Holding Adults Responsible for School Bullying

Friday, September 12, 2008

As students head back to school this fall, many of them will encounter name-calling, putdowns or malicious rumors from other students. In order to control bullying, Pennsylvania is requiring anti-bullying policies in all schools by next year.  Sally Black, Ph.D., bullying prevention expert, says policies against bullying are not enough. Holding adults accountable is the key to protecting children.

Bullying is when someone abuses his or her social power to intentionally hurt someone with lesser power. On top of all the health and emotional problems that bullying can cause, it can also lead to catastrophic events such as school shootings. “No child should feel that picking up a gun is the only way to restore power” says Black.

She explains that both school administrators and parents need to look for the warning signs in bullying victims, such as loneliness, fear of riding the bus, frequent complaints of sickness and inability to sleep at night. Victims need support and protection from adults.

Bullies also need help. Bullies are more likely to end up in jail because they fail to learn what is normal behavior in society. “We have found that punishment through zero tolerance is not effective. Using bullying to control bullying merely teaches students that the biggest bully wins” cautions Black. Role modeling caring behavior and correcting the behavior as soon as it occurs is more effective.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently instituted a stricter policy in the city’s school system for reporting harassment, underscored Black’s concern. “By holding students and administrators accountable, and by giving victims more opportunities to seek help, we can create safer schools with healthier learning environments,” Bloomberg said in a recent New York Times article.

With a glut of programs to reduce bullying, Black suggests using the “evidence-based” programs identified by experts. “There are many programs out there that claim to reduce bullying. Just because a program has a glossy brochure or has appeared on Oprah does not mean that it works. Administrators need to do their homework and give our kids the best, most effective programs available. Lists of evidence-based programs in youth violence prevention are available on-line.”

Black, assistant professor of health services at Saint Joseph’s University, can be reached for comment at 610-660-1530, by e-mail at sblack@sju.edu, or by calling the Office of University Communications at 610-660-1222

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