What Are The Results of Anti-Bullying Programs In Schools? More Bullying Of Course!
I've been predicting the results since their inception. Anti-bullying programs and campaigns have been operating in schools for well over a decade. Now the evidence is clear...they don't work! A new UT Arlington study finds that students attending those schools may be more likely to be a victim of bullying than children at schools without such programs. The finding runs counter to the common perception that bullying prevention programs can help protect kids from repeated harassment or physical and emotional attacks when they do precisely the opposite.
You will never address a problem by addressing its symptom. We live in a world run by short-sighted, trigger happy, control-obsessed, illogical people who don't understand a thing about human wisdom.
Would you like to empower children with the wisdom to be responsible for their own actions based on solid moral principles and empathy, or would you prefer teaching all kids to fit into a behavioral template and abide by certain rules to create a completely safe utopian environment in which everyone is always nice to each other by default, without moral responsibility and the wisdom to know the difference? You can't have both.
Haven't we noticed that children continue suffering despite over a decade of anti-bullying warfare. Year after year children are bombarded with anti-bullying programs, lessons, posters, movies, books, songs and bracelets. They have signed pledges stating they won't engage in bullying and will stand up for victims. They have been informed of the punishments they will receive if they violate anti-bullying policies. They have heard their favorite celebrities rally against bullying. Yet bullying continues.
The great irony is that the solution is simple and has been known for thousands of years. The solution is not government but wisdom. It is about knowing how to be a victor rather than a victim. When kids acquire this simple wisdom, no one can bully them and any thoughts of committing violence against themselves or others evaporates.
The Evidence Is Coming Forward
"The students who are victimizing their peers have learned the language from these anti-bullying campaigns and programs,"said Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT Arlington and lead author of the study, which was published in the Journal of Criminology.
"The schools with interventions say, 'You shouldn't do this,' or 'you shouldn't do that.' But through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is and they know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers,"Jeong said.
The study suggested that future direction should focus on more sophisticated strategies rather than just implementation of bullying prevention programs. Furthermore, given that bullying is a relationship problem, researchers need to better identify the bully-victim dynamics in order to develop prevention policies accordingly, Jeong said.
"This important discovery will result in improvements in health, in learning, and in relationships, with unlimited positive impact,"Wright said.
For their study, Jeong and his co-author, Byung Hyun Lee, a doctoral student in criminology at Michigan State University, analyzed data from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children 2005-2006 U.S. study. The HBSC study has been conducted every four years since 1985 and is sponsored by the World Health Organization. The sample consisted of 7,001 students, ages 12 to 18, from 195 different schools.
The data preceded the highly publicized, 2010 "It Gets Better"campaign founded by syndicated columnist and author Dan Savage and popularized by YouTube videos featuring anti-bullying testimonials from prominent advocates.
The UT Arlington team found that older students were less likely to be victims of bullying than younger students, with serious problems of bullying occurring among sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The most pervasive bullying occurred at the high school level.
Boys were more likely than girls to be victims of physical bullying, but girls were more likely to be victims of emotional bullying. A lack of involvement and support from parents and teachers was likely to increase the risk of bullying victimization. These findings are all consistent with prior studies.
Notably, researchers found that race or ethnicity was not a factor in whether students were bullied.
Why Aren't We Getting The Message?
Shouldn't social scientists be considering the possibility that the endless barrage of anti-bullying messages may be making children even more vulnerable and desperate? How should bullied kids feel when they are constantly exposed to the lie of "Bully-Free Zone" posters in school corridors? How can they let insults slide off their backs when the adult authorities teach them that "the sticks and stones slogan is a lie" and "words can scar them forever"? How can they feel empowered when they are informed that they are powerless to handle bullying on their own and need the help of everyone around them? How should they feel when they follow the instructions to inform adults on bullies only to find the hostilities against them intensifying and their peers calling them "snitches"? How can they be optimistic when celebrities declare, "It gets better," but meanwhile it's only getting worse? Is it any wonder that children despair and take their own lives in growing numbers?
Why is the world's crusade to eradicate bullying failing? Very simple. It is disempowering children. It is depriving them of their own power and influence to affect how others treat them. Instead, it is creating a nanny system where the very tools needed to eradicate the problem are removed because we don't think children can handle the problem themselves. But they can and they need to.
