Bullying prevention is not any easy program to develop. Multiple schools and organizations have found that simple deterrence approaches, expulsion, and zero tolerance statements don’t stop bullying from occurring and continuing to appear, class after class, generations after generation. Further, cyber bullying has become prevalent and an easy way for one student to affect another over a distance or anonymously without accountability, adding another painful element to the mix of what a victim can potentially suffer.
As a result, bullying prevention programs have to take on a far more holistic approach to stopping the problem rather than just relying on the threat of punishment or sheltering the victim. Instead, the program needs to provide a comprehensive, ongoing approach that reaches the bully, the victim, and the school community as a whole.
Bullying Prevention : Presence and Awareness Matters
Bullying happens when a perpetrator believes he has an advantage over a victim and can get away with causing harm. Few bullies are going to outright attempt harming another in front of an authority figure or where the bully can be immediately be held responsible for his or her actions. Instead, bullying events happen when perpetrators think they are covered from view or nobody that could present a risk is watching. Because of this basic fact and behavior trend common in bullies, an authority presence matters greatly. The number one way to cut down on bullying is to have a presence that will actively react and respond to the bullying when it occurs. The reaction sends one of the strongest messages possible that a reaction stronger than the bully will occur consistently every time harm is attempted on another.
Presence can be provided in a number of ways in schools, whether be with cameras or control of space access. However, the physical presence of a teacher or monitor still remains one of the most effective approaches, if the monitor responds proactively. Simply being in a location where a bully may attempt to cause harm is not enough. If the bully figures out the monitor or teacher will just ignore actions, then the presence has no effect. Instead, it can be even more damaging to victims who are looking for help for an expected source and it doesn’t arrive.
Bullying Prevention : The Response
It’s not enough to go after one individual as a bully and expect that the problem will go away in a school setting. Instead, the entire school community has to be educated that bullying is wrong, how to identify it, and how to report it. By changing the culture of a school and the student body, then bullying becomes unpopular and less likely to occur. Instead of just the teachers and monitors always dealing with a perpetrator or victim, fellow students begin to suppressing bullying as well. They can do this through peer pressure, reporting, defending the victim, or educating each other.
Long-term cultural change happens through education and reinforcement. This means that students have to be regularly educated on what bullying is, its identification, and why it’s not allowed. When the lesson continues to be reinforced through word and action, then students begin to accept anti-bullying positions as the baseline normal everyone should be subscribing to.
Education also needs to be integrated with both school and home life. Parents need to be on board and coordinated in their response with teachers. It’s not easy for a parent to hear his or her child is a bully or victim or witness to either. As parents we expect more from our children and defend them automatically against others who would say less. But a parent’s support of anti-bullying is critical for children to understand the lesson in school is also followed at home as well. Doing so allows children to accept the principle faster and adapt their behavior to what is expected of them.
Bullying Prevention : Consistent Delivery
Kids aren’t stupid or ignorant. They are highly intelligent observers, and they can figure out quickly if authority figures are actively and regularly enforcing their rules or playing favorites. As a result, for an anti-bullying campaign to have any kind of long-lasting effect, it needs to be consistently delivered. This means everyone needs to be treated the same, regardless of individual nuances. It also means that perpetrators can’t be let off the hook with pass. Once the group sees that an individual gets special treatment, then the campaign loses steam and impact in the community as a whole.
One way to maintain consistency in response is to have an established policy on bullying and acceptable social behavior among students. The policy should be clear on how to identify bullying, why it’s not allowed, and then how it should be responded to when found out. That said, the policy should also be clear no providing both deterrent and positive responses to bullying. Deterrent responses clearly involve some kind of punishment, but positive responses can include rewarding the prevention of bullying or the protection of a victim, thereby reinforcing the message that certain social behaviors are rewarded and others are not.
Bullying Prevention : Harnessing Support on Multiple Fronts
Bullying efforts need to have equal support, both from school personnel as well on the home front from parents. If kids learn one lesson in school, but then hear the opposite at home, the understanding gets confused. As a result, the lesson of why bullying is wrong gets lost. More often than not, kids will follow the example of their parents first over that of the teachers. In extreme cases, children will flat out ignore what they hear in school if a parent says the opposite. So a coordinated response both at home and in the classroom is critical.
The coordination on anti-bullying efforts happens with ongoing, regular communication between teachers and parents. That can be through regular newsletters, emails, monthly teacher-parent meetings, and handouts sent home with children for their parents to read. Many effective teachers use a combination of such tools to maintain open lines with parents of kids in their classes.
An effective anti-bullying effort requires multiple hands involved to make it a success. Singular events or pointed responses to only individuals will not gain an overall improvement in an entire school body. Children and teens need to see that bullying is not acceptable and that the position is systemic throughout the school as well as from parents at home. When the program obtains a holistic level of performance, then it can become a success.
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