Almost all of the bullying that our children experience originates from school. So if steps are taken to create a school environment that is less hostile and less conducive towards bullying, it becomes harder for a bully-culture to take hold. And if it’s harder for a bully culture to take hold, it makes it far less likely that bullying will branch out into cyberspace or other settings outside the school. Bullying prevention starts and ends with the school. If you prevent it there, you help to eliminate it everywhere.
This section is not just for school administrators, but parents, community advocates, and anyone else who is concerned about bullying prevention. It will outline changes that can reduce hostility and eliminate the bully climate in our schools, while suggesting specific steps parents, teachers, or other concerned adults can take to implement these strategies. Remember that bullying prevention is not an all-or-nothing game; every bit you reduce it – every incident that is averted – will amount to very real stress being taken off the shoulders of students. Even when bullying can’t be prevented outright, lowering this intensity threshold can make the difference between a child that goes over the edge and one who survives the experiences. We hope that you’ll consider this information carefully, and employ as many of these suggestions as possible.
Ways for Schools to Prevent Bullying
1. Create a system for anonymous reporting
Create an anonymous reporting system, such as a comment box or telephone hotline, so that kids can report bullying. This does a couple of important things. First, it allows bystanders a less-risky way to try and intervene in a situation or report the incidents that they witness. The kids who want to intervene but don’t feel like they have the courage or social clout to do so now have a second option.
Secondly, simply having such a system in place gives you and victims a type of “plausible deniability.” When you try to intervene in an incident without such a system, the bully thinks one thing: so-and-so told, and now he’s really going to get it. When you have a system in place that makes it easy for others to report anonymously, it helps deflect the “tattle-tell” or “snitch” label away from the victim. Even if it was the victim who reported it, you can convincingly pretend otherwise. The bully is less likely to try and retaliate against the victim and more likely to think twice the next time or be looking over their shoulder, wondering who else is around. Both such outcomes strongly discourage future bullying.
A) For schools with several hundred students, we would strongly suggest setting up a bully hotline, which is easier to do than you might think. All you need is to add a separate number with a voice messaging system that has enough memory to allow callers to leave a detailed recording. If budgets are tight, this is something that parents or a business in the community might be willing to sponsor. Better yet, just obtain a local number through Google. The line is free, and there are other free or low cost options to set up the voice recording. Calls can then be retrieved from any Internet connected computer.
B) Get a locked box and place it in a common area near the entrance. If you can get your hands on an actual mail drop box, this would be great. Let it serve as a repository for comments of any kind or other forms that need to be collected. Having this box serve multiple purposes makes it more inconspicuous, so try and come up with as many potential uses as possible. This way a child isn’t looked at cross-eyed for sticking something inside when others are around. Making it a general question/suggestion/complaint box is recommended.
C) The next step is to make sure it is absolutely clear to each student how to go about reporting. You should print posters (regular 8 1/2 by 11 will do) outlining the steps for reporting and the hotline phone number or location of the comment box (try including a picture of where your comment box is located and what it looks like). Place these posters outside every door going into every classroom and the doors leading outside to the playground. This ensures that everyone is aware of the reporting system, and it serves as a reminder to bully’s that others may be watching.
2. Ensure that reports are taken seriously and proper support is provided afterwards
One of the biggest ways you can let a child down is to provide a lackluster response when they gain the courage and trust to tell you that they are being bullied. Sadly, youth tend to report that this is the common outcome: “Approximately one-third of the students admitted that they had approached an adult in the building with what they considered to be a serious concern, but they were not ‘listened to or taken seriously,’ and that ‘nothing had changed’ as a result of their attempts. One tenth-grade girl said, ‘That’s how I feel most of the time – helpless. No matter what I say, the teachers and other adults don’t listen, they don’t care.’” (Garbarino & deLara, 2002, p. 128)
Whether or not it’s accurate to say that adults “don’t care” is beside the point – the fact remains that the way schools handle their problems leave the vast majority of teens feeling as though their teachers don’t care. This is a problem any which way you look at it. So ensure that all reports are taken seriously and that regular follow-ups occur so that a child feels as though they are being supported.
3. Get with teachers to establish a clear school policy
You may be surprised to learn that the teachers within a school may have very different philosophies when it comes to bullying intervention and prevention. Some may believe in giving students a chance to work it out themselves, others may believe it important to step in at the first sign of trouble. Some may feel comfortable intervening in a physical fight, while others are reluctant to do so. Surveys even show that as many as a third of teachers don’t think bullying is a problem at all. In order to put together an effective system to prevent bullying, you need to find a way to get everyone on the same page, so they at least understand what is expected of them.
To figure out what teachers believe and what they feel comfortable with, conduct a staff meeting or create a survey to ask questions such as . . .
- Two boys are fighting in the hallway. How would you intervene?
- What determines the dividing line between normal conflict and bullying behavior?
- What is the school’s role in bullying prevention?
- Are there any situations that would make you feel uncomfortable or fearful?
- What do you think some of the consequences of bullying should be?
You may want to consider providing some educational materials, particularly if there are teachers who regard bullying as harmless. (You can print out our chapter on the effects & consequences of bullying.)
4. Supervise the bus rides
The bus rides to and from school are primary places where bullying occurs, and so eliminating bullying here can go a long way towards fighting it elsewhere. There is no way that a single adult in a bus full of kids can watch the road while offering proper supervision at the same time. If parents and school officials are serious about bullying prevention, you need to find a way to offer supervision to and from school.
We’re all aware that our schools are being sliced and diced into oblivion by budget shortfalls, and most struggle just to pay their teachers, let alone provide luxuries such as bus supervisors. So parents need to step up to the plate on this. Contact the school about organizing a parent ride-along program. Talk with other parents and get volunteers who will ride the bus to or from school with the kids, then be given a ride by another parent back home or to their car.
5. Install cameras in the hallways and cafeteria
Once upon a time camera systems were prohibitively expensive. Not anymore. Systems with 20 or 30 cameras can be bought for just a few thousand dollars, and wireless cameras, though slightly more expensive, can eliminate installation hassles. It may seem a bit Orwelian, but students behave much differently when they know an adult might be watching, and if used properly, such a system can vastly reduce bullying where it most commonly occurs: in the cafeteria and hallways. The small expense is well worth the effort, especially compared to other more complicated efforts of bullying prevention. Remember, bullying prevention efforts will improve the students’ academic success, so such a system will pay for itself over time.
If the school can’t budget for them, ask if they would agree to installation if all the parents pitched in to fund the project. Once installed, have someone monitor for problems during periods and transition times. You can even have student monitors do this in the same way they might serve as hallway monitors…performing the grunt work and then flagging staff about any possible problems they notice.
Other bullying prevention ideas:
Schools that have done away with lockers have found that it eliminates some opportunities for bullying and has ended territorialism over certain sections of the hallways. (Crisp, 2011) If this is a feasible option for your school, you might seriously consider it.