10/29/2014 04:04 pm ET Updated Dec 29, 2014

We Aren't Doing Enough to Stop Bullying

The Problem

It's October, the official Anti-Bullying Awareness month, and the problem is still as present as ever.

Bullying, the all too familiar situation that can lead to fatal scenarios, is a problem that has yet to be tackled appropriately over the years. Data presented by CHI, Child Helpline International, gives credit to the idea that bullying has not been decreasing in the last decade. The cause behind this lack of change is the reality that too many people are talking about bullying, but not enough are doing anything about it.

The fact that bullying is very rarely touched upon in schools is a frightening one. In New York, for example, one of the few means to prevent bullying in public schools is the distribution of the Citywide Standards of Intervention and Discipline Measures handbook that is required to be read in class. This handbook is given minimal attention throughout schools, with students tossing it aside and making paper airplanes out of the pages. Such an insufficient method of bullying prevention in schools doesn't avail itself to the attitude of children and young adults to facilitate change.

Hundreds of millions of dollars have been devoted to bullying prevention, with $132 million devoted by the government, under the U.S. Education Department's "Successful, Safe, and Healthy Students" program. But even at that price tag, the problem still flourishes. Clearly, the anti-bullying methods we've used are ineffective and in need of reform. Instead of passive rule making, it's time for active emotional education on a wide-scale basis in our nation's schools. A common attitude toward bullying has been that it stems from the inability of the bully to perceive the emotions of the victim. Many schools have zero-tolerance policies toward bullying, but when someone is found to have been teasing, name-calling or even physically hurting another student, more emphasis is placed on the punishment. Questions like "why did you do that?" are asked more often than "how do you think that made the other person feel?"

I have been exposed to a large variety of proposed solutions to the problem of bullying and cyberbullying. Some, more extreme ones, have been to attack the social networks that allow harmful messages to be sent (e.g. ban Facebook use among students). Then there's stealth monitoring of social platforms (e.g. teachers combing through status updates and photos). Another tactic clings to the philosophy to "let kids be kids," stating that bullying at a young age teaches children to be self-reliant. Obviously, this is not a positive outlook on a serious issue, one that has factored into the deaths of many people. These proposed solutions take a back-seat to educational outreach. It is common to say that knowledge is power; education can be employed as a vital tool. There have been many situations where educational outreach is used as a means to stop bullying.

What Needs To Be Done

Yale professor Marc Brackett, an expert on juvenile behavior, promotes the use of the RULER approach to combat bullying; his technique, unlike most others, focuses on the need for emotional intelligence and ability to perceive and anticipate others' feelings. The bullying epidemic has reached such a level that multiple summer camps across the country are dedicated to teaching cooperation and collaboration within social groups. These programs, such as The H.E.R.O. (Helping, Encourage & Respect Others) Summer Camp, are as much preventative as they are reformist -- providing the essential emotional touchstones to function in group dynamics within younger age groups. Here is a link to a short description of Montgomery Middle School's branch of the program.

Presentations by advocacy groups and peers are also vital to curbing the tendency for bullying to arise. Voicing these topics in presenting scenarios and analyzing the mindset of the bully and victim allows for a comprehensive understanding of the feelings at play. The ability for children to see these situations in an objective manner without being on either side of the equation in real life allows them to formulate the sentimental tools to better handle such an occurrence.

The prevention of bullying requires constant upkeep in schools with educational programs that stress conflict resolution and respect rather than punishment. The old school threat of the principal's office or detention has been outdated in the sense that it can't control as well what happens after hours outside of school when social networks provide an unmonitored conduit for abusive communication. The instantaneous access kids have parallels their instantaneous aggression in a dangerous combination where username targets are a click away. It is for this reason that the measures we take to prevent bullying through education need to be all the more emphasized.

The passive act of disseminating pamphlets with rules and regulations does not instruct kids as to the severe consequences bullying can have. By contrast, the more proactive approach of working through scenarios and identifying problematic behaviors can allow individuals to police themselves and keep their peers in check with support. This way, an abusive online communication can be defused, and an in-person stand-off calmed.