School bullies were the bane of my early existence.
Until I learned a pretty powerful secret* about bullying, I pretty much just had to put up with it. There wasn’t much that teachers could or would do. Having Mom or Dad come in and say something to the school would just have been mortifying.
Bullying long went undiscussed at most schools. It was, the thinking went, just something that happened to kids in schools. It built character. Toughened up the little wimps.
Until it didn’t. Until people acknowledged that bullied kids can strike back, at themselves or at the kids and adults around them. Since then, anti-bullying programs have been a staple in most schools in America. The good news is that incidences of bullying have actually been decreasing.
The bad news is that all these shiny and wonderful anti-bullying programs might not be the cause of that decline.
A new study recently published in the Journal of Criminology suggests that the anti-bullying programs that have become popular in many schools may not be as useful as previously thought. The authors examined 7000 kids at 195 different schools to try to determine child and school influences on bullying. Surprisingly, the authors found that children who attended schools with anti-bullying programs were more likely to experience bullying than children who attended schools without such programs.
As you might expect, the data is correlational. That is, kids who participate in anti-bullying programs might be more likely than non-program students to report what they consider to be bullying. Schools with a bigger bully problem might be more inclined to implement an anti-bullying program. That sort of thing.
However, that said, this study does raise some pretty serious concerns about the efficacy of such programs.
Granted, not all programs are alike and some may be better than others. Programs that appear to inflate bullying statistics, use fear messages to sell their product and make exaggerated claims of successfulness should particularly raise alarm bells for schools. Programs that attempt to understand the motives behind bullying, focus on reinforcing positive behavior among students while also training staff to address all aggression, not just bullying, may have the best promise for success.
And it’s that last that really gives me some hope for the whole idea of anti-bullying programs. One with which I had some close association was the program run at Awesome Elementary School (aka Huntingtowne Farms Elementary) here in Charlotte. These kids were exposed every single day to some sort of message that bullying was wrong. As a consequence, I several times saw students step into an altercation and point out that one of the kids was being a bully.
The accused bully often stopped what he or she had been doing and walked off. That’s not to say that they didn’t just start up again later, but it was a pretty clear win for the idea that bullying isn’t a normal part of school. If little dudes and dudettes don’t feel safe at school, they’re not going to be able to learn. And then what’s the point?
Just knowing that bulling is something up with which the school will not put can make for a pretty powerful inhibition against this sort of behavior. As parents, we can take a hand in working with this issue. Not just telling our children that bullying is wrong, but pointing out bullying behavior and offering alternatives.
We’ve been through bullying. Do we really want our kids doing it also when we can work to prevent it?
*That secret? Don’t sweat the small stuff and, when it’s not small stuff, stand up and beat the crap out of whatever type of scumbag is pushing you around. If you lose the fight, then pick it all over again until it’s no longer worth the hassle. Admittedly, not the secret for everyone.