Friday / June 14

A Few Missing Links in Preventing Bullying Behaviors



BullyingWe spend a tremendous amount of time, energy, and money dealing with the vestiges of bullying behavior in American schools. The reality is we are still missing some critical links in our efforts to solve the problem. Until we focus on the causes of the behaviors and those who engage in them, our attempts to interrupt the cycle will only be partially successful.

While we are rightfully—and legally, in many states—obligated to respond to those who have been on the receiving end of bullying behaviors, we have, by and large, failed to respond effectively with those who create the problem. Here are seven ideas to subvert some dominant paradigms about how we currently are dealing—or not dealing—with bullying in our schools today.

We have to reframe the language of how we identify those who engage in bullying behaviors—no more “bullies.” The term “bully” is stereotypical and pejorative. It’s time to talk about “kids who bully” or “those who create bullying problems.” See the child, not the label. How we choose to talk about kids often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who bully others come in all shapes and sizes and are found everywhere along the educational spectrum. Changing terminologies doesn’t automatically change behaviors for the better, but it does force us to see the person first before we automatically assign him or her into a stereotype. That being said…

Keep the focus on the behavior. While we are not always privy to the motives behind them, behaviors are observable. They are factual. They are recordable. We can identify them, describe them, and specify who, what, when, and where they occur. Within those observations, pay attention to the frequency, duration, and intensity of the problematic behavior. Keep notes. Notations come in handy when we…

Engage the parents as a part of the solution. Parents are another missing link in the problem-solving equation, one that we have historically avoided often out of a fear that they may be the cause of the child’s behavior. Sometimes yes they are, sometimes no, sometimes maybe, but the parent is always the parent and, as such, has a responsibility to do his or her part to address problematic behaviors after school hours. How do we get the parents to work with us, particularly if we are concerned about their willingness to do so?

Consider parents as collaborators. Encourage, don’t discourage, parents. In an initial parent conference about problematic behaviors of a child, stick to the facts. State the reason for the conference, the behaviors that are causing the concern, and request the parent’s help in a collaboration with school personnel to find a solution. No accusations. No labels. Parents are often intimidated by conferences when their child is the focus of concern. The last thing we want to do is give them another reason to not want to participate in the solution.

Connect the dots. Those who engage in bullying behaviors are often crafty enough to do so just out of earshot and eyesight of supervisory personnel. However, various teachers, school counselors, and other school staff may, in isolation, know of specific incidents which may not have, at the time, warranted designation as an ongoing series of problematic behaviors. Team and staff meetings in a whole-school effort to discuss students of concern may be able to identify serial behaviors more indicative of bullying than the singular isolated incident it seemed at the time. Look for the cumulative effect of a total set of behaviors. A + B + C might equal a concern. But it also might not. Hence…

Don’t see bullying behaviors that don’t exist. We live in an era of “bully creep,” the tendency to declare some type of behavior as bullying when, in fact, it really is not. Kids, like adults, have disagreements. Not every inconsiderate act or rude verbal utterance is a bullying behavior. We have to give kids the tools to understand that disagreeing with others is fact of life, that diversity of opinion can be a hallmark of creativity, that debate can be civilized. Adults, on the other hand, must not fall victim to the dichotomous pitfall of classifying every negative behavior between kids as an incident of bullying. When we do so, we err on the side of simplistic thinking. Speaking of which…

Zero tolerance policies toward bullying behaviors are doomed to failure. They always have been, but we’ve spent the better part of three decades trying to make them work toward all things discipline. Creative disciplinary accountability (CDA) is the key to solving all disciplinary problems. CDA occurs along a continuum of options, but all require accountability on the part of the individual who infringed upon the rights of others. Zero tolerance policies provide only one choice as a disciplinary solution to those behaviors identified (by various definitions, mind you) as bullying. Dealing with those who create the mayhem of bullying requires two commodities that are in short supply in the daily life of student-educator interaction—time and thoughtful conversation—both of which directly impact the other. We have to take the time to converse with those who bully to find out what makes them tick, what their motives are, to see the kid beneath the mask of the behavior. Automatic punishments are like having only a hammer in our toolkit of responses to misbehavior—all behaviors become a nail and we use that hammer to pound every nail we see every chance we get. Not too intelligent. Not very effective, either.

Those who engage in bullying behaviors are half of the equation to the problem. Until we begin to design more intelligent responses to understanding their needs and motives, we will be missing the most critical link in our continued efforts to solve the problem. 

Written by

Walter Roberts, Jr., is a professor of counselor education at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He has over 36 years in education at the 7-12 and postsecondary levels. In 2012-2014, he co-chaired the Governor’s Task Force on the Prevention of School Bullying which resulted in the passage of the Minnesota Safe and Supportive Schools Act of 2014. He is the author of two Corwin books, Bullying from Both Sides (2006) and Working with Parents of Bullies and Victims (2008). He is currently finishing a third book on the topic of bullying prevention and intervention. When not at the university, you can find him doing bullying prevention work in K-12 classrooms with his therapy dogs, Murphy and Prairie.

No comments

leave a comment