As a society we do a poor job of dealing with the gang bullying phenomena. Surveys suggest that upward of 20 percent of American school children experience bullying, and recent research suggests that bullying lowers academic success of the children who are bullied and is associated with increased risk of incarceration later in life. We do not have a good understanding of what drives the behavior, why some students experience bullying more than others, and because we are not effective in modifying bullying behavior, it remains stable and tends to continue into adulthood.
Government Concern and Website –
Bullying and gang bullying in American schools has reached such proportions and has such potentially long lasting harmful consequences that the federal government has become concerned and created a website to deal with the matter. Stop Bullying Dot Gov
Because some acts of bullying or gang bullying behavior are potentially classified as harassment and federal crimes, and because federal policy in education influences the policies of the states it is helpful to review the content of the government’s website.
What is Bullying? –
According to the federal government bullying is aggressive behavior in which
 one person exploits asymmetrical power relations to harm or control another person, and
 the aggressive behavior is either actually repeated or has the potential to be repeated.
- making threatening statements or gestures,
- rumor mongering,
- assaulting someone physically,
- attacking someone verbally, and
- deliberately excluding someone from membership in formal or informal group.
- The above examples can be assigned to the three modes of bullying:
- verbal bullying: teasing, threatening, insulting, language directed at another.
- social bullying: isolate, degrade and or embarrass someone to dis empower them.
- physical bullying: spitting, hitting, kicking, punching etc. or taking or breaking possessions.
Government recognizes a complex set of roles children may play in an act of bullying, but the same time the government stresses the need not to label the children involved as bullies, victims, etc. So with having traditional terms to work with, the discussion can be convoluted and awkward as we refer to the ‘children who were bullied in this instance’ and the ‘the children who bullied in this case.’
Preventing Bullying –
With a general approach of not tolerating intolerance schools should engage in the following activities to prevent or at least reduce the occurrence of bullying
- Assess Bullying in Your School Conduct assessments of how often, where and when bullying occurs – how adults intervene, and are the interventions effective.
- Create Policies and Rules Create rules, and a bullying reporting system. T
- Build a Safe Environment: Establish a school culture of acceptance, tolerance and respect.
- Educate Students and School Staff: Build bullying prevention material into the curriculum
- Create a Safe and Supportive Environment
- Engage Parents and Youth
Despite the best efforts and intentions at prevention, bullying may still occur in which case the school must have a response policy and standard response policies.
- The government suggests four guiding principles in formulating your response strategy:
- Stop acts of bullying on the spot.
- Find out what happened (appearances at the scene may be misleading)
- Support students who were targets of bullying or bystanders.
- Be more than a bystander. (The act of watching enables the act of bullying)
- The government site offers some helpful hints about what NOT to do to diminish bullying behavior.
- Zero tolerance or approaches are not effective because suspending or expelling bullies does not reduce their harmful behavior. Teachers might not report bullies if expulsion is the result.
- Conflict resolution doesn’t work for bullying because it is not a conflict between people of equal power. Also, kids who have been bullied may be distressed by facing their tormentors.
- Group treatment for bullies doesn’t work because the group members tend to reward bullying behavior in each other.
There are two general weaknesses in the government’s approach, one highly specific and one general.
The specific problem is that it does nothing to address cases of physical assault in the seconds or minutes before an adult in authority can intervene. It suggests it is better to not respond to the assault and allow oneself to be beaten without putting up a defense. Part of the government’s rationale for this position is that self-defense may result in the target of bullying “getting hurt, suspended or expelled.
The general weakness in the government’s online analysis is that it does not address the role of competition for status that sociological research suggests is critical in the dynamics of bullying. The sad truth is that bullying behavior often confers enhanced social status for school children. The government’s analysis takes a psychological approach to the ghastly detrimental effects of bullying but it is not effective in identifying what drives this pervasive behavior. What rewards accrue to bullies to motivate them to exhibit such harmful aggressive behaviors?
Recent sociological research suggests that significant numbers of children who are targets of bullying are not the stereotypical children typically seen as targets of bullying. Rather, many children experience bullying as they struggle up from middle range popularity until they arrive to the 95th percentile and then the rate of bullying drops off and those at the very top of the social latter are almost above the fray immune from bullying.
Seeing bullying as a tool that is used to climb the net of social popularity provides potential new insights into the types of children who are bullied, why the bullying occurs, and how to deal with it.
How does the school culture define who is popular?
How is popularity / social status acquired?
How is popularity / social status diminished?
What role does bullying behavior play in the gain or loss of popularity?
Until we have a better understanding of the answers to these questions we are not likely to be able to establish highly effective preventive measures, nor are we likely to develop highly effective ways to prevent acts of bullying behavior.