Bullying Prevention: What Works? What Doesn’t? Part 2

To recap Part I of this series, I discussed a number of bullying prevention strategies found to be least effective in current research with 13,177 students ages 11-19 (grades 5-12) in 31 U.S. schools across 12 states. The research co-authored by national bullying prevention experts Stan Davis and Dr. Charisse Nixon is recently published by Research Press in a book titled; Youth Voice Project: Student Insights Into Bullying And Peer Mistreatment found at www.youthvoiceproject.com.  More information about this research can also be found at www.stopbullyingnow.com.

As promised in Part I, I made mention that overuse and misuse of the current nouns; bully, victim and bystander is not helpful according to Davis. Davis encourages his audience to view bullying as peer mistreatment, similar to what can happen in an abusive relationship and to shift current vernacular to; Person Who Mistreats, Person Who Is Mistreated and Person Who Sees Mistreatment. After all, any one of us has most likely had all three experiences. Describing the action instead of labeling the person makes it more likely that we can make things better.

Davis states it is also important to make a shift from asking the frequent questions that arise around whether or not there was an intent to harm, repetition in the behavior or a power differential to the key question; “Does the action have the potential to do harm or prevent learning?” From this key question we can triage observable behaviors into one of three categories; High Potential (most likely to harm), Moderate Potential (moderately likely to harm) and Low Potential, (least likely to harm), while responding accordingly. It’s not possible to prevent or stop all bullying behavior, so the key questions Davis asks are; “How do we deal with the aftermath? How do we strengthen youth, so bullying behaviors do less harm?” and What can we do?”

Davis cites eight specific approaches to effective bullying prevention:

Build Community—Davis uses the analogy; “Community is the airbag of life.” In the Youth Voice Project survey, the coauthors found that mistreated youth who said they are part of their schools or that they are valued and respected at school were significantly less likely to report that they were traumatized by the mistreatment. Most schools build these connections well, using class meetings to hear and work through student concerns, set up interest based activities during school, implement advisor advisee efforts focused on connection, involve students in meaningful group service projects, provide diversity activities and focused mentoring, as well as peer leader/peer mentor approaches. A simple, yet effective initiative to student safety and community building, based on a willingness to listen, was created by school staff member Jerry Schrock at William Mason High School a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. See “Blue Dot Conversations” at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mlzeTWcgc5c

Build equity—We need to collect data about youth of color, youth with disabilities, GLBT youth, and other subgroups most likely to be mistreated and traumatized. Activities to promote sensitivity for diversity and support for student diversity translate to a more accepting school environment. See: http://www.tolerance.org/

Build Peer Support—students need to know and feel they belong not only from adults but from their peers. Encourage peer to peer messages that emphasize to all students; “we care about you” and “you matter here.” Visible peer support translate to a more welcoming school climate and ultimately a safer school. See: http://inclusiveschools.org/peers-supporting-an-inclusive-school-climate/

Build Resiliency—Davis states there is a fundamental difference between building self-esteem and building resiliency. Giving out trophies, blue ribbons, student of the month awards and constantly telling kids “you are the best” or “you are special” may build fragility and entitlement rather than inner strength. Efforts to build self-esteem in this way was once believed to increase student effort, service to others, and achievement. This approach however placed the cart before the horse, causing increased rates of anxiety, depression, narcissism and entitlement in teens and young adults. Current approaches concentrate on building self-efficacy—young peoples’ knowledge that their actions make a difference in their lives and others’ lives, which translates to effort, service to others, and achievement.  Additional efforts to build resiliency include; hobbies and interests to bring joy and mastery, service to others to build a sense of positive power, alternative-solution (divergent) thinking and growth-mindset thinking. See: http://mindsetonline.com/changeyourmindset/firststeps/

Please stay tuned for the remaining approaches to effective bullying prevention and more of the most effective types of Adult Actions, Self Actions and Peer Actions in responding to bullying situations, based on the Youth Voice Project.