Friend or Foe? Tales of childhood bullying.

Also known as Adventures in Article Reviews 7 (Bullying)

One of the biggest issues facing schools (and workplaces, if we’re honest) is bullying. Adults bully adults…adults bully kids…kids bully kids…kids bully adults…wait.. Yep. That’s right. It happens. We all agree it’s wrong, but we can’t always agree on what bullying is. What we can agree on though, is that often our clients with communication differences are among those most often targeted for bullying. So what can we do?

This month’s Blogging for Research article comes from Language Speech and Hearing Services in Schools January 2014 issue. Technically, it’s a “tutorial” rather than “research” but I think it’s appropriate to discuss. As always those statements in [brackets] are my own views and not tied into the research article.

research tuesday

Title: Bullying: What Speech-Language Pathologists Should Know 

Hughes, S. (2014)  Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools. Vol. 45, 3-13. ASHA.

Background: The definition of bullying is “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time.” There are three components of bullying: the intent to cause fear or harm, repetition, and power. When determining if a situation is bullying – it is necessary to look at these elements carefully. 

Bullying can be direct (e.g., hitting, kicking, and name-calling) or indirect (e.g., cyber- bullying). Many children report a combination of physical and verbal bullying, and recently there has been an increase of cyber-bullying in the news. However, there is also “Relational Bullying” which happens when students spread gossip or exclude or shun peers. Although relational bullying is considered devastating to students, SLPs tend to take relational bullying less seriously and do not think they should intervene.

The article discusses differing views of bullying and what types of cultures encourage it and example the authors provided was the “athletic culture” where the jock is allowed to demonstrate power over those less athletic. [I’d go so far as to say it’s also the “academic culture” where those that learn easily look down on those who struggle more…or learn differently.]

The article discusses the prevalence of bullying. “Hot Spots” are locations in a school [or workplace] where bullying occurs due to lack of supervision [watchers]. The authors determined the playground and classroom were prime “hot spots” which bullying occurring 4.5 times per hour on the playground and 2.4 times per hour in the classroom. The average instance of bullying lasted less than 35 seconds – which explains why adults often miss these incidents. [Now, before you say “the classroom” – where’s the teacher??? Please know kids are sneaky…and it happens a LOT. My daughter is often bullied in her classrooms. Kids taking things, throwing them, “teasing” that doesn’t stop and makes her feel bad. Sometimes bullying occurs when the teacher is out of the room – sometimes it occurs when they are oblivious to what’s going on (for whatever reason). Sometimes it’s almost silent and the bully is daring someone to say something…looking for a reason to retalitate later.]

One interesting fact the article discusses is that teachers report intervening in 75% of bullying incidents…where kids report teachers intervene in only 25%. The article mentions a study where adults were found to have intervened in only 15% – 18% of known instances of bullying.

In 2009 a study was compiled that looked at the frequency of bullying in American students in 6th – 10th grade. Of those students 21% had been involved in physical bullying, 54% had been involved in verbal bullying, 51% in relational bullying, and 14% in cyberbullying – all within the previous 2 months.

[Someone I have a lot of respect for, once posted that kids often bring bullying on themselves by the way they act. At the time, I thought that was really harsh…but in reality, it’s true. There are certain things kids do that make them targets for bullying. Don’t get me wrong – it doesn’t excuse bullying…Not by any means.  I have no tolerance for bullies and frankly would like to shake them all until their teeth fall out, but that wouldn’t do any good and then I’d be arrested for child abuse and then you wouldn’t have these long useless rants to read…ignore. But at least I’m honest about how I feel. ]

The study stated that certain behaviors can escalate bullying. Unfortunately, many of our students have these behaviors…inappropriate responses to social cues and a limited ability to understand humor or sarcasm. Students with these behaviors often are victims of bullying, but in retaliating or attempting to fit in, they can become bullies as well.

Unfortunately, it’s not just kids that bully. The study states there’s usually at least one teacher who bullies students in a school. Moreover, the article states that typically both students and other teachers all know who that teacher is. Unfortunately, the kids that can’t sit still, can’t follow the directions, doesn’t understand the figurative language, etc. are those most targeted (some teachers may not even recognize that their actions are bullying).

Bullying Kids with CSD: Kids as young as preschool age recognize communication disorders and react negatively to them. The article discusses a study where 4 year olds agreed that stuttering was bad and they wanted to have friends who did not stutter.  Preschool students who stuttered were less likely to be chosen to be a leader on the playground and had greater difficulty resolving peer conflict. Further studies report children with Specific Language Impairment are three times as likely to report bullying when compared to same-age typically developing peers.

What they suggest: Speech-language pathologists are in a unique position to help school personnel recognize the need for a safe environment for all children, including those with communication disorders. According to the article, students with communication disorders have special legal protections from being bullied at school. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination based on disability. In 2010 the Office for Civil Rights reported school districts may be violating student’s civil rights “when peer harassment based on …disability is sufficiently serious that it creates a hostile environment and such harassment is encouraged, tolerated, not adequately addressed, or ignored by school employees.” 

