Bullying is a recognized problem these days. Solutions, however, are difficult to identify and assess. There are still plenty of adults who could be helping, who instead roll their eyes and assume kids will be kids and bullying is in the natural order of human experience.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, has new policy statement coming out that will, for the first time, address bullying as a pediatric issue, advising doctors to take an interest in this aspect of their young patients’ health. The report recommends that U.S. schools adopt programs like those developed over years in Norway, which take a whole-school approach to preventing bullying and to helping both bullies and their victims. Rather than simplistic zero-tolerance policies which merely suspend or expel bullies and “push the debt forward” as Dr. Sege of Norway puts it, whole-school policies assess easy but often overlooked things like space and time in school (deserted corners, busy class-changes, etc.) to minimize bullying opportunities. They also enlist the large percentage of “bystanders”–who are neither bullies or their victims (roughly 75% of kids) in prevention by teaching them that a bully is someone with a problem and bystanders can help the bully as well as protect the bully’s victims by getting involved.
While the individual nuances that lead a child to become a bully or set up a child to become a victim may be out of reach through systems in schools, I do believe that at the very least, the culture of schools can certainly be improved to minimize bullying. And when it occurs less often, more focus can be directed to the individuals involved and what they need to change the dynamics. In other words, some small percentage of kids may always be “mean” and some small percentage of kids may always be odd in ways that make them targets (I was one of those odd kids myself), but the uninvolved majority can be recruited to understanding that actually hurting others is unacceptable to the overall social group.
When bullies are pulled into the social dynamics of the majority and oddness is allowed to flourish with social appreciation (or at least tolerance), fewer problem incidents will occur, making them easier to handle.
image: Igor Dutina via nytimes.com