Anti-bullying campaigns don’t work: surprised?

As October is National Bullying Awareness Month, the effects of bullying will be drilled into students again. Since elementary school, we have been taught through multiple awareness campaigns that bullying is a problem and that we should be careful. President Obama has “designated $132 million to combat violence and the bullying of children” and schools across the nation have spent countless hours promoting anti-bullying campaigns (CNN). However, such anti-bullying campaigns and policies have continuously been found to be ineffective at curtailing bullying. Both campaigners and school administrators alike must realize completely stopping bullying is impossible, and should instead seek to help its victims.

In a 2013 study at the University of Texas and Michigan State University, researchers found that “students who attended schools with bullying-prevention programs were more likely to have reported experiencing victimization themselves” (USA Today). The exact same findings have been repeatedly found, such as the 2013 Journal of Criminology study and the Journal of the American Medical Association’s pediatrics division (Journal of Criminology & Vocativ). As Stuart Twemlow, a former professor of psychiatry at Baylor College, points out, anti-bullying campaigns are directed toward the bullies and tries in vain to stop their actions (Vocativ).  

In response to awareness of bullying by advocacy groups, school administrators have implemented zero-tolerance policies, also known as short-sighted ineffective counter-measures. Instead of dealing with misconduct on a case-by-case basis, considering the circumstances of the event or researching the specific students involved, school districts now blindly expel students or involve law enforcement. They seem to forget 90 percent of bullies are or have been victims themselves, and expelling or siphoning them off to court does not address the problem (The Guardian). Broad definitions of bullying, such as defining all teasing as bullying, is also increasing the rigidity of school policies.

In response to New Jersey’s anti-bullying law, a school administrator has noted “anti-bullying laws also may not be appropriate for [our youngest students]. Previously, name-calling or shoving on the playground could be handled on the spot as a teachable moment, with the teacher reinforcing the appropriate behavior. That’s no longer the case. Now it has to be documented, reviewed and resolved by everyone from the teacher to the anti-bullying specialist, principal, superintendent and local board of education” (New Jersey Times).

A variety of changes must be implemented to truly reduce the amount of bullying.

First, bullying must be seen as a serious, hurtful force in schools that should not be downplayed by comparing it to teasing or simple name-calling.

Secondly, disciplinary action should be viewed as a process to teach the student, not a rigid legislative process to remove the problem.

Finally, focus should not be placed on trying to stop bullies, but instead helping victims adapt  better coping strategies and a strong sense of self-esteem. Teaching students social skills to be self-assertive should not be seen as victim-blaming, but as a realistic awareness that bullies will always exist throughout one’s life, even in college and the workforce. By giving all students the tools to avoid and seek help from bullying, we empower them to become successful throughout their lives, a cause more worthy than removing all “bullies” from schools.