When Bullying Crosses the Line


June 24, 2014


Portrait of Kendra Hughes
Senior Program Advisor Kendra Hughes

When bullying occurs, it’s often the perpetrator who gets the attention. When Education Northwest’s Kendra Hughes provides support to schools and districts on preventing harassment and bullying, she emphasizes the victim’s perspective.

“Typically in harassment and bullying, the victim gets singled out because of who they are,” she says, citing research by the American Educational Research Association. “You cannot treat people differently because of who they are,” she says.

Treating someone differently is outrageous to me. Going after someone because you don’t like the way they dress is bullying. When the student’s dress represents an ethnicity or religion, it becomes harassment and a civil rights issue, because it singles out someone based on national origin. It’s important for teachers to understand what’s going on and send the message to the victim that ‘we’ve got your back.’ There are simple things educators can do to keep students from getting singled out, so kids don’t have to go to school every day and not want to be there. —Kendra Hughes

According to Hughes, a powerful strategy parents can use when their child is involved in a conflict—either as a victim or a bully—is simply to reach out to the school. “Talk to your child’s teacher, schedule a meeting, call them, and listen to what they have to say,” she suggests. “The bottom line is schools and parents need to work together.”

For schools, she says that it’s important to name the individual behaviors that constitute bullying—from name calling to physical aggression to everything in between—rather than to just call it bullying.

Hughes also recommends thinking about harassment and bullying from the student’s point of view. In training sessions, she shares with educators strategies (listed below and as a pdf) for responding to bullying based on feedback from students. Taking it a further step, she suggests putting together a short, personalized student survey so that the strategies and resources students value can help guide decision making. "A school climate survey is a great way to determine how students feel about their school, how safe it is, and whether there are hot zones that adults may not know about,” she says.

Strategies for Responding to Bullying and Harassment From Students’ Points of View

Most Helpful Adult Responses

Gave me advice
Checked in to see if I was okay
Increased adult supervision
Punished the student who bullied me
Listened to me

Least Helpful Adult Responses

Ignored the situation
Told me to act differently
Told me to solve it myself
Told me to stop tattling
Acted like I was starting trouble
Made situation worse

Effective Parent/Community Responses

Intervene immediately
Talk to youth about behaviors
Name the behaviors you see
Talk about appropriate ways to handle conflict
Talk about following rules/expectations
Talk to your school counselor if your child is the bully or victim

What Schools Should Do

Intervene immediately
Document student reports
Investigate the problem
Increase supervision and monitoring
Teach children alternative ways to manage situations, without violence
Avoid confrontations with the other child, parents, and school staff

Download as PDF