Bullying Program Effectiveness

Programs implemented vary in effectiveness depending on how well the staff is trained to handle the situations. It isn’t enough to tell kids to report if the teachers aren’t trained in what steps to take and how to intervene when a situation is reported to them. 

How effective is your anti-bullying program?

There is an excellent resource of what constitutes an effective anti-bullying program for schools put out by Harvard – http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/sites/cyber.law.harvard.edu/files/ImplementingBullyingPrevention.pdf

In order to be effective, an anti-bullying program has to be holistic and train the children, the staff and the parents so that everyone knows what to do and why to do it.  The reason this is so important is because the number one way to get bullying to stop is consistency of effort.  Here are some specific elements a good anti-bullying program should take into account.

Consistency over time: Bullying is a learned behavior. It can be unlearned, but that takes time and like all habits, it is a hard habit to break. Specifically, if sometimes the bully gets away with it and sometimes they don’t, that will actually increase the bullying behavior and make it worse. It sets up what is known as a variable re-enforcement dynamic, which is known from behavioral management studies to strengthen a behavior. For this reason it is critical that all incidences of bullying be reported until the bully gives up the bad behavior and that can take a while. Again, the response has to be consistent to extinguish the behavior.  Most teachers and administrators don’t want to deal with the headache for as long as it needs to be dealt to resolve the problem. It can also seem as if the victim is over reporting because of the severity of what is happening to them. Again, the only way to get the bullying to stop is to be 100% consistent and that is why anti-bullying programs fail when they do.

 Teach children what to expect: Another reason these programs fail when they do is that the children are not taught what to expect once they start reporting. If the bullying is chronic, there is a good chance the bullying will get worse as the bully cycles through what is known as an extinction burst. Children who are made aware of this are ready for it and can handle it. Those who aren’t told to expect this are caught off guard and come to believe that there is no point in reporting because it just makes things worse.

Long story short, there are some excellent programs out there – Harvard lists some of them. When programs fail, they fail because they aren’t comprehensive and consistent.

Does your school have a good program? What has been your experience with bullying programs. Overall helpful? Or do they just provide empty assurances but no real change in the culture of the school or workplace?

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