Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Role of State and Local Policies in Bullying Prevention

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 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) do provide protection for students from being bullied on the basis of gender, race, color, disability, religion, and national origin.

Additionally, the NAS reviewed the research on the impact of state prevention laws and the implementation of these laws. While progress has been made, especially with regard to a national focus on bullying, the impact and the implementation remain inconsistent and inadequate.

The following are some of the findings of the panel:

  1. Federal laws do provide protection for vulnerable groups that can support state anti-bullying laws; however, the protection is limited to those groups specifically identified.
  2. While all states have anti-bullying legislation, there remain inconsistencies in the way that bullying is defined and in the authority states have to respond to bullying behavior.
  3. No evidence exists to support zero-tolerance policies as a means to ensure school safety; in fact, these rigid policies have potential to make schools less safe.
  4. Additional research is needed in environments beyond the school, including residential programs and juvenile justice facilities.
We need to dig deeper into those places where bullying prevention is working, where students are safer, and vulnerable groups are being protected. In this way we might understand the interaction between the place, the policy, the program, and the people.

"Schools should be a safe place for students to be and to study, rather than be worried about being bullied or injured.” ~Kaz Sato (Cincinnati Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League)

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Relationship between Bullying and Trauma

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 have been linked to signs and symptoms of post-traumatic stress. Bullying is a traumatic experience.

When our brains perceive threat, whether that threat is real or imagined, the most instinctual and primitive part of our brains, called the reptilian brain, goes into survival mode. This powerful response is often flight, fight or freeze. In dangerous situations we do not have the time to weigh options or rationalize the threat. The reptilian brain's takeover reduces cognitive and emotional capacity and our senses become the driving forces of our actions.

A child/young person targeted in a bullying situation will be in this survival mode, a state of hyper-arousal. By using a lens of trauma to approach bullying, we deal with its effects on a sensory level and help the targeted child to de-escalate and begin to regulate emotions. No amount of behavioral intervention will be affective until the reptilian brain is assured the threat is no more.

The effects of bullying are felt in every aspect of our being, including emotionally, physically, and psychologically.  Those who are targeted, especially over a period of time, will manifest the same symptoms of those diagnosed with PTSD.  When we look at the impact of a bullying situation on this level, we can begin to heal those who have been harmed by the situation. 

"We owe our children, the most vulnerable citizens in our society, a life free of violence and fear." ~Nelson Mandela