Bullying Then and Now

Guest Post by Sandra McLeod Humphrey 

School bullying is nothing new and was once considered a character-building rite of passage for our children, but now it is seen for what it is–a form of victimization and abuse which can leave lasting psychological scars. 

Unfortunately, school bullying is on the rise everywhere, and schools need to have anti-bullying policies in place and operational. The stories in my book Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs are all based on actual bullying experiences students shared with me during my school visits and is dedicated to a 12-year-old Minnesota boy who took his own life as a result of being bullied. Unfortunately, bullycides are becoming all too common these days. 

During my school visits, we role-played different bullying scenarios, so that the students could “feel” the same situation from the perspective of the bully, the bully’s victim, and the bystander and I always emphasized the importance of the role of the bystander who can inadvertently (or sometimes purposely) facilitate the bullying situation.  

The difference between bullying then and now is that, in the past, a student was able to get away from the bullies and find at least temporary refuge in his or her own home. There is no such refuge for today’s victims with the advent of cyberbullying. Bullying that begins at school can continue via cell phone and the social networking sites. Victims can feel overwhelmed and powerless, sometimes leaving them to believe that suicide is their only option. 

The good news is that public awareness about the serious ramifications of bullying is increasing, thanks to anti-bullying campaigns and new legislation; TV coverage by people such as Anderson Cooper, Dr Phil, and Oprah Winfrey; the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention; and even students themselves (see http://youtu.be/5IJA-uxretY

Like any other kind of abuse, school bullying is intolerable and it’s time for all of us to dispel the old adage that “Sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Words do hurt! 

Some Parental Tips:

1. Listen: Encourage your children to talk about school,

    friends, activities, etc.

2. Take your children’s complaints of bullying seriously:

    Remember that children are often afraid or ashamed to

    tell parents that they have been bullied and a simple

    bullying incident may turn out to be quite significant.

3) Watch for symptoms of victimization: social withdrawal,

    drop in grades, personality changes, etc.

4) Use children’s books to initiate a discussion about


Judy Blume’s Blubber is a classic novel about classroom dynamics, shifting alliances, and the bullying that can go on unseen by adults. Trudy Ludwig’s Just Kidding emphasizes the distinction between tattling (trying to get someone in trouble) and reporting (trying to help someone in trouble).  And my book Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs offers specific bullying scenarios which encourage readers to talk about the choices they would make in those situations.   

Some Student Tips (Remember, bullying is all about power, so try not to give the bully that power):

1) Ignore the bully when possible: the bully is waiting for

    you to react, so stay calm and don’t react when


2) There’s strength in numbers: bullies generally don’t

    pick on groups, so hang with your friends.

3) Don’t retaliate in kind: this usually will just escalate

    the situation. Violence usually leads to more violence.

4) Tell an adult you trust: If the bullying continues, tell

    a parent or teacher or some other adult you trust. 

5) Don’t underestimate your role as bystander: bystanders

    can unintentionally (or sometimes intentionally) have

    the power to facilitate or stop the bullying situation.

Remember, No one deserves to be bullied, so don’t suffer in silence. Do something or tell someone! 

Some Suggested Internet Resources:

International Bullying Prevention Association: http://www.stopbullyingworld.org/

i-SAFE: http://www.isafe.org/

Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: http://www.olweus.org

Rachel’s Challenge: http://www.rachelschallenge.org/

Stop Bullying Now: http://www.stopbullyingnow.com/ 

Sandra McLeod Humphrey is a retired clinical psychologist, a character education consultant, and an award-winning author of eight middle-grade and young adult books.  She’s also the recipient of the National Character Education Center’s Award for Exemplary Leadership in Ethics Education (2000) and the 2005 Helen Keating Ott Award for Outstanding Contribution to Children’s Literature. You can learn more about her books by visiting her Web site  at http://www.kidscandoit.com.


Posted on July 18, 2012, in Children/Juvenile, Education. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. This isn't something that will go away with age, unfortunately. We just went through a bullying issue with our teen daughter. Our daughter was standing up for her personal beliefs and a 30 year old woman was bullying so bad, she ended up telling our daughter to kill herself. Yep, the doo hit the fan and we took care of business!!

