15-year-old Bart Palosz had just completed the first day of his sophomore year at Greenwich High School in Connecticut when he took his family’s shotgun and shot himself dead. There was some forewarning of Palosz’s mental state–he had left messages on social media hinting at suicide and posted things like “Hey if I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me?”
Unfortunately this is just one of dozens of stories of school bullying victims who believed that suicide was a better alternative than facing bullies every day at school. Bullying can threaten a student’s ability to learn, their physical and emotional well-being, and their developing self-esteem. If you are a teacher or are planning to become a teacher, the psychology behind bullying is just as important as teaching in class. Unless your minor is a bachelor’s in social work, you will want to familiarize yourself with the below signs to ensure you can spot a bully or a victim of bullying.
First, learn to recognize some of the signs…
…that a student is being bullied:
- Is he/she frequently absent from class without a good reason like a chronic illness?
- Is he/she regularly displaying new injuries?
- Have his/her grades declined since the beginning of the school year? Has the student’s classroom participation decreased or ceased altogether?
- Does he/she avoid social interactions with classmates?
- Does he/she seem to be getting more depressed, hopeless, or anxious as the school year progresses?
…that a student is bullying others:
- Does he/she seem to be quick to start physical or verbal fights?
- Is he/she frequently showing up to school with unexplained extra money or new items?
- Does the student often blame others’ for their problems?
- Is he/she preoccupied with status and popularity?
It’s also helpful to acknowledge your own bullying history–either as a victim or perpetrator. Without realizing it, you might contribute to a hostile classroom, either by favoring some students over others or by letting yourself be bullied. It’s vital that you set the tone for your students and lead by example. It’s simple psychology.
Create a zero-tolerance bullying policy in the classroom
- Clearly post a list of rules discouraging bullying behavior. Make sure that you are consistent in enforcing these rules every time an incidence occurs.
- If you see someone being bullied, intervene immediately. The quicker you can nip the problem in the bud the better.
- Involve students’ parents in the fight against bullying. Let them know what signs they should be looking for in their kids to determine if there is a potential problem.
- Learn your school’s stance on reporting incidences of physical violence to the police. If your school doesn’t have a policy in place, encourage them to start one.
Increase awareness of bullying throughout the school, community
- Invite a local mental health adviser to speak to your students about the psychology of abuse and how bullying can negatively affect people long after the teasing or fighting is over.
- Have your student’s role play being the bully and the victim. This can promote empathy not only in the bully but also in the bystanders who often do nothing to stop the abuse.
- Screen the documentary “Bully” in your school. Discuss the movie afterward and encourage students to brainstorm how they would prevent bullying.
- Encourage parents to monitor their child’s social media use when possible, and let students know that if they read something on Facebook or Twitter suggesting certain behavior (like talk of suicide or plans for school violence) that they need to immediately report it to an authority.
Changing the psychology of bullying behavior starts with identifying when there’s a problem. By creating a zero-policy stance on bullying and raising awareness of the issue among the entire community you’re helping prevent future incidences.