COMMENTARY 798.1: We Don’t Need Anti-Bullying Programs

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 say 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.

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Comments 12

  1. Pingback: COMMENTARY 798.1: We Don

  2. Dear Michael,

    You are correct. People of character don’t bully. Bullies value “Power — the desire and ability to control (subjugate) others.” People of character values “Service — the desire and ability to be of benefit to others.” The process that develops character introduces us to values such as: integrity, duty (reponsibility), honor, citizenship, respect, courage, and service. When we embrace and live these values we seek truth, justice, peace, and that which is right. If we don’t want “bullies” in our schools (and communities) we have to develop students and citizens of character. Regards, Patrick

  3. Dear Michael

    I am afraid that your remedy of teaching kindness will be as ineffective as hanging up an a anti-bullying poster in the hallways. While I agree with you conceptually, you might possibly be overlooking the most important factor.

    There is a reason that kids are mean and bully and they do not need to be taught kindness, they already know and understand the concept. Bullies need help with the root cause of their problems, challenges that that cannot overcome on their own. They bully because it helps them to cope with their own negative experiences and personal conflicts. There should be an anti-bullying program, it is just that it needs to address the cause and not the symptoms, which is what I believe you are referring to in your article.

    Thank you for all your incredibly valuable insight over the years. I hope to meet you at the VBS function in the near future.

    1. Post

      Gordon. thanks for your point of view. You are right that children probably don’t need to be taught about kindness but our experience is they can learn a lot about how and when to be kind and to appreciate the kind of environment it creates when kids are kind and suppress their all too natural tendencies to be mean and judgmental. It also makes a great difference to create a sense of unified identity in kindness that reinforces the better instincts of children. Schools that have implemented our strategies to create the culture of kindness have had significant success in making their campuses safer and more nuturing.

  4. Michael
    I would go far as to say that everyone needs to be reminded to be kind to others on a regular basis…. because even one more kind person in the world would be most welcome. It is just that I think, despite the importance of the message and it’s urgency in reaching the targeted recipient, the message falls mostly on deaf ears when the bully too, is a victim of one form of unkindness or another.
    It’s no different when we, as adults get mad for whatever reason and then either say or do something ‘uncool’ that we later regret .

  5. The problem is so much broader than any type of program. The real problem is our culture. It’s just not “cool” to be nice. We don’t have real heroes anymore; they have to have some sort of dark flaw to make them interesting. Watch how children’s programs have changed. The mouthy kid used to be a supporting character and the consequences of thier behavior helped the nice kid learn a lesson. Now the mouthy kid is the star and the consequences are popularity. It’s this lack of accountability that I think is the real culprit. Look at all the politicians and bankers in this country who do the wrong thing and profit by it. As you say, “What we allow, we encourage.” And we continue to encourage bad behavior in a myriad of ways.

  6. An excellent resource for helping to instill these values in young children at home and in preschool/kindergarten classes, is a series of 29 books dealing with issues related to character, “Help Me Be Good Book Series” by Joy Berry. They were originally published in 1988 and extremely helpful in guiding my children who are now college aged and older. The books are now available in paperback (2010). Specific book titles include, “Being Mean – Being a Bad Sport – Bullying”. The books are humorous, entertaining, engage children and include recommendations for positive, alternative behavior. I would highly recommend these books as part of any early education/preschool/kindergarten curriculum. They help to create a Culture of Kindness and discourage inappropriate behavior at the earliest possible level.

    1. Mary I want to thank you for the information we have pre-school for the first time our school. Boy do we need a lot of character building resources that others have tried and had some success with. I agree we really do need to focus on building a Culture of Kindness and discourage inappropriate
      behavior at the earliest possible level.

  7. Dear Michael,
    After thirty years teaching children in both private and public schools, I have addressed the concerns spoken of by creating a music program to support teachers, students and parents. As we strive to manage the head and heart of learning, with intentional focus and priority on character and ethical principles, we believe that the competencies of emotional, social and empathetic learning will teach values and encourage a kinder gentler classroom. As Andrea said above….we must change our culture and bring back the heroes.
    Please visit and hear our songs. Thank you…kindly



  8. As a preschool teacher for over 20 years and now a child care director I believe that children need to be taught how to interact socially with each other. In our technology age children learn from a screen rather than from others. Prior to the information age, when someone was being bullied at school they could chose to not be near that person when they were out of school. Due to technology they are now connected 24/7. At our center we are “Bucketfillers” We use the many different bucket filling books on the market, along with bully books to educate our children and spend a good portion of our day teaching children social problem solving skills!

  9. A lot of studies are cited. May I suggest families try religion. You don’t have to believe everything a church preaches to get some good out of 100’s of years of teaching. And it is cheaper than therapy or studies. You might even meet some nice people.

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