An incident on a Detroit-area school bus earlier this year highlights the problem. A 10-year-old boy ended up with a bloody nose at the hands of two older, bigger boys, both 14.
"You have natural imbalance of power in terms of age, size, maturity," says MSU's Glenn Stutzky, professor of social work who is nationally recognized as an expert on bullying. With no structure and little supervision, he says bullying on a bus should be no surprise.
Physical abuse like in Detroit is actually the extreme. "An actual incident of bullying can appear to be very trivial or petty," says Stutzky. Teasing or verbal harassment is bullying.
The best way to stop a bully, experts say, is before the bullying really starts. In the East Lansing school district, they're now teaching kids to sweat the small stuff, enforcing no tolerance policies on things like teasing and eye rolling.
"We need to sweat the small stuff. If we don't sweat the small stuff, that's when the big stuff occurs," says East Lansing High School associate principal Cliff Seybert.
"One of the best things to do is get a bus friend," Stutzky suggests.
If safety in numbers doesn't work, teach your children that they have options; confront that bully, switch seats, or tell even the small stuff, especially the small stuff, to an adult in charge.
Seybert emphasizes the bus is an extension of the classroom. School rules apply on board and off, and a rule of thumb, Stutszy says, if your child is afraid, it's bullying and it's abuse.