We Don’t Need Anti-Bullying Programs 712.5

Though intensive media attention on bullying has died down, the problem persists in many forms, and it continues to diminish the lives of tens of thousands of students every day. According to a recent survey, roughly half of all high school students said that in the past year they were bullied in a manner that seriously upset them. A similar number said they had bullied someone else.

That’s an awful lot of meanness.

Trying to eliminate the problem, schools are scurrying to develop new anti-bullying programs and legislatures are writing new laws to criminalize bullying. Sadly, neither of these strategies is likely to make a serious dent unless they are part of a much broader effort to create a positive school climate that discourages all forms of hurtful or demeaning words or acts.

Anti-bullying strategies seek to crack down on bullying, hoping to deter abusive behavior by threat of punishment. They often create legalistic procedures that put a heavy responsibility on schools or courts to prove the conduct occurred.

A better strategy is to instill, reinforce, and reward the values of empathy, compassion, and acceptance. Instead of anti-bullying programs, we need a pro-kindness strategy. Kind people don’t bully or look the other way when someone is bullied.

We need to create a Culture of Kindness, encouraging a spirit of generosity and love where differences are accepted and celebrated rather than targeted. In a Culture of Kindness, students stand up for and next to one another, all for one and one for all.

A dedicated effort to teach, advocate, and model kindness will work much better than efforts to punish meanness.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

Comments 13

  1. This is absolutely true. When people ask me if our SocialSmarts program is an anti-bullying program, I say, “No, it’s a pro-social skills program.” Hugely different and when you focus on developing positive social skills, character and values, you’ll find that MOST of the bullying goes away, too!
    I write about this difference frequently in my blog, as well, because it is a hugely important distinction. For more on why “pro-social” or “pro-kindness” works better, feel free to visit http://socialsmarts.wordpress.com/2011/01/26/its-no-name-calling-week-again-what-do-we-do-the-rest-of-the-time/
    – Corinne Gregory

  2. Unfortunately in education, there are many kids that just don’t respond to kindness and are not interested in developing positive character values. This is modeled to them at home. We do need anti-bullying. I encourage anyone who doesn’t think we need them to spend a day or two on a middle school campus. Corrine, you must be looking at the world through rose colored glasses.

  3. FYI: I recently saw a pre-screening of a very touching, entertaining and interesting documentary, called “Happy”. http://thehappymovie.com/ I keep thinking about this movie, and you reminded me of it again with this essay. What you specifically reminded me of was a very moving and funny segment featuring a comic who visits schools to talk to kids about bullying. I don’t know much about this comic and I have not watched any other video of him, but he was great in “Happy”. His web site is http://www.michaelpritchard.com/. I heartily (and happily) recommend you (and everyone else) see this movie when it comes out. And it seems to me that you and Michael Pritchard might appreciate each other’s work.

  4. Our schools are just a microcosm of our society. How can we expect to fix our schools when this same behavior we are trying to criminalize in schools is excepted and condoned among our leaders, significant adults in our children’s lives, talk radio, and our ‘freedom of speech’ laws.
    How is it that a student writing hurtful and hateful messages on the internet is wrong, but ‘adults’ from a ‘church’ group can show up at a funeral spouting hurtful and hateful messages, and they have the right to do that because of the freedom of speech.
    How can we tell our children this behavior is wrong for them, but say it’s the adult’s rights? I cannot understand:( Doesn’t freedom of speech apply to students as well?

  5. Both Rosie and Corinne make valid points. I think the pro-social skills programs are more of a long-term fix and the anti-bullying programs more of an immediate band-aid. In my experience, each works best in parallel with the other. Anti-bullying allows for more immediate relief to those bullied; pro-social skills provides for the bullies to understand why they act the way the do and initiate change. The extent to which each approach is needed depends upon the severity of the problem at individual schools. Anti-bullying alone never allows for the bully to mature. Pro-social skills alone allow the kids to suffer longer than necessary, and some bullies never respond to the program. As with most things in life, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.

