A 2011 study in Virginia elementary, middle, and high schools found that bullying is considered the primary safety concern of students in all grade levels (Garrow, 2011). Students in middle school were most concerned with bullying (92%), followed by elementary (83%) and high school students (77%). Bullied students may experience many negative effects, including depression and risk for suicide (Kim & Leventhal, 2008). These statistics are alarming, and it is important to understand the ways that schools and districts can exponentially reduce these concerns so that students are able to concentrate on learning and build healthy peer relationships.
Steps to be taken:
1. Administrator and Teacher “Buy In”
- For any prevention program or discipline change, teachers and administrators need to agree and implement together.
- Effective character education programs that teach empathy and healthy relationship skills.
- Developmentally-appropriate bullying prevention programs offered at all school levels (often provided more to younger students).
- Character education and bullying prevention programs should be research and theory based.
- Programs should be taught in the classroom by regular classroom teachers, which were found to be most effective (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki, Taylor, & Schellinger, 2011).
3. Move away from “zero tolerance" policies
- Zero tolerance policies specify punishments for specific offenses, without regard to extenuating circumstances.
- Policies conflict with some theories on healthy adolescent development (American Psychologist, 2008).
These topics must be discussed and considered when evaluating bullying behaviors, which continues to receive attention in the media. The topic of bullying is not one-dimensional, nor are the students who are involved (in any capacity).
Kalyn Mace-Guilloux is an experienced bullying prevention educator, working to teach empathy and other healthy behaviors. Currently she is an advanced doctoral student with a focus upon implementing character education programs to decrease bullying behaviors and other unhealthy interpersonal behaviors. She firmly believes each school should have a bullying prevention program teaching healthy behaviors, rather than simply punishments under a “zero tolerance” policy.