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Teaching Students About Bullying Should Start as Early as Second and Third Grade, Author Says

When asked to describe bullies, second- and third-graders at Lee Elementary said they were people who kick and push, say mean things, leave other people out of groups, spread rumors, embarrass classmates, wear shirts with skulls on them and swear and roll their eyes in a way that says “You’re so stupid.”

Melody Arabo, author of a book on bullying, had posed the question. Then she asked the group if they thought they had ever been a bully. The children replied with a great big “No-o-o-o.”

Arabo told them they were wrong. “Everyone has been a bully before,” she said. “It’s an action.” She then asked the students again if they’d ever been a bully. This time, some of the students confessed they had.

Melody Arabo, author of “Diary of a Real Bully,” offers these strategies for students when they are bullied:

  • Tell the bully to stop
  • Tell the bully how you feel
  • Ask for an apology
  • Tell an adult if the first three don’t work

TV Can Help Make a Bully
Where do children learn about social bullying? A lot of the time it comes from TV shows, including those for children. An average of 14 incidents an hour of social aggression occur in the 50 most-watched television shows among 2- to 11-year-olds.

  • About nine out of 10 shows contained bad behavior
  • Insults, taunting and other forms of non-physical aggression were found many times in cartoons and situation comedies
  • Plot lines often involved rude, sarcastic and bad behavior. Some characters are known for tormenting other characters, and shows promote the message that social aggression is OK or even cool

Source: “Mean on the Screen: Social Aggression in Programs Popular With Children” study

Arabo was trying to teach the children that bullies don’t always fit a stereotypical mold. “Really nice, really bright kids bully,” she said. She tries to get students to see the bully inside them and make changes.

“Most students this age do not realize their words or actions can so negatively impact those around them,” she said.

Getting the Message to Students Early

Arabo is the author of “Diary of a Real Bully” and the 2014-15 Michigan Teacher of the Year. She was giving her anti-bullying presentation at Thornapple Kellogg’s Lee Elementary school. She has taken a year off from teaching at Walled Lake schools to give presentations around the state to young elementary students.

Bullying messages often are given to middle and high school students, Arabo said, but messages to lower elementary classes aren’t conveyed as much. That misses a good opportunity to explain what bullying is, she said. “They suck it up at that age like a sponge,” she said, “then it carries on to middle school, instead of first being learned at the middle school.

“We have to shift our thinking and change our approach to bully prevention.”

TV Part of the Problem

One of the places children learn the negative side of bullying is their favorite TV shows. By the time they get to kindergarten, children have seen many acts of social aggression — including teasing, sarcastic remarks, insults, eye-rolling, name-calling and more — performed by their favorite characters on the Nickelodeon, Disney and Cartoon networks, according to a study published by the Journal of Communication.

Children’s TV shows frequently have characters who are just there to be a mean bully. The students said one of their favorites shows, “Henry Danger,” had a character named Piper, whom one student described this way: “She is awful, she is just awful.”

Melody Arabo has been traveling the state giving free anti-bullying assemblies to schools
Melody Arabo has been traveling the state giving free anti-bullying assemblies to schools

Arabo said some teachers she has spoken to have told her they’ve seen a difference immediately after her presentations.

“One teacher told me about a girl who came up to her and said she was going to ask another student to sit with her group of friends at lunch because the girl always sat alone,” Arabo said.


Melody Arabo author page

Films with bullying

Children learn to bully by watching TV as toddlers

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Linda Odette
Linda Odette
Linda Odette is a freelance writer and editor with more than 30 years of experience in journalism. She’s worked primarily as an editor in feature departments at newspapers in West Michigan, including the Grand Rapids Press, the Muskegon Chronicle and the Holland Sentinel. She lives in East Grand Rapids near the Eastown edge, has a teenage son and a daughter in college. Read Linda's full bio or email Linda.


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