The Role of School Counselors in School Safety

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A safe school environment is essential for students of all ages, and incidents involving bullying, harassment, and violence threaten students’ safety and their ability to learn. To help prevent, identify, and intervene in incidents of bullying, school counselors must play a role in educating all members of the school community and bringing them together.

To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by Bradley University’s Master of Arts in Counseling.

An overview of the state of bullying in U.S. schools and what school counselors can do to prevent and minimize incidents of bullying.

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An Overview of Bullying in the U.S.

Bullying is defined as any unwanted aggressive behavior that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and occurs repeatedly.

The Prevalence of Bullying in U.S. Schools

One in five students ages 12 to 18 experiences bullying nationwide. These students said they thought bullies had the ability to influence how other students perceived them (56%) and greater social influence (40%). To these students, the bullies appeared physically stronger or bigger (40%) and were wealthier (31%).

Among students ages 12 to 18, common bullying locations include a hallway or stairwell (43.4%), classroom (42.1%), cafeteria (26.8%), outdoors on school grounds (21.9%), online or in texts (15.3%), bathroom or locker room (12.1%), or somewhere else in the school building (2.1%).

A 2020 study of 1,034 tweens ages 9 to 12 showed nearly 80% had experienced bullying in some form: as a target, aggressor, or witness. More than half (57%) had been targeted in multiple environments, 50% had been bullied at school, and 15% had been cyberbullied. Roughly 1 in 5 tweens reported they had either been cyberbullied themselves, cyberbullied others, or witnessed someone being cyberbullied. Among those who had some experience with cyberbullying, 14.5% were targets, 14.9% were witnesses, and 3.2% were aggressors.

Types of Bullying

The four main types of bullying are physical bullying, verbal bullying, social or relational bullying, and cyberbullying. Physical bullying includes hitting and tripping, while verbal bullying includes name-calling and taunting. Social or relational bullying includes excluding a child from social activities and spreading rumors. Making hurtful social media posts, making mean statements while gaming, and creating hate accounts to embarrass, threaten, or hurt someone are all considered cyberbullying.

The Impact of Bullying and How School Counselors Can Prevent It

Bullying can cause physical, psychological, social, and educational harm to students, increasing their risk of experiencing numerous conditions such as depression and anxiety. Bullying affects both victims and aggressors, but youth who bully others often suffer the most serious consequences, including having an increased risk of developing mental and behavioral health problems.

Effects of Bullying

For victims, the effects of bullying include an increased risk of depression, anxiety, substance misuse, and suicidality. Victims of bullying may also experience physical injury, self-harm, and social and emotional distress. They’re also at greater risk of dropping out of school and experiencing sleep difficulties and lower academic development.

The risks of bullying for aggressors include substance misuse issues and academic problems, and experiencing violence in adolescence and adulthood.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Among tweens who had been cyberbullied, 69.1% said it had a negative effect on their feelings about themselves, 31.9% said it affected their friendships, 13.1% said it affected their physical health, and 6.5% said it affected their schoolwork.

The Role of School Counselors in Preventing Bullying

To prevent bullying incidents from occurring, school counselors must create a social environment at school that discourages bullying, consider forming a group to coordinate bullying prevention efforts, and train staff to prevent bullying. In addition, school counselors should coordinate increased adult supervision in bullying hot spots. Addressing bullying during classroom or assembly presentations may also help prevent bullying.

The Leadership Role of School Counselors

The role of counselors during times of crisis is crucial for reporting, conflict resolution, and healing. A supportive and proactive academic environment can encourage students to report bullying and provide them with the tools necessary to combat it.

Teaching Students to Report Bullying

To support reporting of bullying, school counselors should create confidential (and online) means of reporting. In addition, counselors must avoid publicly confronting bullies about information they were told in confidence. It’s also important to avoid providing only anonymous complaint boxes and other reporting mechanisms that are available at fixed physical locations.

Students need an informal and safe environment that encourages reporting of bullying. To do this, counselors must build trust with students and demonstrate a clear anti-bullying attitude. They should also educate students about the subtle aspects of bullying and offer forums and opportunities for victims to share their experiences of bullying.

Emotional Healing: Two Methods School Counselors Can Use

Promoting Alternative THinking Strategies (PATHS) is a program that school counselors can integrate into curricula to promote social and emotional learning as well as empower students to empathize with their peers, constructively and peacefully resolve conflicts, and positively handle emotions. This program will also help counselors measure their school’s success rate with training workshops and evaluation kits.

Another option is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is a common type of psychotherapy that can help students manage stressful life situations by tackling destructive thinking patterns. CBT also teaches students to confront distortions and break down the walls of self-doubt, and helps them regain confidence and control of their lives.

Supporting Student Safety

An unsafe school environment can hurt students and lead to the deterioration of their education and self-confidence. With the help of school counselors, students across the nation can have access to the education and counseling they need to help prevent, intervene in, and recover from incidents of violence and bullying. School counselors are crucial to bringing the entire school community together to create a safe environment for every student.


Cyberbullying Research Center/Cartoon Network, “Tween Cyberbullying in 2020”

Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, Preventing Bullying

Department of Health and Human Services, Best Practices in Bullying Prevention and Intervention

Mayo Clinic, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

NoSchoolViolence, “Creating Safe and Effective Methods for Reporting School Bullying”

PATHS Program

Public Health Reports, “State-Level Prevalence of Bullying Victimization Among Children and Adolescents, National Survey of Children’s Health, 2016-2017”, Facts About Bullying