower students, not staff, to address bullying


Graphic by Jalen McKinney

Luke Widenhouse

Every day, 160,000 children skip school due to fear of being bullied. As someone who has experienced it from fifth to eighth grade, I can say that bullying is horrible. It is obviously a problem which needs fixing, yet most solutions put forward fail to understand the effects of bullying and almost always fail to actually take steps to prevent the problem.

First, most solutions aim to target and prevent so-called “hurtful” language. All fine and good, I suppose, but there’s just one problem: words aren’t what hurts. My problem was mainly with social bullying; it was never the words that hurt. No matter how horrible something someone says to you is, the truth is that words can be shrugged off. The feeling of isolation, of loneliness, that no one is there for you, is what truly affects you.

Research also indicates that it’s the feeling of loneliness that constitutes the problem. Suicide, when it’s a result of bullying, is primarily based on a feeling of isolation and friendlessness more than anything said that may have been hurtful.

Additionally, everyone has a unique case when it comes to bullying. Not only are there different types, but where one solution might be fine for some, the same solution might contribute to the problem for others.

Usually, solutions to bullying involve creating a “safe space” where people can go and be away from the hurtful language. Other common solutions I’ve seen focus on targeting the bully, reprimanding them and then contacting the parents for further discipline.

The problem with safe spaces is that they don’t address the problem. They encourage people to shield themselves from the outside, surrounded by a bubble which prevents people from solving the problem. They don’t prevent bullying, they merely shield the bullied briefly from the outside world and when the bubble is broken, the person has no methods with which to confront the bully.

The problem with involving disciplinary methods is that they also don’t really serve to address the problem. What administrators and social workers have yet to realize is that for all the literature out there on preventing bullying, no person can possibly have all the knowledge needed to address problems. Administrators don’t know what it’s like to be students, no matter how much they try. These solutions, if they serve to do anything at all, create bitterness and anger toward the tattle regardless of whether or not the person who reported the problem was justified.

The first thing that we must do is stop involving administrators and staff in these matters as they cannot possibly understand the needs of every individual in question. It might be beneficial to set up a student-run organization which aims at specifically resolving the issue. Students could take their concerns to the organization and it could act as an impartial mediator, trying to figure out how they could resolve the problem. Of course, this organization would be aimed specifically at addressing and preventing verbal and cyberbullying—physical bullying is a bit of a different animal, and there is no reason why administrators and other forms of authority should not be involved in these matters more heavily. However, it would still help if some students were at the very least consulted even in matters of physical bullying.

Ultimately, solutions ought to focus on providing for the needs of every person rather than on a broad formula which cannot flexibly adapt from person to person.