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Stan Davis: Ask Bullied Kids What Helps Them

Stan Davis and Dr. Charisse Nixon released the results of the Youth Voice Project in 2010. The project gathered input from more than 13,000 5th-12th grade students regarding their perceptions of various strategies to reduce peer mistreatment in schools.

To learn what kids had to say, EducationWorld interviewed Davis, well-known expert on peer mistreatment and bullying. He is the author of Schools Where Everyone Belongs: Practical Strategies for Reducing Bullying. Davis trains educators throughout the United States and works as a school guidance counselor in Maine. He also maintains the Web site, which features a variety of free resources for schools. Davis conducted the Youth Voice Project with Charisse Nixon, Associate Professor in Psychology at Penn State Erie. Dr. Nixon trains educators throughout the country and is the co-author of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying.

EW: Why did you and Dr. Nixon decide to conduct the Youth Voice Project?

Davis: Over the years, there’s been a very wide range of advice kids are given if they’re mistreated—everything  from “pretend it doesn’t bother you” to “make friends with the person who mistreated you” to “don’t tattle” to “walk away” to “tell them to stop.”

We really felt this stuff was sort of contradictory, because you can’t tell someone to stop and pretend it doesn’t bother you at the same time. We also couldn’t find any evidence that anyone had ever actually asked kids about the extent to which these strategies work. There was really only one place we as researchers could go for expertise, and that was the kids themselves.

EW: What were some of the project’s key findings?

Davis: One of the strongest findings of the study was that three of the four most common student actions—walking away, pretending it doesn’t bother you and telling the aggressor to stop—were actually experienced by kids to be three of the least effective strategies. In addition, although there’s been a strong feeling among many people that we want kids who see mean behavior to confront the person who did it, kids said they would prefer that someone walk with them, or sit with them, or call them at home, or help them tell an adult.

More than 9,000 kids out of the 13,000 indicated that they had engaged in supportive behaviors like these. We wanted to use this to enable schools to do a type of social norms intervention that offers concrete suggestions; for example, saying, “Here are ways that kids in our school have helped other kids, and here are the positive results that have occurred.”

EW: Given the project’s findings, what are the top three take-away lessons for schools?


  1. One in six kids were not only mistreated, but also were moderately, severely or very severely affected by the peer victimization. In a school of 600 kids, this is 100 kids we’re talking about who could learn more and would come to school more often if they weren’t being mistreated.
  2. We need to stop looking solely at reducing the rate of bullying and start looking at building resiliency in kids. We have to look at what reduces trauma, things like “I told an adult, and the adult did something positive,” or “I feel valued and respected.” Cutting down on students’ isolation increases their resiliency, so we should be looking at support, relationships and connection.
  3. We shouldn’t be expecting peer witnesses to confront, because it’s not safe for them, and also because our kids said it isn’t even what they really wanted. What they wanted the most was inclusion and encouragement.

EW: What are the project’s implications for student surveys that a school would administer on an ongoing basis?

Davis: Most surveys focus on the rate of mean behavior, and I don’t think that’s a particularly useful tool to assess the effectiveness of our work. I think we should also be measuring connectedness and kids feeling valued. And the other variable we really want to encourage schools to measure is, “If you told an adult, did things get better?”

EW: Any final thoughts?

Davis:  We’re proposing a transition from saying to kids, “Don’t act like a victim” to “Don’t think like a victim.” Kids are telling us that it is helpful to hear, “This wasn’t your fault.” Then we stop trying to make kids responsible for changing the person who’s being mean to them.

Related resources

Lesson Plan Booster: How Can Students Help a Bullied Peer? - Grades 6-12
Speak Up: A Video Lesson on Bullying - Grades 6-12
Public Speaking Lesson: The Impact of Bullying - Grades 9-12
The Best Bullying Prevention Schools Aren’t Doing
Creating School-Wide Anti-Bullying Strategies
Bullying Prevention Resource Archive (includes lessons and activities for the younger grades)


Article by Celine Provini, EducationWorld Editor
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