The article includes a list of things we can do to respond to bullying. How to stop it on the spot, support the children involved, and help students be more than a bystander. Teaching students how to stand up for others is an important step.

SLPs can also address bullying directly during speech-language therapy. Social skills training is particularly important for students with communication disorders. We can teach out students to advocate for themselves and others. The article stated kids who improve their social skills are less likely to be bullied (and bully).

Discussion: One of the “take-away” points for me was that students who are bullied should not have to confront their bully. If we consider bullying as “peer abuse” we must recognize that bullying is not about peer conflict…and much like we would not require a victim of spousal abuse to confront his/her abuser, we cannot require a victim of peer abuse to do the same.

As the school-based SLP, I think it’s our responsibility to help advocate for all students. We should be involved with the anti-bullying policy on our campuses. We should be helping our teachers understand how little they perceive that’s damaging to our students. We also need to provide our students with ways to deal with bullying – to educate others on their disabilities or differences, and to empower them to be a part of the solution.

so…let me know your thoughts. Did you know bullying was so pervasive in your school or workplace? Have you done anything? Will you do anything? Let me know…

Until then….Adventure on! Don’t forget to check out the other Research Tuesday blogs. You can find a compilation of them here.


8 thoughts on “Friend or Foe? Tales of childhood bullying.

  1. Mary, having children myself, especially now that I have a girl, this makes me want to cry. The thought of bullying happening to my biological children or my babies at work breaks me. I hope that I can teach my children how to deal with bullying and to stand up for others.

  2. Really enjoyed this read what a great article Mary !! I have thought about bullying in my school a lot this year after having 2 eye witness accounts it happen right in my speech room. I was horrified and so disappointed in my students doing the bullying and honestly, couldn’t believe they would have the nerve to act in such a way right in front of me. I remember responding with a stern “absolutely not”, and since they both occurred near the end of our sessions, I was able to wrap up quickly and keep the two bullies after the rest of their small groups were allowed to leave. I was completely taken by surprise each time and felt like I was handling the situation without any real knowledge of how to best handle the situation. In each case I ended up providing education to the student on the other child ‘s issue who was being bullied and quite frankly stood very firm on being completely disappointed and having no tolerance for mean and disrespectful behavior. Both of the children were in tears by the end of our talk and both stood basically mute, aside from head nods to indicate agreement. I could not feel sorry, or let up on them any, knowing how their behaviors must have made the bullied children feel. Both of the students have since been on their best behavior and seem to have gone out of their way to be friendly to the child they bullied. I told each of them that they owed the student that. They owed it to them to be as nice as possible to make-up for the time they weren’t and that it would take at least 20 purposeful acts of being a friend to the bullied child before there was any hope that the child would begin to think of them in a pleasant light. With one of the small groups I followed up with the bruised apple lesson that was posted earlier this year. It was a powerful lesson that seemed to help drive home the message that we don ‘t want to be responsible for hurting people and that being unkind or mean is indeed damaging. I am going to do the lesson again for this latest act.

    The only part of your article that I do not agree with is that there is a bully of a teacher in every school !! I don’t want to believe this is true in my school. I personally can not name a teacher who might fit the bill, and I haven’t heard any concerns from other staff members. I will admit I have not always been impressed with the patience and helpfulness of one particular staff member who comes in contact with our students, but this person is not actually teaching…..On the other hand, I personally was bullied by a teacher in my own elementary school. Every student in the school knew this teacher was a bully, and I was so thankful I was not actually in this teacher’s class. He scared me so bad one time in the hallway with his antics that I nearly peed my pants (o.k. I actually did), and I was always struck with intense fear whenever I thought I might run into him in the building. Everyday, every transition in the school, my fears were over bearing, and I remember worrying about him all the time. He used to tease his special education students in his class about it being time to go to the “retard room”. How very sad…..

    • Bullying can be overt, or it can be covert. It could be a teacher bullying a child “in his best interests” or it could be a teacher bullying a teacher. You may work in the anomaly but I’m betting if you look close enough you will see it.

      BTW, I really liked your comments about how you dealt with the kids. It can be so hard to deal with it. I’m glad you were able to reach your kids and show them how wrong it was.

      • Mary, Right, I’m sure I will be on the look out for it after reading your research summary. ! I also don’t doubt that it is present in my school. I guess I would just like to hope it isn’t so and haven’t been able to spot the bully teacher thus far……….

  3. Ugh. Bullying makes me so mad. I was a victim of bullying (though much less severe than many kids) until I got into a bigger school and fell in with my own people. Now I look at the bullying that happens on a large scale in the workplace…

    • Precisely. I wonder if there’s ever been a study on the number of people who were bullies in HS being bullies in the workforce. Many people fail to recognize that adults can be bullies – particularly in the workplace where there’s such a power play anyway.

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  5. Such a universal problem as bullying has made so many kids and adolescents miserable in school and even outside. Before educational systems go ahead with penalties for bullies, may be there are lot of things we need to know about reasons for bullying that graduate on to the workplace after school gets over too. Glad the issue is being handled and addressed in such a manner.

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