Bullying Is a Serious Public Health Issue in Schools

Educators can reduce peer cruelty by improving school culture.

Posted Feb 22, 2018

Source: DepositPhotos

Weeks prior to the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, Dr. Michele Borba made a presentation to an assembly of parents in Littleton, Colorado. Borba, an educational psychologist recognized for her work in parenting and moral development, talked about raising kids with strong character. 

The massacre at Columbine hit Borba hard. So much so, that she spent the next two decades uncovering research-based practices that teach caring adults how to be at the helm of creating respectful learning environments.

Following a recent speech about those practices, a teen boy approached Borba and said, “All that stuff you said about making schools respectful and teaching kids to care, that’s what we need, you know: respect and caring. It would have kept my brother out of jail.”

He was right. All kids deserve safe, secure, and respectful schools where they feel connected to and cared for by others.

Courtesy of the Publisher
Source: Courtesy of the Publisher

In a new groundbreaking and research-infused book, End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe, and Caring Schools, Dr. Michele Borba offers a thorough guide to reducing bullying in schools.   

Today, the nation grieves the loss of seventeen students and staff from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Way too many times since the Columbine shootings, parents, students, and educators have struggled to understand this violence and make meaningful change in schools.  

The topic of school violence and peer cruelty is sadly interwoven with the rigid politics of guns and mental health. Indeed, the topic is complex and must be understood and acted upon from a variety of fronts. Gun violence and mental health are clearly linked.

In the meantime, as we wait for politicians to act, Borba provides another fact:

Violence and bullying are learned.

It is a moral imperative to act on this knowledge and create school cultures that are caring and compassionate places for all children. Borba’s book provides needed guidance for educators that can make a difference.

Six Ways to Create Safe, Inclusive, and Caring Schools

Borba has effectively culminated many years of research and practice to create what she calls, The 6Rs of Bullying Prevention. Presented in her book, along with specific strategies for implementation, they are outlined below.


Schools must establish anti-bullying rules and policies that support school values and district and state statutes. Policies must focus on prevention, feature strong family involvement, and be aimed at building a respectful, caring learning environment.


Schools must teach students, staff, families and community members how to recognize bullying behavior. This happens through ongoing training and education, and with the goal that all stakeholders learn the same definitions.


Clear procedures must be used to report bullying. This includes creating opportunities to report with anonymity, involving student teams and peer mentors, and teaching kids the difference between tattling and reporting.


Victims and witnesses of bullying must learn to respond effectively. This includes mobilizing students to create and implement bully-free norms and building core skills, so they can confidently respond with resilience and integrity when required.


Educators must become involved in identifying students who are vulnerable to bullying and teaching them skills to refuse provocation. This involves building caring relationships with vulnerable students, reaching out to parents, and referring children to psychological services when needed.


Schools must help students replace cruelty with kindness. Because bullying behaviors are learned—often at a young age—it is imperative that educators and families help children learn more acceptable and caring behaviors and habits.

Statistics about Bullying Tell a Grim Story

In an interview with Dr. Michele Borba, she shared these dismal statistics:

“Bullying happens every 7 minutes in every kind of school: private, public; rural, urban, and suburban. Over 70 percent of students say they have seen bullying in their schools. Nearing 50 percent report being bullied at least once during the past month. More than 40 percent of students say they are frequently involved in bullying (two or more times in the past month.)”

These facts have made bullying “one of the most serious public health problems in our school systems,” says Borba. “Bullying happens in every culture and in every school type.”

Everyone knows that bullying shatters lives—emotionally, physically, and socially.

Bullying also ends lives.

Borba shared a compelling story—one of many that fuels her motivation to rally educators, parents, and community members to act on behalf of children:

Several years ago, she gave a speech on bullying to an audience in Canada. Following the speech, a father handed Borba a photo of his son and said, “Please. Don’t stop. Keep training adults about bullying. It would have saved my son. Hopefully, it will save other children, too.”

During the conversation, she learned that his son was a sixth-grader who hanged himself when he could no longer endure the cruelty of two peers. She still carries the photo of the young boy. She promised his father that she would continue her work on behalf of his son and all children.

Borba has kept her promise.

End Peer Cruelty, Build Empathy: The Proven 6Rs of Bullying Prevention That Create Inclusive, Safe, and Caring Schools is an intelligent and comprehensive read for educators, families, and communities who care about the health, safety, and positive development of children.