A major issue in schools nationally is the issue of bullying. Most states have initiated legislation in an attempt to curb bullying, through providing consequences against the bully.
This issue of bullying resonates to the staff at private residential emotional growth and therapeutic boarding schools and programs because so many of the students enrolled have either been bullies or their victims, and sometimes both. The issue is so common that having to deal with it in these schools and programs is almost routine. It is so common that it can almost be taken as a given that virtually every student in some way acts in unhealthy ways as either a bully or victim. The basis for dealing with it in these schools and programs is to build a tight structure or environment based on familiar staff involvement that allows consequences to be immediate and appropriate. In addition, the consequences are not punishment, but are treated as a lesson. For example the bully is helped to understand how his/her actions might make them more lonely and isolated and untrusted. In addition, the victim is helped to understand how his/herbehaviors might encourage a bully to target them and thus subtly contribute to the problem.
The better known approach utilized by legislatures and school districts around the country was surveyed recently by the Associated Press. The results were reported in the Atlanta-Constitution that concluded that the legislative attempt to curb bullying give scant protection. The reasons given for failure were varied, but in instance after instance the survey found that anti-bullying laws did not help. From my experience it is obvious that this common public approach to this problem is based on some flawed premises. The first flawed premise is that the bully is the whole problem, and the victim is totally innocent. It ignores the possibility that the victim might act in a way to encourage bullying, and thus perversely contributes to their own suffering.
The other premise is that the solution is to simply punish the perpetrator. We all know that straight forward punishment often backfires and is as likely to create resentment as compliance, and the compliance often is simply an act with no lasting positive impact.
I think the lesson we can take from this is that no matter how well intended legislators might be, they do not have the power to directly, in a command and control manner, solve the problem, and the odds are that their actions might make things worse. The way to solve the problem of bullying has been learned in many places. The ones I am most familiar with are in the network of private emotional growth/therapeutic residential schools and programs. That approach is to work with each child as an individual, intervention done by those adults who know that child well, and have earned the child’s trust. This is the way both bullies and victims can learn to address their attitudes and fears causing the problem, and help them to find a way of healthier behaviors.
This is the lesson schools and parents can take away from this and start doing something that actually helps children, instead of just demanding legislators pass a law.