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Zero Tolerance is a Nonapproach in Bullying Prevention Policy

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Despite no evidence of positive effects and compelling evidence of negative impact, some ineffective bullying prevention policies are still found in schools and communities.  Examples of this misdirection include zero tolerance, giving advice only, expecting bystanders to solve the problem, implementing piecemeal efforts, and peer-only resolution. 
Zero tolerance policies and harsh, punitive consequences are ineffective approaches to bullying prevention. Zero tolerance became a term to describe how states were responding to drug-related crimes in the United States in the 1980s (Skiba and Knesting, 2000). Conventional wisdom at the time said that by showing no tolerance for crimes, meaning no leniency, no second chances, with drug-related charges that we would reduce drug use in the United States. This did not work.  
In an effort to reduce aggression in schools, educational policymakers took a similar approach and began adopting a zero-tolerance stance for aggressive behavior.  Many sch…

The Role of State and Local Policies in Bullying Prevention

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State laws and policies around bullying prevention became a focus for the US Department of Education in early 2010. In its analysis of existing state anti-bullying policies, the US DOE examined aspects of the existing state laws. The department found that while the majority of states had passed anti-bullying legislation, inconsistencies remained, including the definition of bullying. This analysis also brought to light the omission in many laws of a mental health component, the identification of groups most targeted by bullying, and mandatory documentation of identified bullying behavior.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice, examined the federal and state laws and policies around bullying. By 2015, every state in the US had passed anti-bullying legislation. At the federal level, no laws exist specifically focused on bullying; however, civil rights laws, anti-discrimination polices, and the Individ…

The Relationship between Bullying and Trauma

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Research- and evidence-based bullying prevention programs have addressed bullying in a systemic and comprehensive way. We now have access to proven methods of preventing bullying and to intervene in bullying situations. While we have made great strides in designing and implementing systems that prevent bullying, there remains a need for intervening at the individual level in order to help children/young people heal from bullying situations. Using the lens of trauma in a bullying situation will fill this need.
We know that a bullying situation affects all involved in many ways, from social and emotional impact to physical and mental effects. Those who are targeted often fall into a learned helplessness that can continue throughout life. The National Institute for Trauma and Loss in Children (TLC) defines trauma as any real or perceived experience that leaves a person feeling hopeless, helpless, and fearing for their life/survival, their safety. Furthermore, the effects of bullying hav…

Empathy and the Amazing Mirror Neurons

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In Born for Love, Maia Szalavitz and Bruce Perry explain that we are born with foundational skills that allow us to learn empathy. Babies have the ability to imitate facial expressions, and they have an automatic response of crying when other babies cry. These two skills probably engage a cluster of brain cells called "mirror neurons." 

The study of mirror neurons is still young, but it has already given us some insight into human behavior in social settings. As Szalavitz and Perry describe, "Mirror neurons fire when you do something - but more important, they also fire in a less intense fashion when you see someone else do the same thing." Neuroscience researchers from the UK explain that mirror neurons fire in the person doing the action, and they fire also in the person observing the action. Whether you are doing something or whether you are watching it being done, the mirror neurons are active. 

So how does the study of mirror neurons help us understand the devel…

Understanding Trust in Bullying Prevention Efforts

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We know that effective bullying prevention efforts are found within strong school communities, but what is at the heart of those strong communities? Trust. As Tony Bryk and Barbara Sneider suggest, "trust is the connective tissue that binds individuals together to advance the education and welfare of students."  Understanding the critical role of safe and supportive places for our students in bullying prevention efforts is not enough. We need also to understand how to build those strong school communities. The importance of building trust in bullying prevention efforts, then, cannot be ignored.

Tony Bryk and colleagues, among other researchers, have compelling evidence of the importance of relational trust across the school community as a critical resource for school reform. Parker Palmer explains that relational trust is built on empathy, commitment, and compassion among other aspects. When relational trust is evident, people understand the rights and responsibilities of the…

Bullying Behavior Is a Serious Public Health Problem

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In October 2016 the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine released Preventing Bullying through Science, Policy, and Practice. This publication provides the results of a study commissioned by the NAS that aimed to determine what we know and what more we need to know about bullying behavior and its impact. While the entire study results are available for download at the NAS site, a policy brief is also available here.

The findings of this committee are broadly based and noteworthy. For example, the committee finds existing bullying prevention programs that are effective, and it identifies programs and approaches that hold promise, including restorative practices. At the national level, it notes the important limitations of existing civil rights and anti-discrimination laws with regard to bullying. It also exposes the substantial differences in state anti-bullying laws, especially with regard to a common understanding of the term bullying and the accountability of th…

Strategies for Preventing Bullying

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One characteristic of bullying that sets it apart from aggression in general is the perceived imbalance of power between the child engaging in bullying behavior and the child who is targeted. Those who bully focus on others they perceive as inferior in some way.

Young people who are perceived as "less than" have characteristics that set them apart from the rest. Some of these characteristics make children more vulnerable to bullying, such as our LGBTQ children and those on the spectrum, but any of a host of reasons place our children at risk, from food allergies to gender and ethnicity.

Cheryl Dellasega, PhD, and Charisse Nixon, PhD, co-authors of Girl Wars: 12 Strategies That Will End Female Bullying, offer two powerful strategies for bullying prevention. Although written for girls and young women, these research-based strategies are applicable for all young people, regardless of gender.
Build social-emotional skills at an early age. Begin your child's social education …