Bullying is a community issue, affecting not only those who are bullied but also their families, their friends and bystanders. If left unchecked, bullying can poison an entire school culture.
The American Federation of Teachers believes in standing up to bullying wherever it occurs, recognizing that our members have a particular responsibility to address the problem in public schools. To that end, the AFT is committed to giving educators and others who work in schools the tools they need to create healthy learning environments.
Studies generally show that 15 to 25 percent of American students are bullied with some frequency. This figure jumps to between 40 and50 percent for cyberbullying. Children and youth who are bullied are more likely than their peers to be depressed, lonely and anxious; have low self-esteem; feel unwell; and think about suicide. In fact, the stress of being bullied can produce organic brain changes that limit productivity and threaten mental health.
Bullying often goes unrecognized—sometimes even by those who are victimized by bullying as well as those who are the aggressors—so identifying the behavior is essential. Intimidation, exclusion, manipulation, threats, rumors and physical aggression can all be part of the negative behavior that defines bullying. In addition to encouraging individuals to intervene when they are made aware of a bullying incident, the AFT calls for institutionalizing schoolwide and districtwide anti-bullying policies; creating safe and accessible methods to report and address bullying when it occurs; and using educational resources to shine a bright light on bullying to make it clear that it will not be tolerated, and to help those who have encountered this destructive behavior.
To prevent bullying, both at school and off campus, it is essential for schools to develop a positive culture and to guide social-emotional learning. This includes implementing policies and fostering attitudes that create warm, inviting environments where students and staff feel safe and supported. Teachers and school support staff play a crucial role in creating that environment; they interact closely with students and can intervene most effectively, setting an example and guiding students to be supportive and caring friends in their learning environment.
The AFT supports professional development training to prevent and combat bullying, so educators can recognize bullying and learn how best to prevent it and address the problem if and when it occurs.