Internationally recognized expert and author Michele Borba gave attendees a tour-de-force of the critical components of effective bullying prevention. Most people don’t realize what an issue bullying is in the United States, but a few statistics make it clear that we have an epidemic. Today, 1 in 3 US students are bullied. Rates are similarly high and rising internationally, where 1 in 5 students is bullied. The problem is so bad that the US National School Safety Center has stated that bullying is “the most enduring and underrated problem in American schools.”
Michele argued that there is no “silver bullet” to the bullying epidemic, and that stopping bullying requires a more integrated, multi-method approach. In a two-hour blitz crammed with content, she took attendees through the 6 R’s of Bullying Prevention, which we’ve briefly summarized for you here.
1. Rules: Establish and Anti-Bullying Policy
It is absolutely critical that every major stakeholder understands that bullying will not, under any circumstances, be tolerated. Also, the consequences for bullying behavior must be made clear.
Development of this policy must be thoughtful, thorough, and inclusive. Involve stakeholders in the process, and don’t hesitate to consult the latest research and the most effective bullying policies in use by others.
2. Recognize: Teach Stakeholders to Identify Bullying
Bullying can never be stopped if it can’t be identified consistently and spoken of with a clear understanding of what it is. Make sure your team is well trained on identifying bullying behavior, as well as the language that describes it. Common language leads to common understanding and clear communication.
Your team should know things like the “5 Types of Bullying” - physical, verbal, emotional, sexual, and electronic - and parents and other stakeholders should be trained to identify signs of bullying.
3. Report: Create Procedures to Report Bullying
It’s your job to create a safe, confidential reporting process for students, parents, and your staff to report bullying. We know that bullying behavior is reduced when there is monitoring. Create an environment where there is an expectation of reporting, and where everyone is thoroughly trained on the process of reporting.
It’s important to teach the difference between “reporting” and “tattling”. A simple differentiation is given by Michele in her article, The 6 Essential R’s of Bullying Prevention, “Reporting is when a student tells to protect another student’s safety or keep someone out of trouble. Tattling is trying to get a student in trouble.”
4. Respond: Teach Witnesses How to Respond to Bullying
Witnesses, both adults and peers, need to be equipped with the skills to properly intervene in a bullying situation. Evidence shows that this has a dramatic impact on the severity of bullying, and may be “the best hope we have to bullying prevention.”
Michele has developed a set of bystander skills, called “BUSTER”, that can be used to equip witnesses with the tools they need to effectively intervening. More information on BUSTER can be found on Michele’s site, www.micheleborba.com.
5. Refuse: Teach Bully-Proofing Strategies to Reduce Victimization
Bullies can’t bully if they don’t have a victim, and this R is to help reduce the incidence of victimization. It’s important for all staff to know the signs of victimization, and have a common language to communicate about it.
Also, potential victims need to be taught how to respond to bullying behavior. Social and assertiveness skills can help reduce the incidence of bullying.
6. Replace: Replace Bully’s Aggression with Acceptable Skills
There’s a reason bullies are bullying, and the behavior is often learned very young. Bullies have to learn a new set of skills to replace the bullying behavior that they default to. Empathy, conscience, socializing, and impulse control are each examples of the kinds of skills that must be developed by bullies if they are going to stop engaging in bullying behavior.
There is no easy road to eradicate bullying. But it’s destroying our youth, and the epidemic is spreading. We have to take serious action, and the 160,000 kids who skip school every day to avoid being bullied are waiting on us to act. Remember, at the heart of every anti-bullying campaign is Empathy, Respect, Kindness, and Not-Giving-Up!