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Tuesday
May152018

Anti-Bullying Programs: Are They Effective?

I was recently reading an article that discussed Melania Trump’s recent speech regarding her “Be Best” platform.  One of the three main facets of this program included today’s hot button topic of bullying.  Anti-bullying programs seem to be popping up in every school in the last decade as more and more attention is being drawn to the increasing problem of social media’s impact on bullying.  While there is no denying the negative impact social media has had on the bullying epidemic, I often have to wonder about the efficacy of some of the programs that have been designed to “defeat” bullying in schools.

One such program is Christian Buck’s Buddy Bench, to which Mrs. Trump gave a nod in her speech.  For those of you that don’t know, a Buddy Bench is simply a bench placed strategically on the playground.  The idea behind it is that kids who are lonely at recess can sit on it and other children will ask them to participate in games and activities with their group of friends.  I can certainly see how this bench could be a valuable tool for kids that are new to the school and have not had the opportunity to make friends, which is why it came to Christian’s attention in the first place.  However, it seems highly unlikely to me that students who are predisposed to shyness are going to put themselves out there to be rejected just because a bench exists for that purpose.  And even if they did, how is this teaching them the skills they will need later in life to make friends and assert themselves when there isn’t a Buddy Bench to assist?  As adults it seems unlikely that the water cooler clique will be looking around to see who is sitting alone and inviting them to join the office lottery pool. 

The even bigger issue with the Buddy Bench, in practice, is whether the use of the bench negatively impacts the peers of the children who are more likely to sit on the Buddy Bench.  Let me explain.  If, as discussed above, the shy children are less likely to put themselves in the spotlight by sitting on the bench, who is comfortable doing so?  Often, the answer is children that might have previously exhibited aggressive and bullying behavior, which behavior has alienated their classmates.  When this is coupled with the fact that the kids encouraged to engage with children sitting on the Buddy Bench are often those children predisposed to be sensitive and kind to others, the use of the bench can perpetuate, rather than alleviate, bullying by pairing sensitive children back up with their bullies.   What is the take away message for these children?  It doesn’t matter how someone treats you, you still have to be nice to them.  Worse yet, the take away message for the aggressive child is that it doesn’t matter how you treat others, they still have to play with you.  I am not really sure those are messages I would like to be reinforcing.

While I am obviously not a huge fan of the Buddy Bench, I do really like the programs that work to create kindness by exposing children to service projects that connect them to other populations within their community.  Exposing these children to the reality that we are all people, and helping them learn more about philanthropy and cultural groups to which they wouldn’t normally be exposed, will be much more likely to develop kinder and more thoughtful individuals.  I also love the education programs going into teaching kids ways to be “upstanders”.  It is never a bad idea to teach kids how to assert themselves and stand up for what is right. The message that a group can be just as powerful toward the positive end of bullying as it can be in perpetuating the bullying is a message I want my own kids to hear loud and clear. 

What I would really like to see is parent education about helping your child be more assertive and building self-esteem.  Staff education for teachers about how to identify kids who are being bullied and how to handle potential bullying situations would also be nice.  However, nothing will beat having more qualified mental health providers in the school assessing for potential victims and working with them to build up their assertiveness and confidence.  The truth is that kids are cruel and they are likely to continue being so.  Technology removes the discomfort of seeing the effects of the pain you inflict, which is emboldening kids who otherwise might never bully.  Programs must be aimed at helping victims become less likely to be victimized and educating parents to become more involved and aware.  Finally, the adults of our society could do a lot of work modeling common courtesy.  I have been dismayed to see that as our efforts to create kinder children have increased, we have also become a far less courteous society overall.  What message is that sending to the watchful eyes of our children, I wonder?

 

 

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