Four Elements to Successful Bullying Recognition and Prevention
Follow this comprehensive guide to make your schools safer places for all students.
JoLynn Carney, PhD, and Richard Hazler, PhD
Recognizing and preventing bullying in schools is primarily a matter of organized implementation of a few critical themes. Effectively addressing the complex dynamics between a target, a bully, and bystanders involves strategies that include reducing isolation, empathic investment in those who are seen as different, creating the sense of a team effort within the community, and supporting ongoing investment efforts.
There are numerous approaches to bullying prevention. Some are single-focus programs such as Olweus Bully/Victim Prevention. Others such as Positive Behavior Supports, and Project TEAM incorporate bullying prevention as one part of a comprehensive program to create an overall positive and productive school environment. SafeSchools Training from Scenario Learning provides practical training and the insights needed to manage bullying behaviors in schools and can be incorporated into a school-wide comprehensive prevention model.
Programs differ in specifics and focus, but their success is built on making sure everyone feels personally invested and is committed to taking action.
- Isolation Reduction
A common sign that a person or group is being bullied or is highly vulnerable to bullying is isolation. Students who frequently sit alone at lunch, make poor eye contact, and avoid speaking to others may be targets or particularly vulnerable to bullying. Interpersonal abuse can’t continue when bystanders break the isolation by taking actions that support people who may be vulnerable. Helping targets to make connections with others is the key.
Children can befriend their peers, and adults can create circumstances in which children are comfortable and supported by others. The more peers and adults demonstrate support to all students, especially those who might be vulnerable as targets, the more quickly bullying can be curbed before it begins.
- Empathic Knowledge and Investment
Individuals and groups viewed as “other” (i.e., “not like me”) are highly vulnerable to bullying. We tend to feel greater emotional connections to individuals we sense commonalities with, and less emotional connection with those we see as different. Bullying stops when targets are viewed as significant people just like us, when we are sensitive to their joy and pain, and when we feel the need to keep them from harm. Creating empathic investment in all parties, including bystanders as well as bullies and targets, is therefore essential for success.
Empathy can be fostered during regular classroom discussions—around stories, books, and videos that tap the emotions; abuse in the news; and examples of prejudice and discrimination that occur locally and in the wider world. These discussions should include how these events relate to hurting others in our own lives, why people do hurt others, and how we can help change or prevent those situations. Discussions also need to emphasize the positive aspects of people and groups who seem different, so that people are more likely to support them for positive reasons and share concern for their problems. Bringing people emotionally closer by increasing these positive connections reduces bullying.
- Community as a Team
The more people are invested in empathy and the reduction of isolation, the more their support and caring concern prevents and stops bullying. Everyone recognizes how successful teams, clubs, and organizations have a shared vision and work together for common goals, and feel connected in the process. This is a team approach that gets individuals working in common directions and feeling their own worth and appreciation within the group.
Setting goals that excite all members of the community, whether school-wide or even within a classroom create a sense of greater good that also supports individuals. Recognizing those who help individual students and the larger group move toward goals is essential to maintaining motivation and caring among students. Celebrating the joy that comes with being a part of the team is critical and can come in many forms, including team-building activities and events, team songs, banners, and as many daily reminders as possible that highlight the support for the group, its goals, and its individual members.
- Ongoing and Organized Investment
Creating a supportive environment for all students must be a consistent priority. Teams that experience great victories only to then stop practicing and evolving with changing times lose their potential for greater accomplishments. Prevention of bullying is an ongoing task that must be regularly evaluated and revised based on evolving circumstances. We must continually find ways to seek new growth and successes.
For additional information and details see: Hazler, R.J. & Carney, J.V. (2012). Critical characteristics of effective bullying prevention programs. In S.R. Jimerson, A.B. Nickerson, M.J. Mayer, & M.J. Furlong (Eds.), Handbook of school violence and school safety: From research to practice 2nd Edition (pp 357–368). New York: Routledge.
Dr. Richard Hazler is a Professor of Counselor Education at Penn State University. He is well known for his work in areas of bullying, peer-on-peer abuse, and youth violence. He is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.
Dr. JoLynn Carney is a faculty member in the Department of Counseling at Penn State University and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. Her research and publications focus on areas of youth violence, peer-on-peer abuse, and adolescent suicide. She is the co-author of “Bullying: Recognition & Response” for SafeSchools from Scenario Learning.