  2. Sandra,Your work is great! What a grand article and great points.I have similar posts and articles on my site.Cherrye

  3. These are really all great tips. I was bullied as a child and I know it was nice to be able to go home and not have to deal with the bully I dealt with at school. I think a lot of times kids think it is normal especially when their parents do not try to protect them. Offering your kids words of encouragement is nice, but telling your child that the bully is lying doesn't really help in this case. I think kids need to see their parents actively trying to get the bullying to stop. It's a hard road and it breaks my heart when I here about another precious teen committing suicide because of bullying. It breaks my heart because I know that they were worth more than they had thought, and it also breaks my heart because I know how they felt…

  4. Excellent commentary and solid advice. I agree that communication between parents and children is paramount. I always told my children that a bully is someone who hurts others because they are hurting themselves. It taught them to feel sorry for the bully and facilitated either a non-reaction or the ability to stand up for themselves. The video is likewise very well-done and should be effective with the advisors being students themselves. Great message that needs to be spread far and wide.

  5. I appreciate this informative and insightful article about bullying. It is a real concern and issue in our schools. This article could open a valuable dialogue between a parent/child, teacher/child. I look forward to reading your book.

  6. Thank you, Sandra, for your well-written and informative post. You've included a wealth of useful information in this short piece, along with links to even more help for parents, bullies, and their victims. Your dedication to this growing problem will surely change many lives for the better.

  7. Very timely article about bullying. Is it getting worse or do we hear more about it? I feel it's worse. I remember being the odd guy who tried to get in the middle of the bullies and the victims and ended up with a broken nose and busted lip in middle school. Thanks, Sandra, for posting this. I hope many parents read it.

  8. When I was young it was very common to be bullied by your own brothers and sisters. Families were huge back then, it wasn't uncommon to have 8-11 children in a family. I think because it WAS so common it was overlooked. The tears shed were only one more thing to be picked on for, and parents were so busy with all the rest of the family that many times the child was just told to grow up. Today's world is different in that the abuse of bullying comes in so many new ways, the cyber attacks are absolutely horrible. I am very happy that so many authors are bringing these issues to the open, especially in children's books. The love and nurturing of parents and siblings need to be evident to the child too. Thank you, Sandy for what you do to help the innocents. Deirdre

  9. As always, yours is a comprehensive, well thought out message that not only pertains to children, but to the parents as well. Many parents are in the dark and are not detecting the signals that their child is emitting. Some serious help, especially at the local school level is critical for parents to learn how to handle this serious social nightmare. It is a nightmare for our children and so the parents need to take a far more active role. I'm suggesting that a monthly parent-teacher assembly be established in every school community and factor in an expert speaker/facilitor on occasion (parents would each be assessed a fee to pay the speaker on those occasions since they are the benefactor as well as their children).Sandra – you would be such a speaker and if travel costs are a factor, then on those special occasions, the board of education must kick in as well.I'm suggesting that a full on community effort must occur before the message is out there that these bullies are being watched. I would also extend such conversations to cover the reasons why kids bully in the first place, and attempt to implement community solutions for that as well, example: counselling.

  10. Thank you, Sandra, for this article. Bullying has almost become a pasttime with some kids… especially on the internet. When I was in high school I was one of those who considered suicide because of how badly I was treated. But, praise God, a teacher connected with me and it began the process of me learning and growing beyond the insults and ridicule. It took courage, but I was able to talk to my parents about what was happening and it built a relationship of openness with them that I still enjoy today. Let me encourage any teacher who reads this: pay attention to the students around you. You might just be the one person that God will use to bring a child through a very difficult time. If you see their value and can show them their worth, then they will begin to climb out of the darkness of being a victim and begin to find victory instead.As always… in His Grace,Michael

  11. Excellent tips, Sandra. Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs is a book I think every school-aged child and their parents should read. In fact, I think it should be mandatory reading in class.

  12. Kathryn Holmes

    Likely we have all heard of school bullying. This is a serious issue and not something we can ignore. We know it exists. What can we do? Sandra provides parents, teachers, and students a few ways in which to help the person being bullied. She also offers us resources to further investigate this situation and what we can do to help. Her book, "Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity, and Put-Downs" is an excellent way to open conversation with your children on this issue. Are they being bullied? Do they know of someone in their school who is being bullied? Thank you Sandy for not letting this issue go unnoticed.

