Bullying has been a recognized problem for many years, and as we approach 2020, we still face this issue.
Despite enormous resources being allocated to fighting bullying, outcomes haven’t improved significantly, which means that the issue is in how the problem is being handled. The new decade should be associated with new solutions to the problem at hand, and for this we first need to understand what is not working in our current approach. Let’s take a look at the root causes of these issues.
Nebulus Reporting Processes
When a student feels the need to reach out, what do they do?
“Talk to your parents” or “an adult”, is the most used ‘common sense’ response does not give the student a clear idea of who would be welcoming and receptive to talk about specific issues. Students are very unlikely to choose to speak with their parents about emotional issues. The biggest reason is that they usually feel embarrassed or like they will disappoint their parents for not pushing through it on their own.
Should they go to a teacher or a member of the administrative staff?
Many schools might say that they want students to report but not actually provide clear and consistent reporting paths, that the students perceive as safe. There is usually no single method for reporting, and the practices may vary between schools.
There has been a major shift to Threat Reporting and Assessment, or Anonymous Tip Lines, due to many recent violent incidents in schools. Unfortunately, with major concerns being the focus, students do not feel like they can reach out through those methods until their situation is extreme enough. Other common reporting methods we have seen still in use are, email, the ‘bully box’ handwritten anonymous reports, handwritten reports turned in to school secretaries, and just ‘talk to a teacher’. All of these methods have historically neglected to reach students who have social incidents, anxiety, and depression, due to the inconsistent responses and perception of these methods.
Inconsistent report processes remains a foundational problem in education because the lack of a system means also that there is no unified way of responding or detecting the bullying problem. Rather, the issue is left to the discretion of the staff, which can be a good thing in many cases but also less effective. One can think about schools with a strict hierarchy and rules that could make it more difficult for a student to report bullying, especially if they fear some sort of negative consequences from the situation. There is the need for balance between supporting every student emotionally, while still enforcing rules and code of conduct.
Consistent systems for student support keeps students from slipping through the cracks. They allow long term connections with educators to form and can help teachers or staff members prepare and use effective solutions to the bullying problem. This bridging of the Trust Gap between educators and students can only form when the connection is consistent, predictable, and accessible. Having a system in place with clear guidelines and a tailored approach to every student, can make the student feel more confident and less worried about reporting. Transparent methods, and open communication helps students feel like they have a voice and are supported by their Schools.
Communication with Trusted Educators
It’s as simple as it is critical– students who communicate consistently with their educators are less likely to become a danger to themselves or others. It’s imperative for educators to provide a structure that promotes this communication. Students need to know that the teachers will listen to their concerns and take the bullying problem seriously rather than dismiss it or punish the student for reporting.
But confidence can not be accessible for some issues only, it needs to be earned throughout the student’s entire school life. If the student has seen the teacher listen, respond effectively, and take the students’ concerns seriously, they are more likely to open up and disclose bullying.
However, consistent communication is often lacking. Teachers are overworked or faced with the issue of building an effective communication with high numbers of students. School policies may also limit this communication and force unwanted responses from the teachers.
Moving Away from Outdated Notions
A third and perhaps one of the most important reasons is that the current anti-bullying approach is based on common sense notions of bullying. These view the problem in a stereotypical way. For example, these are associated with beliefs that the bully or the victim necessarily have specific characteristics, that a student is only ever a bully or a victim, and others. This dictates solutions that may not necessarily work. Stepping away from common sense notions to maintain an empathetic and evidence-based perspective is essential to implement best practices.