How should students respond to bullying?

Ari MagnussonAri Magnusson
Author; Anti-bullying Advocate
The first thing is what you shouldn’t do, which is to escalate the aggression. If someone attacks you verbally or intimidates you, don’t respond aggressively. And if you are the target of relational aggression, don’t try to turn the tables on the aggressor by starting a rumor of your own or attacking in some other way. Escalation is rarely beneficial and usually makes things worse.

The second thing is to ask yourself whether you are able to handle the bullying on your own or if you want to get help. If you feel truly threatened, suddenly feel lost and friendless and don’t know what to do, or feel depressed, then seek help from an adult you can trust. Getting help with an adult can be very effective with stopping and getting you through a bullying episode.

Adult intervention, however, is not a long-term solution. The long-term solution is to learn techniques that render bullying ineffective. The individual who determines the effectiveness of direct aggression is not the aggressor, but rather the target. If the target shows fear, cowers, gets upset, or feels that he or she is somehow flawed based on a personal characteristic the aggressor is using as an excuse to bully, then the bullying is effective. But if the target doesn’t show fear, doesn’t cower, doesn’t get upset, ignores taunts or insults, or reacts in an unexpected way, then the aggressor won’t get the satisfaction that he or she is seeking from the bullying behavior and will cease the bullying. Direct aggression provides a feeling of power to the aggressor; if the aggressor doesn’t get that feeling, he or she will stop and look for another target. Please note that physical harm is not bullying; it is assault, which can be a crime. If a target is physically harmed by an aggressor, that person should notify an adult immediately. Physical harm should never be tolerated.

With relational aggression, an ounce of prevention really is worth a ton of cure. The most common reaction is for the target to ignore the sudden feeling of distance he or she is experiencing with friends and to pretend that it isn’t happening. This is highly counterproductive. The target should get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible to identify the aggressor and method of aggression, and start the process of reversing it and repairing friendships. Relational aggression can be hard to stop once it starts, so everyone should know the steps they can take to prevent it. And after it does start, there are counteraction steps that can be taken to minimize or reverse the damage.

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