Bullying Prevention Month 2015: Have We Come To The End of This Policy Cycle?


It is hard to believe it is October again, our designated “bullying prevention month.” Typically at this time of year my inbox is full of requests for interviews or information on bullying and my Google newsfeed alerts ping hundreds of articles about the issue. Though these are still trickling in, somehow this year seems much slower than any in the past five. Perhaps it was the recent news that rates of bullying are down for students ages 12-18, or the fact that every state in the country now has an anti-bullying law (which, at least according to one recently released study, seem to have a positive relation to decreased rates of bullying). Whatever the reason, it seems like the once-widespread focus on bullying among school-aged youth seems to be fading.

In their pioneering book Tinkering Toward Utopia, David Tyack and Larry Cuban write that policymakers’ attention to a topic often follows public interest, for better and worse; tragedies or news stories can increase the likelihood of real action, but those chances wane when public attention fades. We have seen this already with bullying. The first panic about bullying followed a string of school shootings in the 1990s, reaching its peak with the Columbine massacre in 1999. But attention to bullying dwindled until the next panic involving youth suicides in 2010.

Despite the public’s seemingly short attention span, however, dedicated researchers, advocates, and policymakers took up the cause driving towards the progress we have seen to date. This relatively quiet bullying prevention month is the perfect time to reflect on our progress and plan for the next policy cycle, which will hopefully not be triggered by a tragic event like those in the past.

The last five years have been a firestorm for work on bullying. A simple Google Scholar search reveals over 9,000 publications since 2010 with “bullying” in their title. Everyone, from President Obama to Lady Gaga to Big Bird to Monica Lewinsky, has spoken up about bullying. Anti-bullying wristbands and posters are so commonplace now, it is almost more surprising to walk into a school and not see these types of campaigns. Bullying as an issue is so recognized now that it has lost much of the meaning that was once ascribed to it. As danah boyd has long argued, the term bullying often doesn’t resonate with today’s youth. Today, everything is bullying and yet nothing is bullying (and it doesn’t help that those of us who work on the issue can’t agree what it is, either). It comes as no surprise then that, after five years, there is a general malaise in the discussion.

But perhaps this is exactly where the conversation needs to be. As I have long argued, simply telling youth not to bully and raising awareness about the issue is unlikely to actually change the behavior. Instead the conversation now seems to have shifted to one that could have a real impact: building social and emotional skills in youth, addressing trauma, creating more positive school climates, and focusing on positive behaviors, rather than negative ones. By focusing on these protective factors, at increasingly earlier ages, we are more likely to impact bullying than awareness campaigns like bullying prevention month.

So as this bullying prevention month quietly continues, don’t despair that attention has been lost. Instead look towards the promise of the new policy cycles, new research, and new prevention efforts that might have the biggest impact of all.

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/bullying-prevention-month-2015-have-we-come-to-the-end-of-this-policy-cycle/

To Prevent Bullying, Focus on Early Childhood 


How do we prevent bullying? Despite decades of study and numerous programs claiming to be the solution to bullying, few programs have actually been shown to be effective. One of the main issues is that “bullying prevention” is often a misnomer; instead of trying to stop the behavior before it begins, the focus of many programs is on reducing already high rates of bullying. By the time students enter sixth grade, the earliest grade for which nationally representative data is collected, nearly 28 percent report having been targeted in the past year. For younger children, data are far more limited, but suggestive. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence found that 20.4 percent of children ages 2-5 had experienced physical bullying in their lifetime and 14.6 percent had been teased (verbally bullied).

To actually prevent bullying before it starts, we need to focus on how bullying behaviors develop—for those engaging in bullying behaviors and those being targeted—starting in early childhood. Child Trends recently conducted a literature review and convened an expert roundtable, which NAEYC took part in, to document current understandings of the roots of bullying in early childhood. We identified key contextual factors linked to bullying behaviors, promising and evidence-based programs that help address emerging behavior, and the need for further research.

