Expecting bystanders to solve the problem is problematic and irresponsible. As Barbara Coloroso has suggested, the bystander role is complex, holding varying degrees of complicity in bullying. The following cannot be overstated: adults are the first line of defense in a bullying situation. The power imbalance that separates bullying from other acts of aggression needs adult intervention. Children/young adults need to identify power structures and understand social injustice, and they will need guidance for this process. Bystanders alone cannot solve the bullying problem.
Implementing piecemeal efforts can bring more harm to the school culture and to the most vulnerable in a school population. Motivational speakers and special assemblies are often used in schools as bullying prevention strategies. While students and staff may report being entertained, inspired, even moved by these events, unfortunately, no evidence exists that they reduce bullying behavior in schools. Furthermore, because they do not take into account differing student needs in the schools, schools should avoid large group assemblies on sensitive issues presented by an outsider. Finally, without adequate staff preparation and investment in the event, students are left more vulnerable than they were before the assembly. Effective bullying prevention needs a whole-school, carefully- planned initative; piecemeal efforts should be avoided.
Finally, peer-only conflict resolution can leave our targeted children more vulnerable. We must continuously remind ourselves several things. First, while we wish for our students to have solid social-emotional skills and strategies, the process of developing them occurs under the guidance of a trusted adult. More importantly, bullying is different from other forms of conflicts because of the power imbalance. Peer mediation and conflict resolution provide no benefit in resolving a bullying situation. Adult intervention is needed to erode the power struggle between students. We must not leave our vulnerable and targeted youth alone to resolve a bullying situation with the person engaging in the aggressive behavior. This cannot be stressed enough. Conventional wisdom such as “they will work it out” and “this is natural peer conflict” erodes any progress we have made as a society in preventing bullying behavior.
History will judge us by the difference we make in the everyday lives of children.