Bullying at school is one of the most discussed issues in education and parenting today. According to Stopbullying.gov, a national task force devoted to the prevention of bullying, 39 percent of sixth graders and 28 percent of high school students have been bullied at some point. From teasing in the hallways to outright threats via social media or text message, in recent years bullying has taken on more serious — and devastating — consequences.
Kids who are bullied experience a number of negative issues, including physical and mental problems. Some of the effects of bullying won’t be immediately apparent, but a decline in academic performance tends to be quite noticeable. A change in academic achievement may come on gradually or it may happen abruptly; furthermore, academic performance may wax and wane as bullying occurs or does not occur during various time periods.
Less Frequent Class Participation
Children who are being bullied are often reluctant to draw attention to themselves. Most want to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible, so as to avoid giving their tormentors more fodder for their merciless teasing — or more sinister threats. The desire to become “invisible” often extends to the classroom and causes academic problems. Victims may be less willing to ask questions, for fear of becoming a target, and instead muddle through without a true understanding of what’s being taught. They are also less likely to be forthcoming with answers or insights; when class participation is a part of the grade, that reluctance to participate can be a problem.
Many children who are being bullied simply don’t want to go to school. The stress of being a target can cause actual physical ailments, while in other cases the victim pretends to be ill in order to stay home. Others might skip classes, opting to spend class time hiding out. Regardless of how they manage to avoid school, the effect is the same: students who miss school do not perform well academically. Not only do they miss valuable instruction time, they also miss deadlines, tests and other vital activities that contribute to their learning and academic success.
The rumors. The whispers. The nasty looks. The outright threats. When a student is being bullied at school, the bully’s behavior takes the victim’s attention away from their schoolwork. Instead, the victim is focused on dealing with the negative behaviors, finding ways to avoid the bully and managing the emotions that come with being the target of someone else’s abuse. It’s difficult to concentrate on conjugating verbs or factoring polynomials when you’re focused on salvaging your reputation after someone has spread a vicious lie or when facing the possibility of a physical altercation.
Labels Lead to Negative Cycle
Some experts note that bullying often stems from issues related to competency — those who fall on the extreme ends of the spectrum (either overachievers or underachievers) are generally more likely to be bullied. When students are labeled either way, either by teachers or fellow students, then the chances of bullying increase, which can have a negative impact on the student’s performance. High achievers may deliberately fail or not work to their full potential in order to fit in, while underachievers might feel like they will never do any better, so why bother to try?
In 2011, a study in Virginia found that students who had been bullied generally earned lower scores on standardize achievement tests. While the researchers did not look into specific reasons for the correlation, some theorize that distracted teachers contribute to the problem. Instead of focusing on educating their students, teachers and administrators are often so busy maintaining order and diffusing confrontations that they cannot fulfill all of their student’s educational needs.
What’s Being Done
In response to the growing problem of bullying, most schools have developed policies, procedures and training to give both faculty and students the tools they need to deal with the problem. Parents are also being included in the education, and learning how to recognize the signs that their child is being bullied — or is a bully. Local programs offered outside of schools, through nonprofit organizations, community groups and local police forces, are also addressing the problem by educating the community on how to stop bullying and developing new and stricter laws to protect victims.
There are some people who believe that incidents of bullying have not increased in recent years, and that people are simply paying more attention to them now than in the past. In any case, we owe it to our children and their academic success to be aware of the problem and take steps to prevent it.
About the Author: Lauri Hammond holds a master of public administration degree and is also the director of a nonprofit organization that works with young teens. Having seen firsthand the effects of bullying, advocacy has become her forefront mission in the fight against bullying in schools. Click here for more information about public administration degree programs.