Do Anti-Bullying Programs in Schools Work?
School principals, counselors, and journalists are buzzing about a new study from researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington, which casts doubt on the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools. Could it be true that anti-bullying programs hurt more than they help?
Here’s a quick overview of the study’s findings and three implications it has for school leaders.
Study Offers Surprising Findings
- Data from 7,000 students in all 50 states was analyzed
- Comparison between schools that do and do not have anti-bullying programs was made
- Researchers found that students were more likely to have experienced bullying at schools that have installed an anti-bullying program
Implication #1: Education Does Not Equal Prevention
The study’s authors suggest that behavior-based anti-bullying programs, which educate students on what behaviors are defined as bullying, may actually be teaching bullies how to bully more effectively!
In other words, when bullies gain a better understanding of the behaviors that educators want to stop, they may simply keep bullying but change their methods to avoid detection.
Thus, we can conclude that educating students about bullying won’t necessarily reduce bullying. There will always be students who choose to bully others, and behavior-based anti-bullying programs alone won’t be able to stop them.
Implication #2: Holistic Anti-Bullying Strategies Are Needed
The study’s authors argue that a multi-pronged approach may be the most effective way to prevent bullying.
Besides bullying education programs for students, the authors suggest that the presence of uniformed security officers on campus and teacher involvement in anti-bullying efforts might be useful in preventing bullying in schools, among other things.
Here at the CyberBully Hotline, our experience validates this conclusion. Many of the schools we work with install a variety of programs to address bullying, such as character education, school resource officer, and anonymous reporting programs.
Implication #3: Anonymous Reporting Programs Can Help
The study’s authors note that bullies sometimes retain their high position in the student social hierarchy even after bullying education programs are put into place. A natural conclusion following this is that there must be another check and balance on bullying behavior within the school community.
Perhaps the most effective means of stopping bullying is giving students the ability to report bullying anonymously. When bullying victims and bystanders are free to report bullying anonymously, without fear of retribution from the bullies or punishment from school administrators, bad behavior can go down dramatically.
The middle school profiled in this CyberBully Hotline case study found this to be true. Students disciplined for fighting at the school went down 92% year over year after school leaders implemented a CyberBully Hotline program. This great success was achieved thanks to students proactively texting in tips to their school’s CyberBully Hotline. This helped school leaders intervene before feuding students had the chance to fight in most cases.
Conclusion: The Truth About Anti-Bullying Programs
We argue that the news headlines about this study don’t tell the whole story.
It’s wrong to suggest that students are more likely to be bullied at schools that have anti-bullying programs. A more accurate statement is to say that students at schools with ineffective approaches to bullying prevention are more likely to be bullied.
The schools who have successfully used programs like the CyberBully Hotline to reduce bullying are living proof that some approaches to bullying prevention work. When schools have the power to hold bullies accountable for their behavior, they can stay focused on their most important objectives: educating students and building a positive school climate.