Research on bullying and early childhood development is limited. When we talk about bullying, the early childhood audience is often forgotten. There remains immense debate in the field about how to distinguish between typical, sometimes aggressive behavior that young children show and the more strategic and deliberate behaviors that define bullying. In preparing their uniform definition of bullying, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defined bullying as being between “school-aged youth,” recognizing that the behaviors observed in young children are often not what we traditionally think of as bullying, but are developmental in nature, as children first begin to navigate interactions with peers. Many young children who are aggressive with their peers will not engage in bullying behaviors in later childhood and adolescence. Likewise, being the target of an aggressive behavior does not mean that child will be victimized for life. Still, these early aggressions (and conversely, the early skills of sharing, listening, and empathy) are precursors to later behavior, and it is important to intervene early. More research is needed to understand the trajectory of early aggression into bullying behaviors.

Despite the limited literature, four key factors consistently seemed to be related to bullying behaviors in young children:

1) Parents’ treatment of each other, their children, and others influences how young children treat their peers. Specifically, parents’ use of harsh discipline and children’s exposure to domestic violence are related to increases in bullying behavior, while parents’ positive engagement in their children’s lives, such as through interactive play, reading, and meals together, seems to be protective against bullying behavior. Parents serve as role models for their children, and modeling empathy, concern, and care for others may help deter later bullying. Resources such as those provided by the Making Caring Common Project at the Harvard Graduate School of Education can help parents expand their own “circle of concern” and help their children do so, too. (It should be noted here that the majority of current research looks at the behaviors and characteristics of mothers; studies looking at the role of fathers are more limited, primarily because mothers are more likely to be the primary caregiver for young children and more likely to respond to the research. Some effort is being made, however, to address the role of fathers in bullying prevention.)

2) Young children exposed to maltreatment are more likely to be involved in bullying, both as the target and the aggressor. Not only can maltreatment change children’s behaviors, it has been shown to fundamentally alter the development of young children’s brain structures, which can lead to developmental deficits including in the social and emotional domains. Early intervention is critical to help stem these delays. Adults and Children Together (ACT) Against Violence Raising Safe Kids, an evidence-based program specifically aimed at helping reduce child maltreatment and promote positive parenting strategies, is one approach that shows promise.

3) Television and other media can contribute to the development of both aggression and pro-social skills. Screen time for your children is one of the most debated subjects among early childhood advocates. Research shows that increased television watching is related to increases in aggressive behavior even if the content is not inherently violent. Conversely, when shows are specifically designed to promote skills such as sharing, empathy, and other pro-social skills—shows like Sesame StreetDaniel Tiger’s Neighborhood, or in past generations, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood—children are more likely to engage in these behaviors after viewing.

4) Building young children’s social and emotional skills and promoting welcoming classrooms can significantly reduce aggression. Evaluations of several evidence-based social and emotional learning programs for young children, such as PATHS for Preschool, Second Step, and Al’s Pals, show that helping children understand and control their own emotions, and understand those of others, can significantly reduce conflict and aggression. Even without these formalized interventions, teachers of young children (and parents for that matter) can work to reduce bullying behaviors. The Guidance Matters column in the professional journal Young Children provides a number of resources that can support these efforts.

Overall, it is clear that more attention needs to be paid to identifying, researching, and preventing the roots of bullying behavior in young children. It is only when we recognize that bullying behaviors do not simply appear in elementary or middle school, but may be part of a developmental trajectory, that will we be able to stop bullying.

Source: Child Trends

Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/to-prevent-bullying-focus-on-early-childhood/

Letter on Bullying


Dear Colleague,

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) is committed to working with States to ensure that school districts provide all children with positive, safe, and nurturing school environments fin which they can learn, develop, and participate. OSERS is issuing this letter to provide an overview of a school district’s responsibilities under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to address bullying of students with disabilities.

Enclosure: Effective Evidence-based Practices for Preventing and Addressing Bullying

Source: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS)

Available at: http://www2.ed.gov/policy/speced/guid/idea/memosdcltrs/bullyingdcl-8-20-13.pdf