The reality of anti-bullying programs

Bullying has become the number one fear of parents, surpassing illegal drug use. Preventing bullying has become a major concern of schools, second only to education. Thousands of research studies have been conducted on bullying and on bullying prevention programs. 

What does the research show? The most highly revered and intensive anti-bullying programs rarely produce more than a minor reduction in bullying and often lead to an increase. A large-scale study conducted by the University of Texas at Arlington found that kids who attend schools with anti-bullying programs are more likely to be bullied than kids who attend schools without such programs. Why? And how can schools determine what is more likely to be effective?


There are two general approaches to dealing with bullying. One is a law enforcement approach. 


The law enforcement approach treats bullying as a crime from which people must be protected and perpetrators need to be apprehended, judged, and disciplined. It sees social dynamics as an interplay of guilty perpetrators (bullies), innocent victims, and bystanders that either passively or actively enable bullying. It teaches that victims are powerless to solve the problem and must report bullying to the authorities, who have the responsibility and the power to make it stop. This is the approach pioneered by Prof. Dan Olweus and incorporated by most of the leading bullying prevention programs, and also forms the basis of all anti-bullying laws.


The other general approach is a scientific, psychological one. 


It recognizes bullying to be an inevitable phenomenon of social dynamics in both the animal and human kingdoms, and occurs throughout the lifetime. It understands that social problems cannot be solved by simply making them illegal. It understands that a sure-fire way to get people to despise us is to inform on them to the authorities. As the common saying goes, “Snitches get stitches.” When authorities get involved, hostilities immediately intensify, as each side becomes determined to prove their innocence and the other’s guilt. A psychological solution, therefore, involves equipping us with the wisdom to understand the dynamics of bullying so we can defuse it on our own. People will always like and respect us more if we deal with them directly. When we know how not to be victims, no one can bully us. The psychological approach is championed by Izzy Kalman, and it is not new. Philosophers have understood and taught the solution to bullying for thousands of years. So, too, have many psychologists and psychotherapists, especially of the previous century, when Izzy acquired his professional education.  


The law enforcement approach takes a lot of time and effort. Sometimes it works. Too often it makes the problem worse. When bullying leads to serious violence and/or suicide, it’s almost always after the school authorities got involved playing detectives and judges. If victims need to rely on others to solve their problems, they do not possess a solution, as it lies in the actions of others.


The psychological approach takes little time and effort. When children learn to handle their social challenges on their own, their self-esteem goes up and their peers respect them more. Educators can spend their time educating rather than playing detective and judge. 


Rule of thumb for effective programs

When considering bullying prevention programs, the following rule of thumb will enable you to roughly predict their degree of effectiveness:

The more the program is able to empower kids to handle bullying on their own, the more effective it will be.

The more it teaches kids that they must rely on others to help them, such as student bystanders, teachers, etc., the less effective it will be. 


This is simple logic.


“This has been the most interesting training that I have ever attended. The instructor was very good and held my attention. I will take the information obtained in the training into my family life and workplace. As a probation officer, I feel I will be able to help my clients.”

—  Renee Clark-Hughes, Adult Probation Officer, San Antonio, Texas