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High school: where film and TV shows claim is ruled by your stereotypical dumb jock and rich mean girls.
However, thanks to modern technology, fiction is not the same as reality. Today, your average bully isn’t a buff senior or a blonde clad in pink. Today’s high school bully has no exact characteristics, as it’s as simple as a person with a smartphone or an anonymous face behind a fake account.
This lesson plan deals with bullying in a high school setting. We discuss bullying in all its forms and how students can deal with bullies. And because high school is a mix of minors and people over 18 years old, we discuss the various ramifications of bullies and what could happen to them if they’re found to be bullying.
What Is Bullying?
Whether in school, at work, or any public or private place, bullying is the act of repeatedly acting aggressive or intimidating to assert once dominance over others. Bullies have power because they enforce a social or physical power over their victims.
In the past, a traditional bully was someone significantly larger than their victim, allowing them to use physical violence and intimidation. Today, a bully can still be someone who is larger, but it can also be someone who has information they can use to blackmail their victim, someone who can emotionally and verbally taunt them without using physical force, and someone who, anonymous or not, can continue to bother a person online – all of these regardless of how they physically look.
Bullies can also range in numbers, not always limited to just one person. A group of people can mob a victim, or one bully can have multiple assistants, but the one bully serves as the ringleader of the group. Even online, because it is very easy to create fake accounts, bullies can appear to be tens or hundreds of people, but it may just be one or two bullies trying to make their victim feel small by making them feel like plenty of people are going after them.
There is no one definition of bullying as there are several ways one can do so. Sometimes, students may not even realize they’re being bullied and think it’s all just mean-spirited fun. To recognize bullying, there must be three criteria: the intent is to be hostile towards the victim; the bully tries to show they have more power than the victim; and the bully must act hostile repetitively. This may be done physically, mentally, verbally, and emotionally.
Why Do People Bully Other People?
While some teens choose to ignore their differences among their peers and form connections, others choose to act hostile around those outside their circles or someone who they don’t relate to. It’s important for your students to understand throughout your lesson plan that if they have a bully, it isn’t their fault and the fact that they are a bullying victim says more about the victim than the actual bully.
Bullies, especially teenage bullies in high school, are mostly people who are envious of others (e.g. Student 1 hates that Student 2 outperforms them academically), consciously or unconsciously resent something a person has (Student 1 sees Student 2 being dropped off at school daily by loving parents, a stark contrast to Student 1’s familial relationship at home), or uses bullying to hide that they are ashamed or have low self-esteem (Student 1 is unsure about their sexuality and bullies Student 2, an openly-gay person proud enough to show their true identity).
In some cases, a bully can have mental conditions such as displaced anger or a personality disorder. While they may need to seek help for it, this does not make it OK for them to bully others and then use the “mental health” card as a pass for their behavior.
Contrary to popular belief, a bully rarely acts a certain way just for the fun of it. By bullying someone, they’re hiding their own insecurities and feel empowered by pushing others down. Studies found that students who practice bullying behavior have fragile egos that can shatter quite easily because they’ve built a picture of themselves people can easily destroy. Because they refuse to accept this fragile truth, they resort to violence and insults.
Teaching About Bullying to High School Students
As a high school teacher, you’re in a very delicate position, and your lesson plan has to adjust the way you see fit. Your students are not exactly children who’ll cry when reprimanded, nor are they truly adults with the independence to think maturely. You may have one or two students who have reached the age of maturity but continue to bully younger students, but stressing the fragile ego, insecurities, and shortcomings of a bully can help them see the error of their ways.
Types of Bullying
Bullying comes in four main forms: physical, verbal, emotional, and cyberbullying. There are also special forms of bullying, such as collective bullying or mobbing. And while bullies can target a victim for different reasons (the victim’s physical characteristics, their religion, gender, etc.) there are some forms of bullying that target specific groups (the LGBT+, students with disabilities) that they have become a special category of their own and how to deal with such bullies.
When teaching your high school lesson plans about bullying, try this exercise. In a room, ask your students which one of them believes they are a victim of physical bullying, verbal bullying, and emotional bullying, and so on. Don’t be surprised when no one or only a few raise their hands, as many high school students are unwilling to admit they are bullied in front of their peers.
Now, tell them to close their eyes and look straight forward. It would help if the front of the classroom is raised so you can see if someone is trying to peek. Ask the same questions. You’d be surprised how many more people are willing to admit they are a victim of a specific type of bullying.
Don’t force them to share details or make them feel like admitting to being bullied will require them to report to school officials. Tell them to put down their hands, open their eyes, and don’t give any clue as to who raised their hand. They’ll know a few of their classmates raised their hands; many are aware of the bullying done to their own classmates, but they don’t say anything.
Regardless of the results, let them know that you, as a teacher, as well as the school administrators and their parents, are available to talk to should they want to come forward. Not only does this feel reassuring to those who admit their worries, but it also reassures those too scared to raise their hands even when others are looking will know that they have someone to talk to just in case.
This is one of the most common forms of bullying, but it doesn’t necessarily have to do with hitting or punching you’d expect from schoolyard bullies. These are the bullies that both hurt your body or your own physical possessions. If they steal and break your possessions, shove you in the corridors, or actively seek you out to start a fight, this counts as physical bullying.
