08/29/2013 06:22 pm ET Updated Oct 29, 2013

Choosing the Right Anti-Bullying Program

With millions of students returning to schools across the country over the coming weeks, dedicated educators and concerned parents must work together to find a solution to the U.S. bullying epidemic in order to establish safe learning environments for all students.

According to the 2011 nationwide youth risk behavior survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied on school property over the course of one 12-month period. Sadly, the presence of a school-based bullying prevention program is not enough to protect the nation's students. With the research examining anti-bullying programs showing mixed results, discerning parents and schools must continue to work in unison to face growing concerns about digital and school-based bullying. By comparing the characteristics of effective and ineffective programs, anti-bullying advocates may take the first step in conquering an age-old problem prospering in U.S. schools.

Characteristics of ineffective bullying prevention programs:

  • School systems that designate harassment and relentless teasing as "normal" childhood behavior foster a climate where negative peer relationships thrive. Ineffective programs leave room for interpretation when it comes to "girls being girls" and "boys being boys."
  • One of the most dangerous deficiencies in current anti-bullying practice places the responsibility on victims to advocate for their needs and stand up for themselves against bullies. By encouraging victims to talk back to bullies, educators, and even parents, indirectly assign blame to victims, as though deficits in their own social prowess cause bullying. In addition, this type of focus may actually place victims in harm's way.
  • Ineffective bullying prevention programs only focus on case-by-case incidents of bullying. In order to address the reasons behind bullying, schools must create a school culture based on acceptance and tolerance. In addition, many bullying incidents will not be observed by school staff. A scary prospect, but the inability to "be everywhere" and "see everything" limits options for intervening in all bullying situations.
  • Educators must stand firm and remain consistent when it comes to anti-bullying policies. When an entire staff, facility managers, secretaries and para-professionals included, fail to unite against school bullying, students find acceptable places to harm other students physically and emotionally.

Characteristics of effective bullying prevention programs:

  • Effective anti-bullying programs target the entire school climate rather than just specific peer interactions. These programs not only work to teach students how to communicate appropriately and demonstrate positive social leadership, they redesign school hallways and classrooms to create materials and spaces focused on community and acceptance. Programs such as Steps to Respect, as well as the less bully-specific Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS), are designed to attack school climates where individuals are victimized and negative behavior flourishes.
  • An effective program employs supports and strategies at each level within the building -- from individual students and classrooms to anti-bullying teams that combine educators and students. Olweus, one of the most trusted school-based bully prevention programs, addresses bullying systemically by focusing on school, classroom, individual and community level components.
  • Supportive anti-bully programs isolate perpetrators. They promote a zero tolerance policy with regards to harassment and bullying and identify clear consequences for students involved in such incidents.
  • One of the most important, and often underrepresented, pieces of the anti-bullying puzzle focuses on school and home partnerships. Eliminating bullying requires parents and educators to remain firm on negative peer interactions, and more communication must occur to include parents in school planning and responses to bullying events.

No one-size-fits-all approach exists to bullying prevention. What is clear, however, is that schools must do more to foster an environment of tolerance and respect for children. Analyzing existing supports and addressing challenges with up-to-date strategies represents just one phase of the long and difficult battle for the safety of the nation's students.

For more information on the devastating impacts of digital harassment, see also Textual Harassment Another Form of Bullying