Anti-bullying programs need reform

Illustration by Lu Yue Wang

From the first day of elementary school, children often already have a grasp of the importance of social acceptance and rejection. As they progress through middle and high school, the significance of these concepts usually becomes more potent, eventually creating an environment where anyone could be subjected to bullying should they deviate from the norm. As a student, I speak from experience when I say that to this day bullying is still a problem for children in the U.S.

In the past decade, the efforts taken to end bullying have been admirable, and although bullying has reduced overall, the change is minimal. In order to further its decline, ineffective anti-bullying programs must be reformed to be more focused on developing children’s emotional intelligence and concentrated on improving both in-class and entire school environments.

Bullying seems to be a product of the need for social power and status. In “Why do Children Bully?” from the magazine School Leadership Today, Dr. Elizabeth Nassem and Ann Harris found that bullies are usually seeking popularity or social dominance. According to another research study done by both Radboud and Concordia University in 2017, bullies often have less empathy for their victims in comparison to their other peers. I recall that when my classmates ignored the new kid and made fun of him, most people who followed alongmyself includeddid so to cement our places in school society. As such, it can be concluded that students who bully are not hurting someone for the sole purpose of causing pain; they are acting out from some misplaced ideas to gain social status. Therefore, one way to address this behavior could be to implement programs that put more emphasis on developing a child’s emotional intelligence or empathy.

Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is helping to do just that by focusing their efforts to integrate social and emotional learning (SEL) into the national academic curricula. They believe that by doing so, not only could we reduce bullying, but benefit students mentally, socially, and academically. So far, numerous studies have found a positive relationship between SEL programs and students’ overall educational and emotional well-being. The problem with my elementary’s program was that we were taught that bullying was wrong, but we were not taught on how to fully empathize or how to evaluate our own actions. Children do not typically view themselves as “bad” or “evil.” The examples describing typical bullies were hard to relate to so I did not even see myself as a bully until I grew older. SEL would address bullying at a deeper psychological level, so one option for improving efforts against bullying would be to implement SEL programs.

Another option would be for more anti-bullying programs to concentrate their efforts not only on individuals, but also on improving the entire school environment. In the review article “A Systematic Review of School-Based Interventions to Prevent Bullying,“ Dr. Rachel C. Vreeman and Dr. Aaron E. Carroll found that whole-school multidisciplinary intervention programs overall “more often reduced victimization and bullying than the interventions that only included classroom-level curricula or social skills groups.” This type of school-wide intervention usually involves parents, staff, teachers, and students. But to ensure maximum efficacy, Michelle Marie Kendrick of Walden University found that these programs should be long-term, have a clear idea of what defines bullying, and put focus into training and educating teachers on how to appropriately deal with bullying. The problem of bullying does not solely lie within the bully or the victim, it is a problem within school society.

In the past decade bullying has decreased overall, but it could decrease further. If we are going to spend money on anti-bullying programs, then ineffective anti-bullying programs must be reformed. They should be more focused on developing students’ emotional intelligence and improving classroom and entire school environments. If reform is not possible, then it is time for schools to start looking into SEL programs to implement.We have learned a lot in the past decade about which methods work better than others. Let us continue putting the pieces together and create better programs to combat bullying.

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