It’s very common, but it’s not the first type of bullying you’d experience from one bully. Bullying usually begins with intimidation and escalate into physical violence. Bullies who are relatively bigger than their victims can easily resort to violence, but students in small stature can also be just as dangerous if they know taekwondo or mixed martial arts.
This form of bullying doesn’t necessarily use physical violence, but this is one that almost exclusively uses mean words. Often used by female students than male students, this is where name-calling, threats, teasing, and rumors come into play. While men have a tendency towards physical bulling and girls verbal bullying, it’s also possible for men to use verbal bullying.
While words can never really hurt you, verbal bullying can greatly affect people who are very sensitive to what other people think or say about them. While some are unaffected by verbal bullying and have a strong resolve or do not care about what people say about them, this (especially when used as a social exclusion technique) is still a subtle but powerful method of bullying.
Also known as psychological abuse, emotional abuse involves using a victim’s relationship with others and trying to isolate the person by either turning everyone against the victim or making the victim believe that everyone is out to get them.
This is usually done by ruining someone’s reputation or social standing. It’s possible to categorize this under verbal bullying, but it’s not just limited to spreading rumors and saying mean things about the victim. This could also be sabotaging a person’s character and making a victim a pariah. In the film Mean Girls, this was done when Regina George made it look like Cady, Gretchen, and Karen were responsible for the Burn Book, isolating Cady in the process.
This form of bullying is the least visible of all, as it’s possible for a bully to do this through online or secretly in person, focusing on the mental warfare between the bully and their victim. In such cases, a bullying victim is subject to trauma and develops mental conditions such as depression, anxiety, and a reluctance to leave the home due to the bullying they face in the school/
Cyberbullying is using technology and social media to bully a victim. Unlike physical bullying, the bullying and humiliation stops the moment a student goes home. But in cyberbullying, the humiliation follows the student everywhere they go and they’re reminded of their bullies each time they go online. Sometimes, the bullying is public and for everyone to see; and because of the fear that what happens on the internet is recorded forever or cannot be removed except by the bully, it’s pretty traumatizing.In some cases, a bully may even open several fake accounts to torment their victim anonymously.
If your school allows you to teach LGBT+ topics, you may want to consider this section as well. Over the years, people from non-traditional genders and sexualities have become more open about their identity, and plenty of people, regardless of gender, sex, and sexuality, have come to accept them. However, there are some people (extremely religious individuals, toxic masculinity stereotypes, bigots) don’t agree with a non-traditional lifestyle. The LGBT+ community isn’t forcing heterosexual men and women to become gay, but there are some people who go out of their way to deny the community the right to express themselves.
These are bullies who target people who have openly identified as a different gender or sexuality. Gay men, lesbians, and transgender people are frequently made into the butt of jokes; at worst cases, they are physically harmed and told to commit self-harm due to their identity.
In public schools that receive government funding, the school is not allowed to discriminate who they admit into their classrooms, regardless of their physical and mental disabilities. Some people may be physically handicapped (e.g. born with a condition that makes them unable to walk) or a mental condition that makes them unable to socialize normally or keep up with their classmates academically.
While some cases of bullying may be common knowledge within the students, teachers and staff may be unaware of the bullying that is happening. In such case, the most important thing you can teach your students is to report all cases of bullying, no matter how small. Each of the 50 states has legislations against bullying, with some states stricter than others. In New Jersey, for example, each case of bullying, no matter how small, must be reported to state authorities, who then base the school’s grade partially on the number of bullying incidents and how they dealt with the bully, who could be suspended or even expelled for their actions.
When the Bully is a Legal Adult
Some bullies may be 18 years old and in high school. In such cases, the bully is treated as an adult and it’s no longer just a case of bullying, but a crime that meets the criteria of cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. This is particularly serious if the bully in question harasses a high school student that is still a minor, since the bully should have known better than to harm or hurt a child.
In these cases, a bully may even be sent to jail if their actions are particularly damaging to a child.
The First Step Is Opening Up
The point of this lesson is to teach your students that bullying won’t stop unless they report it. Fighting back will only result in more violence, and blackmailing a bully to stop won’t make your student better than the actual bully.
Make your room a safe space. Your students will be unlikely to report bullying to you if you seem like the type who will brush off their concerns or mock them for seeking help from teachers and staff. And if you can tell one of your students is being bullied, you might also want to gently and privately check if they are alright.
Tips for Teachers
- Don’t treat your students like children. These are high school students who are not children, but they’re not exactly adults either. If they come to you or if it looks like a serious bullying issue, don’t think that putting the bully and victim in one room and forcing the bully to apologize will change things. A bully may be forced to verbally apologize, but unless the bully understands why their actions are wrong, they aren’t going to change their treatment unless given the appropriate consequences.
- If you suspect that your student is a victim of bullying, ask them privately. They may fear being seen as weak in front of their peers, so asking them if they are bullied while in public may make them hesitant to say anything out loud.
While teenage bullying is common in high schools, it is still something you, as a teacher, need to address with your class. You have to handle them maturely, but in such a way that they are still responsible for their own actions.