  13. I guess I was fortunate not to be bullied, but I'm not sure I would have recognized it due to the extreme discipline my parents administered. Even as we talk about what we can do to stop the bully, I think we also need to talk more about personal strength that enables us to deal with bullying. A child who does not feel loved is already a victim just ready to be bullied. Parents must be sure that their children know they are loved even when they are being disciplined. They must not be allowed to think their parents scorn them just because their parents apply punishment. I made sure my own kids knew that I was angry with their behavior, but I loved them anyway. I made sure that they knew that the punishment was about the behavior, not about my love or regard for them. My own parents, especially my mother, might be called bullies today, because they made fun of us in our hearing when talking to their friends. Children really have no place to go if they think their parents will believe they are to blame for whatever happens, even if what happens is bullying.

  14. Sandra — Your insight and suggestions are not only informative, but are necessary tools for a youngster to counter bulling. As a retired teacher teacher, I can vouch that the bullying scenario has left many a student intimidated, defeated, and shunned . . . often without escape or recourse. A full scale awareness of the problem is way overdue, and it's good to see people, like yourself, take such initiative in helping victims avoid or recover from the onslaught. Thanks for your noble effort . . . and better yet, for putting it in print as a formidable resource.

  15. Amanda, I'm afraid you're so right–unfortunately, there's no age limit for bullying!Thanks for stopping by, Cherrye, I know that we share many of the same goals and objectives.It breaks my heart too, Heather–especially the bullycides!Thanks for stopping by, Linnea. It's interesting because we used to think that bullies had low self-esteem, but now studies are finding that bullies actually have high self-esteem.Thanks for your comments, Rose, that's why I made my books interactive–so that they could facilitate active dialogue between parents and their kids and/or teachers and their students.

  16. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment, Sandy, at least the bullying issue is beginning to get the attention it deserves!Thanks for stopping by, Sid, and I think it's partly the modern technology that's making the situation worse–the bullied victims have no respite from the bullying, even in their own homes.What great suggestions, Linda, one of the things I found most useful when I was doing school visits was to role-play different bullying scenarios with the students. It always amazed me how little insight and empathy the students had until they were role-playing the bully's victim and could actually "feel" how the victim felt. I think many of our kids have become way too desensitized to emotional pain these days and are lacking empathy for those in pain. Thanks for stopping by!Thanks for your comments, Michael, and you were fortunate to have adults in your life who were there for you. Unfortunately, I think there are a lot of kids today who feel "alone" and have no one they can turn to for help. Thanks so much for stopping by!Thanks, Darcia, there are actually some really great books out there. I particularly like Trudy Ludwig's books–she does a wonderful job of reaching kids. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  17. Thanks for your comment, Kathi. I think that's part of the problem–because of the "shame" factor, kids often don't tell their parents. I think that's where dialoguing with your kids via stories in a book can really help to facilitate discussions of this nature. Thanks for stopping by!Thanks for your comment, Peter. As a retired teacher, I'm sure you saw many bullying scenarios where the victims were frequently emotionally scarred. Now the bullying is so much more pervasive that the victim has no real refuge from the bullying. When I did my school visits, I always stressed the role of the bystander because the bystander can inadvertently (or sometimes purposely) stop or facilitate the bullying. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  18. Bullying goes back to cave man days and occurs among animals. I was bullied, which destroyed my self-esteem as an adult, my kids were bullied, one becoming a bully himself in retalliation, and my grandkids have been bullied. I agree with some of the comments here attributing cell phones, texting and Internet hangouts like Facebook that facillitate bullying among adults as well as children. Now that this has become an issue, due to efforts by advocates to confront and destroy this personality destroying habit, we can hope to see some changes in the future. "Hot Issues, Cool Choices: Facing Bullies, Peer Pressure, Popularity and Put-Downs, by Sandra McLeod Humphrey, is a powerful tool in this endeavor. Having read this book, I would endorse it as a must read for parents and caretakers as well as required reading in schools.

  19. This is an excellent article with clearly presented facts and helpful tips. I believe that the breakdown in family relations have led to children without the protection that they need and some become the tormentors and others the tormented. I think your book should be required reading in school and used in group sessions. Good work

  20. Thanks for your comments, Micki, I really think our generation has become somewhat desensitized to others' feelings and that somehow we have to regain our empathy for others. Thanks so much for stopping by!Thanks, Yvonne, children need to feel "safe" and, unfortunately, many kids these days no longer feel safe either at school or at home. Thanks for dropping by!

  21. Great suggestions and resources, Sandra! I loved the video by the Randolph High School students, too. It is frightening to see what's happening with bullying and cyberbullying today. I added your post link to my post at Raising Figure Skaters called "Do You Follow the Thumper Theory?": http://raisingfigureskaters.com/2011/10/28/do-you-follow-the-thumper-theory/

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