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Join the Discussion on Bullying

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and everybody’s talking about this important issue. We at EducationWorld find that on the topic of bullying, our readers have much to say. This is an issue that affects us all personally. Many of us either were bullied as kids, or witnessed someone being bullied. With that in mind, we wanted to explore solutions and hear about what's working in your school.

A recent discussion in our educator community highlighted some of the challenges of bullying prevention. We hope this discussion will be an ongoing one, and we invite you to jump into the conversation at any time. Here are some of the things that have been said thus far:

  1. My concern with all the state anti-bullying laws being passed is that they seem to decrease, rather than increase, schools' desire to make real reductions in bullying. Bullying thrives in environments where tolerance for diversity is low. So will forcing schools to conduct investigations within a specified time frame get them to inspire kids to respect diversity?
  2. One of the big problems, I think, with how bullying is handled is that authorities (whether it's the school or law enforcement) take a one-size-fits-all approach to a wide variety of behaviors -- some much less severe than others. Also, if we really want bullying behavior to stop, we need to look at why it's happening in the first place.
  3. I agree that some of the new state laws are too rigid, as it’s difficult to find out what is “true” bullying and what is just two kids in a dispute. The goal of anti-bullying laws is to have kids be able to feel safe in schools. Arbitrary, mandatory penalties don't accomplish that any more than mandatory minimum sentences have ended the drug problem. Smart administrators and teachers need to use their heads, find the cause of the problem and take appropriate steps. Of course, action must be taken...too many times in the past, bullied kids have been left to fend for themselves.
  4. An issue with the rigidity of the laws is the definition of bullying itself. Research shows that it's better to identify which specific behaviors are inappropriate…teasing, put-downs, name-calling, homophobic language, tripping, pushing, gossiping, social exclusion, etc…without over-emphasizing the term “bullying,” which is trickier than it seems to legally define. Also that word tends to make parents of the bully angry, and then communication shuts down.
  5. Supporting development of positive behavior (e.g. by helping kids connect with each other) is far more effective than simply punishing kids who do the wrong thing. Also, punishing bullies without teaching them more appropriate behavior is just begging for them to do it again.
  6. Speaking of connecting kids with each other, getting kids together and working toward a common goal is a brilliant way to eliminate any tensions that may exist between them. People tend to fear what they don't understand. That fear turns to anger and that anger quickly becomes hate. By heading the fear off at the pass, we can avoid the hatred.
  7. I work in a community (Stamford, CT) with a very diverse population, and the schools have really done a lot to bring the kids together. Events that allow kids to meet different social groups seem to work well. Similarly, in high school I went on a trip as a junior to Quebec with a group of people I largely did not know. There were people from a variety of the various stereotypical social groups: jocks, smart kids, dorky kids (me, I'm thinking). The experience of an eight-hour bus ride and three days of shared meals brought us together.
  8. Perhaps schools need to work harder from the get-go to create a tolerant atmosphere that encourages understanding and diversity. If we wait until the bullying starts, it will be too late for a lot of kids.
  9. Unfortunately, our emphasis is too often on what legalistic response adults need to have...what about asking kids who are bullied what helps them, and then train other kids to do those things when they see a peer being bullied? Prevention efforts will fall flat if kids aren't given a leadership role. Also, targets need to know that (1) it is not their fault, (2) they do not need to solve the problem themselves (telling them to "ignore the bully" is truly terrible advice), and (3) adults are working to ensure their safety.
  10. In their efforts to promote tolerance and reduce bullying through non-punitive means, schools might find these resources useful:
  11. Those of you who were bullied in high school, what would have made it better for you?
  12. I wouldn't really say I was bullied in high school, but I had an issue one summer at camp where I was being targeted by a really aggressive kid (we were high school age in our first year with paying jobs at camp). He made comments and was physically pretty threatening. I had a friend who was a big guy, and when he was around, I had no physical fear, so I never told an adult about the threats. One day my friend was away for the day, and the bully was all over me, pushing things to a physical confrontation. Now, I know that other kids should have stepped in, but nobody did. When he began hitting me. I did my best to defend myself, and he ended up chipping my tooth. At that point, I went and told our supervisor, and the bully got fired. What helped was that my boss (now a teacher) listened and immediately corrected the problem. This was not a first incident for this kid, and he deserved his punishment.
  13. What about engaging student leadership groups like athletic team captains, student government members, etc.? These students are already leaders and could offer insight into what strategies could help.
  14. Our high school has a peer leadership group much like this, and it's been a real positive. The kids get training and look for signals (and can help when needed).
  15. I think that really works, though you have to be broad in your definition of student leaders. Find the leaders of the outcast kids who play WarHammer, or the kids who listen to weird music, and bring them into it. I probably avoided being bullied despite being a nerdy loudmouth because I was an athlete (albeit a bad one) and had friends on the sports teams.
  16. Regarding the summer camp story, it's sad that no one stepped in to help you before this incident occurred. Targets say the sense of isolation they experience can be worse than the actual bullying incidents. Bottom line: Everyone in the school needs to feel like if they were bullied, someone would "have their back." That includes adults and kids. Work on having everyone feel connected and safe, and bullying will decrease.
  17. How do you get students, teacher and others to not simply walk by the problem? If a school community does not tolerate bullying, then it will not happen -- that's pretty much the only way it can work.
  18. Thought I would jump in here with some of EducationWorld’s collected wisdom over the years, in terms of what research, and schools, tell us really works to prevent bullying:

What does NOT work to prevent bullying:

  • School assemblies, skits, etc. by themselves (or really anything that happens only infrequently and is not part of the daily routine)
  • Poster and slogan campaigns (Stomp Out Bullying, and the like) by themselves
  • Suspending bullies without also putting in place a long-term “safety plan” for the target
  • One-size-fits-all, zero-tolerance punishments, especially when not accompanied by support services for the bully
  • Telling targets to ignore the bullying or say “stop bullying me” (or anything that makes kids responsible for solving their own problem; adult intervention is ALWAYS necessary)
  • Encouraging targets to “fight back”
  • Encouraging witnesses to confront the bully
  • Using peer mediation to address bullying (or any approach that puts bully and victim in the same room to “work it out”; bullying is an abuse-of-power dynamic, not a disagreement between equals)
  • Any adult-dictated approach that neglects youth leadership on the issue of bullying
  • Approaches that the entire school community has not “bought into”
  • Overemphasis on the words “bullying” and “bully” (better to emphasize what specific behaviors are inappropriate and why…teasing, put-downs, name-calling, homophobic language, tripping, pushing, gossiping, social exclusion, etc.)
  • Creating a virtual “police state” around bullying (focusing on investigation and punishment to the exclusion of teaching positive behavior)
  • Blaming parents (calling their child a bully is often counterproductive; better to focus on why the child’s behavior harms the school community and enlist parents’ support in changing the behavior)

What DOES work (if done well):

  • Teacher training on how to intervene when they see bullying
  • Clear rules and policies in place, and school community is well aware of them
  • Teacher supervision of known “hot spots” (e.g., bathrooms, cafeteria) where bullying frequently occurs on school grounds
  • Student training on what to do when they witness bullying (mainly REPORT the incident and SUPPORT the target in a safe way); peer intervention, if done right, can be more powerful than adult intervention
  • Student training on which specific behaviors are inappropriate…teasing, put-downs, name-calling, homophobic language, tripping, pushing, gossiping, social exclusion, etc…without over-emphasizing the term “bullying,” which is trickier than it seems to legally define
  • Creating an environment where students feel that if they are bullied, they will receive support from adults and peers; such an environment cannot be created via external mandate and must be a “grassroots” effort that grows from internal commitment (this is why laws’ effect can be limited)
  • Rewarding students for positive behavior, rather than punishing them for negative behavior (PBIS includes a great integrated approach to bullying prevention)
  • Student-led leadership on the issue of bullying, and student empowerment and leadership in general
  • Asking targets what they would like other people to do to help them, and then educating other people on how to do those things (even if an intervening person can’t stop the bullying, providing emotional support is crucial)
  • Providing counseling services for bullies to teach them better behaviors and support their healthy development (bullies do not necessarily lack self-esteem; what they lack are healthy ways of achieving personal status)
  • Infusing instruction on positive behaviors into the everyday curriculum (must be more than just posters and assemblies)
  • School committee in place that monitors annual school-climate survey data regarding whether students feel safe and supported in school


What’s working to reduce bullying in your school? Join the discussion!

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Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
Education World
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