In fact, bullying often strengthens the character for many teens who then grow into very successful adults because they have mastered conflict resolution their way.
Jeong insists that along with school security measures such as guards, bag and locker searches or metal detectors other such implementations are necessary in moving forwards? Really? So the solution is more laws controlling children? I don't think so. We need more children controlling their own destiny, who are empowered members of our society and skillful creators of what they perceive as reality.
No one wants schools to function as correctional facilities. They are educational institutions created to prepare children for the challenges of life, not to provide them with a false hope of a life without challenges. Bullying goes on in all arenas of life. Just as children deserve to be taught the three "R"s, they deserve to be taught the simple wisdom for dealing with bullying. Not only is this wisdom freely available, it will increase academic achievement while preventing future tragedies.
The Zero-Tolerance Theory Backfires
While the idea of zero-tolerance for bullying appears to makes sense by letting youth know that it's not condoned, too many anti-bullying initiatives impose too harsh a punishment that does nothing but demonize the bully. Common practices like isolating the bully from the general population or automatic suspensions are never a good solution. Exercising adult power over students by punishing them, without explaining why they are being punished or attempts to get to the cause of the behavior, makes the adult a bully also.
When adults act as bullies, youth begin to see bullying as acceptable, as a means to an end. Rather than stop their bullying, they avert getting caught and become more subtle, making future bullying harder to detect, and even more difficult to address.
Avoiding Social Media Is NOT A Solution
These decisions are fueled by the increased use of social media as a mechanism for bullying, and the belief that stopping access to social media will in some way slow down the frequency of bullying.
The reason why social media has been a place where bullying is rampant has nothing to do with social media itself. It has everything to do with the fact that youth do not view it as a real space. There is a perception that what happens in cyberspace is not even reality. Attempting to eliminate social media makes it more exotic to kids and it becomes a place viewed as taboo and welcomes inappropriate behavior. Rather than ban social media, parents and educators should welcome it, and teach youth how to use it appropriately. If kids learn that what happens on the web is no different than what happens in the classroom, they would learn to use it appropriately.
We Address Bullying with Celebrity, Not Expertise
While it is important to bring visibility to issues surrounding bullying, and celebrities do a good job at providing this visibility, it's more important to focus on ways to truly address this issue. This involves much more than a famous person saying, "bullying is wrong," it requires real experts who can provide an analysis of the bullying scenarios that occur in the school, an interrogation of what structures are in the school/family that supports this behavior, teacher training on how to identify and address bullying, and the identification of strategies within schools for supporting bullied youth while rehabilitating the bullies. These strategies exist -- educators who focus on this work are out there -- but we consistently shift to those who have less insight and more celebrity. This model sensationalizes bullying, but does not offer any real solutions.
We Forget that the Bullied And The Bully Are Both Children
One of the biggest misunderstandings about bullying is that bullies are to be punished, and those who are bullied need sympathy. School-age bullies are seen as adults, and the victims are viewed as children. The reality is that both the bully and victim are children who require equal doses of care and attention. Punishing a child like an adult only corrects an external behavior, and not the cause of it. For bullied children, sympathy without empowerment gives them a license to remain a victim.
We Turn A Blind Eye To Adult Bullying
One of the biggest reasons why bullying persists is because kids see it every day. While many adults see teens as merely a "new generation" of ruthless youth, the truth is that adults rarely provide a civil role model for them. We live in an era where the news features name calling in the political arena, name calling as part of the sports culture, and sports commentators give athletes demeaning nick-names. When a congressman publicly calls the president a "tar baby" it shouldn't be hard to see where kids get it from. Therefore, it's important for educators, parents, and other grownups to show kids that bullying and name calling by adults is just as bad as when it's enacted by youth.
There is no serious school of psychology, philosophy or religion that teaches this self-defeating approach to life. Yet this is the new anti-bully philosophy eagerly embraced throughout the world and it has to stop.
Let's stop giving children all the false idealism attributed by the anti-bullying movement and nanny mentality. Let's start teaching them about moral responsibility, wisdom and how to think for themselves while creating a reality that flows with their intention, instead of letting others think it up for them.
Marco Torres is a research specialist, writer and consumer advocate for healthy lifestyles. He holds degrees in Public Health and Environmental Science and is a professional speaker on topics such as disease prevention, environmental toxins and health policy.