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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 03/31/2010

Make strong anti-bullying programs mandatory in schools

By Valerie Strauss

More than 40 states have some sort of law that makes bullying illegal, yet the harassment of young kids by their classmates remains common.

According to the latest U.S. government statistics, about one-third of students aged 12-18 say they are bullied in some fashion, and it wouldn’t be surprising if that statistic is low.

And here we are again, with the fallout from an egregious bullying situation in Massachusetts. Phoebe Prince, 15, took her own life in January after months of being bullied by other kids.

Now nine teens face charges for bullying her, including a group of girls charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating the girl’s civil rights. Sadly, this is just one of several suicides of young people over the past year who had been bullied by classmates.

Even as some states are now moving to strengthen their anti-bullying laws, the fact remains that laws alone can’t stop bullying.

Unless the adults and the kids in every school in the country learn how to recognize and deal with these situations, bullying won’t stop.

Unfortunately, most schools don’t have programs, and many don’t have the ones known to be most effective.

Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community, such as the The Olweus Program (pronounced Ol-VEY-us) for elementary, junior high and middle schools. (You can find reports analyzing different bullying programs here.)

That means that every adult in the school, from the principal to the janitor, must be trained in how to recognize bullying and what actions to take to stop it.

Then every student in the school--through assemblies and then regular classroom discussions--must learn about the issue too, and be given opportunities to discuss bullying situations that arise. Kids should be taught that group dynamics can be important in escalating or de-escalating a bullying situation--and that is not acceptable to be a bystander to this kind of behavior. That doesn't mean a child should get physically involved, but should know when and how to get help.

Parents, too, should be educated about how to help their children deal with bullying.

Such training, though, takes time and money. One schoolwide assembly to discuss bullying doesn’t work. Schools that are serious about this kind of program often make time once a week for the topic to be discussed in every classroom.

The Associated Press reported that Barbara Coloroso, a nationally known anti-bullying consultant, was contacted by school officials before the death of the 15-year-old girl, but after another young boy in a nearby town had killed himself in the wake of bullying.

Coloroso said that she went to the school for a day in September to train teachers and administrators how to deal with bullying.

She said officials at the school failed to stop the bullying, and after the girl killed herself, continued to allow some of the students said to be involved in the harassment to attend classes and a school dance with no visible signs of discipline.

"The questions to ask are: Did they follow their own rules and did they keep Phoebe safe? Obviously not. And did they deal effectively with the bullies? Obviously not," Coloroso told The Associated Press Tuesday.

This in no way exonerates the school officials, but one day of training is hardly enough to make a dent in the problem.

While those nine students are facing charges, as they should, the adults in the building who are said to have ignored the bullying when it was brought to their attention apparently will not be charged.

There is no good excuse for any adult in a school in this day and age to fail to take strong action against bullies. There ought to be some consequence for their failure.

This is not a topic that we hear our education leaders talking about very much. If we ever really want kids to feel safe enough in schools to do well academically, it’s a topic that we can no longer ignore.

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By Valerie Strauss  | March 31, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Bullying  | Tags:  bullying, phoebe prince  
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Next: Closing the school-to-prison pipeline


Bully parents have bully kids.

Posted by: thebink | March 31, 2010 7:18 AM | Report abuse

Thank you for this wonderful piece. I grew up in South Hadley, where Phoebe Prince went to school. The bullying was awful then, and I was bullied while in school there. The teachers and administrators saw it as my problem; they said I didn't talk and walk like the others and hadn't learned to socialize. I read now and then about studies to this effect--about how bullied children are poorly socialized--and it makes me think: why does anyone believe the bullies themselves have good social skills? When people refer to social skills, are they talking about kindness, generosity, understanding, compassion, or are they talking about the process of fitting in, working one's way into a group, asserting dominance over others?

Often it seems to be the latter, and that explains a lot. Bullies are then regarded as normal, because they are in a group or even dictate the rules of the group. They are assertive (in the worst of ways); they are leaders (in the worst of ways); and they have a group, so they're supposedly normal. But who says group behavior is automatically normal? Or rather, who cares if it's normal? Doesn't it matter whether or not it's good?

Posted by: DianaSenechal | March 31, 2010 7:46 AM | Report abuse

Safety has to be dealt with first - whether the danger is from other students,adults or unsafe buildings. As this article points out, the whole community needs to get involved and stay involved.

Posted by: PLMichaelsArtist-at-Large | March 31, 2010 7:47 AM | Report abuse

Diana, so sorry that you were twice abused...both by bullies and the adults who told you it was your problem. More often than not, the worst bullies are themselves abused at home. This doesn't excuse their behavior, but if bullying is pervasive in a community, then the adults are to blame. There must be zero tolerance for this kind of behavior -- with consequences.

In the DC area, this behavior is tolerated in some schools. When my child was in a private elementary school, he was bullied. I was told that it was because he was "different" and was led to believe that it was his fault. I knew better and took him out of that situation. That school now has a zero tolerance policy and I'm guessing its not whats in fashion so they have that policy as opposed to doing it because its the right thing to do. I'm rather unimpressed with school teachers and school administrators in general so I'm not surprised that bullying thrives.

Posted by: commentator3 | March 31, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

Texting apparently played a role in this (and other) case of bullying. I can't help but feel that the 24/7 access that even young children have to their peers is something we should reconsider.

Posted by: jane100000 | March 31, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Great article! As a retired school psychologist and adjunct professor at BGSU, my eyes watered when I this article. Then, I grew angry! I just wrote an aritlce "Is Your Child Bullied?" on my FAMILY JOURNAL site ( The National Institutes of Health 2004 survey concluded that the prevalence of bullying in U.S. schools suggests a need for more research to understand and devise ways to intervene against bullying. School intervention programs have been shown to be successful and are listed on the free FAMILY JOURNAL site. Effective programs have been devised and installed in many schools! They are comprehensive in nature involving parents, students, school staff and the whole community. Have the schools whose students killed themselves due to bullying in the hallways adopted an anti-bullying program or did they just have the board of education adopt an anti-bullying statement on the student conduct code book? I'll bet each of the school system chickened out and did the later. Hello, lawyers, are you out there? Find out about the researched and effective anti-bullying programs. Make these schools adopt them!!! My free site also has free videos and free newspaper and journal daily updates about bullying. So far, the superintendent's responses sicken me. Robert at FAMILY JOURNAL:

Posted by: Robert61 | April 2, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

A standard question for every candidate running for a school board should be this: What steps will you take to ensure that our children have a safe and nurturing environment? Bullying/harassment is a leading cause of school drop outs and if we can reduce it substantially, we will have more kids completing high school and going on to college.
The type of harassment Phoebe Prince received crossed the legal line and whenever bullying attains that level, it should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. It was a criminal conspiracy to harass and torment the young Irish immigrant.

Posted by: BrianfromSeattle | April 2, 2010 7:25 PM | Report abuse

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