Prevent Bullying: What Works? What Doesn’t? Part 3

In Part I of this series reference is made to the least effective bullying prevention strategies; such as merchandising and pledge signing. Although fairly harmless, these approaches have not been proven to actually change bullying behaviors or generate any measurable positive impact on the problem—thus can be considered a waste of time and resources. One of the more viral least effective approaches with immense potential to cause harmful consequences is documentary’s that have a tendency to exaggerate reporting and overstate an inconclusive link between bullying and suicide.

Part II focused on a propitious shift away from frequently used nouns (bully, victim, bystander) that label kids and call into question the person—to describing individual bullying behaviors as peer mistreatment. In the process of identifying the key individuals involved it is common for questions to be asked about a persons’ intent to harm, frequency of causing the harm and whether or not a power differential exists. When focusing at specific behavior and not the person only one key question needs to be asked; Does the behavior have the potential to cause harm or prevent learning? Also in Part II the first four of eight of Davis’ most effective approaches to bullying prevention were highlighted.

In this third segment, below are the remaining four most effective approaches to bullying prevention:

Connect Kids With Adults—The old adage; “It takes a village…” or creating positive kid to adult connections remains profoundly true today. Formal or informal mentoring opportunities are key to helping youth thrive. Traditionally it has been common for sports coaches to successfully mentor youth, which is still encouraged, however there are so many other possible common interests between adults and youth that don’t involve sports. Theater, dance, chess, art, music, woodworking, coin and stamp collecting, technology, gaming, service projects—the list goes on and on. The Search Institute has identified a major thriving indicator for youth is helping others not in your own family one hour a week or more. Helping youth make these connections with what interests them will undoubtedly increase the level of joy in their life and an immediate connection with those who share the interest/hobby—ultimately increasing protective factors and thriving indicators in youth. Connections with mentors and coaches on specific interests translates to such life skills as; creative divergent thinking, problem solving and positive peer and adult relationships. See:

Preventing Harm for Mistreated Youth—Listening to youth is an imperative toward preventing harm for mistreated youth. When adults listen they are in a better position to help those that are mistreated understand that the mistreatment is really not something negative about them. Youth also voiced that checking back with them over time both at school and reaching out to them at home was helpful. Adults must help youth build stronger peer connections to encourage this kind of peer outreach. Putting a stop to mean behavior should certainly be kept in focus, however as mentioned it is not possible to stop or prevent all forms of mean behavior even with the most diligent efforts. Adults are in a position however to give support and connection and enlist youth in doing the same for peers that are struggling with mistreatment.

Reducing Negative Student Actions—Schools are in a prime position to garner student input to develop clear definitions of wanted and unwanted behavior. From this input consistent approaches to those actions can be developed which students and adults agree have moderate to large potential to harm, using small and escalating consequences to deter these actions. Mistreating youth can be helped with opportunities to reflect and write about the consequences of their actions, and movement toward actions to help heal the harm they have done. Student survey data can be used to show students that their peers disapprove of negative actions and help see value in acts of kindness and inclusion.

Help mistreating youth change—In addition to the strategies listed above, some mistreating youth need to learn social skills or self-control or anger management. Some need to deal with past trauma. And some need to experience the positive power of service to others.

Support youth who witness peer mistreatment—Students in the Youth Voice Project told Davis and Nixon that they benefited most when peers included them, spent time with them, encouraged them, and helped them get away from mistreatment. These actions were more helpful for the mistreated young people than the often-advised confrontation. We can help youth who are aware of mistreatment to use the positive power of encouragement and inclusion to make things better.

The most effective types of Adult Actions, Self Actions and Peer Actions in responding to bullying situations, based on the Youth Voice Project.

The most effective actions reported in our survey were done by peers: including, encouraging, helping youth get away, helping them tell adults. Even private encouragement away from school was helpful.

The next most effective actions were listening, encouragement, and checking back by adults at school.

None of the self actions (actions used by the mistreated students alone) was as helpful as support from peers or adults. Some self actions worked better than others, though. Seeking help from adults and peers worked more often than either confronting the mistreater or pretending not to be bothered at most grade levels. Also, for youth in grades 6 and higher, they often said things got better when they reminded themselves that the mistreatment was chosen by the one mistreating them, and that the behavior was not the result of anything about them.

We can build hope. We can listen. We can include. We can help.

This series lays some fundamental groundwork for a range of bully prevention strategies from the least effective approaches to the most effective approaches. I want to thank expert Stan Davis, coauthor of the current book Youth Voice Project: Student Insights Into Bullying And Peer Mistreatment ( for all of the helpful and hopeful input he provided to make this series possible. I believe this information has the potential to guide all of us in ways that will have tremendous positive impact on youth, our schools and beyond.

More information about this research can also be found at

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