Misdirections in Bullying Prevention and Intervention
In recent years, increasing numbers of educators, health professionals, parents, and other adults who interact with children and youth have come to understand the seriousness of bullying. Bullying among children is aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power and strength. Many proven and promising prevention and intervention strategies have been developed.
Unfortunately, some misdirected intervention and prevention strategies also have been developed lately.
Zero tolerance policies
Many schools and school districts have adopted "zero tolerance" or "three strikes and you’re out" policies towards bullying, in which children who bully others are suspended or expelled from school. These policies (also called 'student exclusion' policies) raise many concerns.
- These policies affect a large number of students. Recent surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that approximately one in five students admit to bullying their peers periodically (Melton et al., 1998). Even if policies are limited to physical bullying, the numbers of affected children are still significant.
- Threats of severe punishments, such as suspension or expulsion, may actually discourage children and adults from reporting bullying that they observe.
- Bullying can be an early marker of other problem behaviors. Children who frequently bully their peers are at risk of engaging in other problem behaviors such as truancy, fighting, theft, and vandalism. Children who bully are in need of positive, prosocial role models, including adults and students in their school.
Although suspension and expulsion of students may be necessary to maintain public safety in a very small number of cases , these practices are not recommended as a broad-based bullying prevention or intervention policy.
Conflict resolution and peer mediation
Conflict resolution and peer mediation are common strategies for dealing with conflicts among students. Many schools also use peer mediation and conflict resolution to address bullying problems, but this is not recommended. Why?
- Bullying is a form of victimization, not conflict. It is no more a 'conflict' than are child abuse or domestic violence.
- Mediating a bullying incident may send inappropriate messages to the students who are involved (such as, 'You are both partly right and partly wrong,' or 'We need to work out this conflict between you'). The appropriate message to the child who is bullied should be, 'No one deserves to be bullied, and we are going to do everything we can to stop it.' The message for children who bully should be, 'Your behavior is inappropriate and must be stopped.'
- Mediation may further victimize a child who has been bullied. It may be very upsetting for a child who has been bullied to face his or her tormenter in mediation.
- There is no evidence to indicate that conflict resolution or peer mediation is effective in stopping bullying.
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