Saturday, October 12, 2013

Anti-bullying programs don't work well - and the focus on bullying might cause problems

Time Magazine   A new study recently published in the Journal of Criminology suggests that the anti-bullying programs that have become popular in many schools may not be as useful as previously thought. The authors examined 7000 kids at 195 different schools to try to determine child and school influences on bullying. Surprisingly, the authors found that children who attended schools with anti-bullying programs were more likely to experience bullying than children who attended schools without such programs.  In fairness, the data is correlational, so it’s not possible to say that anti-bullying programs necessarily led to more bullying.  One could argue that, perhaps, schools with bigger bullying problems were more likely to implement anti-bullying programs.  Nonetheless, this data suggests such programs may not be terribly effective. [...]

But the bigger and better reality check is that bullying behavior has actually been declining. Researchers David Finkelhor and colleagues surveyed children in 2003 and again in 2008 and found that they were being exposed to less violence across the board, including bullying. Across most indices, most deviant youth behavior has also been improving—smoking, drinking, violence, pregnancy, suicide.  It’s impossible to say why for sure, but I believe it’s part of a larger trend and not the result of anti-bullying programs.
Bullying was undeniably a problem that needed to be brought out of obscurity, but the issue has arguably now gotten too much attention. Such hype can lead to other problems such as the use of bullying accusations themselves as weapons in peer conflicts and overly harsh “zero tolerance” policies that over punish minor infractions  and may exacerbate the isolation that can lead to bullying in the first place. Now that bullying has been reduced, we need to be careful that it doesn’t distract us from other pressing problems besetting our nation’s schools.


  1. I have seen this myself. In my daughter's school they had and "anti-bullying" program. Afterwards the bullies would chant to to their targets "you are a bully".

  2. Bullying is a huge problem in some of the most 'prestigious' yeshiva elementary schools. Until the bullies, (often the children of big donors and 'rabbonim' are dealt with properly, the problem will get worse and will hit the general media.


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