I was the girl who ate lunch alone on the bench in front of the cafeteria doors. The girl who had one friend, but lost even her when her boyfriend called me names too.
I had a simple, deadly, desperate plan to escape the social torment I’d been facing since the fifth grade: leave school, lie in the street on my stomach, and wait until a speeding car came along.
Then, as I passed the counselor’s office, out of nowhere, a voice spoke to me. It said, “You need to change your life. You are going through this so you can help other bullied children.” I dashed straight into the counselor’s office in desperate need of help.
The counselor was busy, but after taking one look at me a secretary sprinted to get him. I was soon inside his office, heaving, hiccupping and hysterical. I have never cried like that in my life. Tears streamed down my face as I hugged the trashcan, afraid of vomiting out my feelings.
— Excerpt from “Never Again,” an essay by Elizabeth Ditty from “Bullying Under Attack: Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies and Bystanders”
If high school is “just high school” and kids are just being kids, then why try to enact change? Because to do otherwise may mean we lose a young person to suicide, and even one death by “bullycide” is one too many.
Guidance counselors, social workers, and psychologists who work within school communities must find ways to enact changes to keep students safe and generate teaching moments to end these cycles. As this young woman’s story shows — guidance counselors are a critical front line in our response to chronic bullying. And for this young woman, an astute staffer and a responsive counselor may have saved her life. However, as many counselors know from personal experience, sometimes teachers and counselors don’t get it right.
Too often, parents, counselors, policy makers, and educators struggle with whether or not teasing is part of coming of age, a rite of passage, or a normalized hazing ritual. Where do we draw the line? When does it qualify as bullying? The lack of a clear operational definition has meant that schools, parents, educators, and governments often have diffused and disorganized policies for dealing with bullying.
Sometimes adults are the strongest allies of children and teens who are bullied. At other times, they are ineffectual. Far too often, in hindsight it’s clear that the tragedy, trauma, and threat could have been averted or at least minimized if teachers and parents had their eyes open, listened, and drew together.
Guidance counselors can often serve as critical bridge builders in the battle against bullying, with the opportunity to observe and talk with students, interface with teachers and administration, and reach out to parents. They can employ school websites, parent-teacher nights, school assemblies, and human development classes to maintain this conversation and give children and families tools to combat bullying.
Counselors are also in the unique position to:
- Teach parents to monitor signs that their child is being bullied, such as changes in behaviors and habits
- Develop curricula to address the safe use of social media, text messaging, and other online spaces
- Work with administrators on the development of school- or district-wide policies to address bullying
- Foster parent programs on technology and bullying in general
Create in-service training that draws from the science on bullying and allows teachers to detect and be frontline observers of inappropriate behavior among peers
Here are some useful resources for counseling professionals, students, and families:
These websites are always evolving and include updates on the most current research and policy statements, as well as useful fact sheets for teens and families.
One child lost to the scourge of bullying is one child too many. While it requires a community-wide effort to face down these issues, school professionals are key in developing effective responses.