  6. Rosie,
    I agree there WILL be exceptions. But, it’s a different problem than what you are describing. The overall CULTURE of the school (and our youth) is one lacking in sensitiviy, kindness and consideration for the needs and desires of others.
    I’m certainly not looking at the world through rose colored glasses (was that an intentional pun?). I’m speaking from experiene, what I’ve seen in 11 states across the country (with our program), and the experience of many of the other types of programs that deal in prevention have experienced this as well.
    Just recently, Education Week published results of a very compelling study looking at over 200 research studies showed the pro-social skills education is VERY effective. Here’s a link to the article (the PDF on our website for your convenience): http://www.socialsmarts.com/EdWeekSocialSkillsBoostTestScores020420111.pdf
    And, Mr. T — you, too, are right. There is no “one size fits” all which is why we need to focus on the cultural change, not just dealing with the bullies and the bullied. If we are able to improve the culture overall, then we can deal with the inevitable exceptions as just that…exceptions.
    – Corinne Gregory

  7. Agreed that long-term pro-kindness programs with shorter-term anti-bullying measures are necessary for improving our schools and our national culture. Outside of these programs, we can make change by modeling better behavior ourselves in all aspects of our own lives and encouraging the same in others. The more positive role models our children have, the more likely they are to make better, kinder choices.

  8. I am an elementary school counselor and agree a culture of empathy and kindness is key to significantly reducing, if not eliminating, bullying. When students at my school enroll in kindergarten and participate in classroom guidance lessons targeting knowledge, attitude and behavior surrounding appropriate treatment of others, and progress through the grades with continued lessons, they mature with much better social skills and live the “golden rule.” It is students who move into my school without this early foundation who struggle to treat others with respect. In addition to what students receive via the counseling program, the school participates in a positive behavior support plan, which reinforces and promotes safe, responsible and respectful behavior. When teachers in the upper grades consult with me regarding student behavior concerns, 9/10 times the student is new to our school.

  9. I have read the posts on here and I can’t help but think of how easy things were when I was growing up. A bully was only a bully until someone had the courage to stand up to him and if it came to it, fight him. I remember the 8th grade bully when I was in 7th grade. Each day he would pick a new kid to hit in the back of the head with his math book. One day it was my turn and when he hit me I grabbed him by the throat, marched him across the hall and introduced him to the lockers. That one event changed my life, funny enough most of his friends became mine and he never seemed to fit in after that. Unfortunately in todays world we have gangs, guns and other concerns that make my way of doing things obsolete. It would be irresponsible to suggest my solution to the kids of today.
    Here is a question though, how will the boys, and girls learn to defend their families if they are continually told to back down. In my world my wife’s Honor and the word Respect is everything. I would never walk away from someone who chose to disrespect or harm my family. Standing up for yourself should never go out of style or be discouraged.

  10. Today my 16 year old niece was attacked in her classroom and dragged out to the parking lot by a classmate, her 21 year old sister, and their mother. She has a concussion, cracked ribs, and bruises and contusions all over her body. Kindness just doesn’t work for these kinds of bullies. They need to go to jail and stay there. The police told my niece she had to sign a formal complaint to press charges, all the while the 21 yearold attacker was threatening her with retaliation. The teacher then told my niece that she was suspended. Huh?

  11. As a survivor of bullying and now a grown man i am fully aware of the damage that bullying can do to you as a child. It is something that i would not wish on anyone let alone a child. From my own experience of bullying, many years later i went onto create my own program that looks at building confidence in children, this is what i was lacking yet needed back then because the bullies had all but destroyed my confidence, i was an empty shell and there was nothing in place to help me through that. Until we teach our children that it is ok to speak up to your teacher about this serious issue whilst also building their confidence back up, sadly, bullying will continue to destroy lives.
    You can check my work out here.


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