It’s time to move beyond the 'sticks and stones' adage to acknowledge the painful, lasting wounds of bullying
Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Social media has forever changed the space in which our youth interact. Once upon a time, bullies hid behind the garbage dumpster; now they lurk in our pockets—spreading their hatred and vile about their victims over social media for all to see. Bullying is broadcast like a spectator sport these days and our kids, the ones we’re trying so hard to protect, are getting more beat up than ever.

Will Coghill-Behrends
Will Coghill-Behrends

Sticks and stones might break their phones, but words most certainly do hurt them.

One study on the effects of bullying indicated that 18 percent of victims and 13 percent of bullies scored very high on indices of depression. In the U.S., 20 percent of high school students report being bullied. That increases to 28 percent when junior high students (grades 6 to 8) are included.

If you identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered, that number spikes to 84 percent. What about kids in those grades who identify with a non-Christian faith system? Fully 57 percent of those kids report experiencing harassment and bullying based on their religious affiliation.

It’s time to stop the bully.

At the Teacher Leader Center in the University of Iowa College of Education, we are committed to finding a solution to this social disease. This fall, we’ll host a variety of workshops and community discussion panels on the topic of bullying and we invite teachers, parents, students, and community members to join the conversation. The broad range of topics to be covered includes:

  • Psychological and medical issues in bullying behavior
  • Cyberbullying
  • Suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention
  • Grief, healing, and coping
  • Law, leadership, and bullying
  • Policy and practices: Bullying in the schools
  • Anti-bully training session
  • Bully Prevention 101
  • Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in bullying
  • Disability and bullying
  • Parents and bullying

Emerging research on the topic of bullying paints a much more complex picture of the phenomenon than previously known.

For example, four out of five individuals with disabilities report being a victim of bullying. But this group, particularly those with observable disabilities or behavior disabilities, also engages in bullying behavior at a higher rate than their general education peers.

Read more about the College of Education's efforts to stop bullying:

In this regard, bullying behavior occurs on a continuum: bully, victim, or bully-victim. The very definition of bullying and bully behavior is equally complicated and also exists on a continuum of power distribution and the various roles we all play in bullying: as observer, participant, target, advocate, perpetrator, mediator, among others.

Bullying behavior is challenging because of its complexity and because it is allowed—we fall back on beliefs that boys will be boys, girls engage in relational bullying as a normal part of their socialization, and some kids just have it coming to them. Victim blaming is a common response in bullying interventions. Bullying is also influenced by peers, schools, families, and the communities in which it occurs.

And let’s not forget that bullying isn’t a phenomenon that’s exclusive to K-12 education. Workplace bullies exist too. One of the primary roots of bullying behavior is the notion of power differential or unequal distribution of power, which might mean that workplace bullies feel justified in their behavior simply by virtue of their job title.

Members of the community are encouraged to pick up a “Stop the Bully” wristband to promote zero tolerance for bully behavior in our schools and in our community. Our UI teacher education students are wearing the bands in their clinical experiences to send a strong message to students that they are advocates for all in the classroom.

I invite you to join the TLC as we work to “Stop the Bully and Find a Solution.” For more information, including a video message from College of Education Dean Margaret Crocco, visit