Keep Bullying off the Bus by Empowering Kids
One adult preoccupied by traffic, 20 kids—or more—bursting with energy. Most school buses are rife with the kinds of conditions that foment bullying. According to Committee for Children researcher Miriam Hirschstein, Ph.D., “Bullying incidents often intensify where there’s less supervision—areas like bathrooms, hallways, lunchrooms, and on buses.”
Bullying on the Bus
With around 24 million children riding school buses daily in the US, the problem of bullying on board has experts alarmed and scrambling for solutions. Even more so than ending bullying on campus, the effort to end it on the bus contains myriad complications. For starters, schools are reluctant to enlarge the boundary of their liability for student behavior. Also, multiple schools may transport children on the same buses, meaning several administrations need to come together. Overwhelmed bus drivers, some now already dealing with video cameras, legitimately fear yet another responsibility.
Video Is Not Enough
Joel Haber, a psychologist in New York State, is an expert on violence prevention. He has been quoted as saying that children need to feel safe on buses and everywhere else. Video cameras are easy for kids to outwit, Haber states, advocating for the use of adult monitors who can document and report the behavior.
Underestimating the Damage
Finally, many adults still fail to grasp the extent of damage bullying can cause. Research shows that in general, adults are poorly informed about bullying, and they tend to grossly underestimate the frequency of these events and their impact on students, says Hirschstein. “Most teachers agree that a child who arrives for school humiliated or injured isn’t ready to take on challenging academic pursuits.”
Whole-School Approaches That Work
The key to assuaging bus bullying isn’t philosophically different from ending harassment elsewhere, Hirschstein says. “Those of us who work in the field of bullying prevention are convinced the whole school culture has to be involved, and the onus cannot just be on the victims to report unfair behavior. The group nature of bullying adds to the capacity for cruelty.”
The Hermitage School District in Western Pennsylvania took bullying on the school bus to heart last year with a communitywide campaign. Parents, educators, and business leaders all pitched in to create posters, awards, and a heightened sense of concern about the dangers posed by bullying on buses.
Other regions have adopted similar tactics, including pledge cards: Kids agree to refrain from harming each other. Another district established a series of “Best Driver” awards. That kind of recognition creates a bond between the driver and the children, a connection often lacking in typical situations.
Such practices tap into the potential of bystanders to “turn the tide,” according to Hirschstein. But the essential element here is that the adults involved are not only caring, but supported by training and procedures in how to intervene effectively. “Research shows that an intervention targeting staff training and children’s attitudes and skills can increase students’ sense of responsibility to stop bullying.”
Reprinted with the permission of the Committee for Children. © 2007 Committee for Children.
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