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The U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention just released a bulletin that summarizes the results of a comprehensive bullying study conducted by the National Center for School Engagement. The bulletin offers relatively easy-to-implement recommendations schools and parents can apply to minimize bullying and support students who are victims of bullying. The recommendations include:
Offer mentoring programs. According to the authors, students who felt they had one or more adult they could turn to in crisis tended to succeed even through the worst bullying. Therefore, it's recommended that every school employee be trained in mentoring, and each student should know which adult they can turn to in school for support. It's impossible for a handful of guidance counselors to form a true bond with every student, so teachers and coaches need to step in and be a sympathetic, safe ear for students, in addition to parents at home.
Provide opportunities for community service. Community service projects are a great way for students to break out of the school hierarchy and gain self-esteem. Helping others in need often allows students to take on leadership roles and mentor in a way they can’t inside the classroom. Teachers report that these projects often help build community and can counteract the pain and isolation associated with bullying.
Model caring behavior. This seems obvious, but if you expect kids to behave appropriately, then adults must show them what appropriate behavior looks like. The authors suggest that adult "can demonstrate that leadership, not abuse, is the appropriate way to use their positions of authority constructively.
Address the difficult transition between elementary school and middle school. It's a rite of passage, but it can also be traumatic to go from an insular elementary school to the big bad world of middle school. The opportunities for isolation, alienation and bullying are rampant, so the authors suggest schools (and parents) do everything they can to prepare students for the big transition and to support them once the transition is made.
Start prevention programs early. Bullying is not just a middle and high school problem. It can start in elementary school -- or even sooner. Schools (with the support of parents) are urged to educate kids early about the harmful effects of bullying. Don’t wait until it’s too late.
Increase student engagement in school. Bullied students who feel more connected to their school are less likely to stop attending once a bully targets them. The bulletin's authors say schools ideally should offer challenging academics and extracurricular activities, provide each student with access to a caring adult through an advisory program or similar arrangement, call home each time a child is absent and make sure teachers and coaches are understanding.
Resist the temptation to use prefabricated curriculum. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to stopping bullying. Although it requires more work, bullying programs that are specifically tailored to the specific needs of a community work best.