Programs that teach about bullying may not work, study shows. But a culture of kindness and inclusion does.

A study by the University of Texas at Arlington recently made headlines by concluding that found that students in schools with anti-bullying programs are more likely to experience peer victimization than students in schools without such programs.

There are multiple possible explanations for this troubling finding. As the Time Magazine reporter suggests, schools with more bullying problems may also be more likely to have these programs. Or it possibly these bullying in a box programs teach children about bullying and incidentally help students develop ideas to get away with acts of bullying.

In an even more sensitive topic, parents and schools are questioning the impact of certain anti-bullying videos after two students committed suicide following the viewing of such videos.

With these worries, we must look even more closely how we work to prevent bullying in our schools. Rather than focusing on teaching the definition, examples and effects of bullying, we must teach compassion, respect, kindness and other pro-social skills to stop behaviors of bullying before it begins.

There are, in fact, programs that have been shown to decrease bullying. For example, Steps to Respect reports 33% less physical bullying and 35% fewer reports of fighting as a major problem in schools. In another study by Stanford University and Mathematica Policy Research, teachers in Playworks schools reported less bullying and exclusionary behavior.

Both Playworks and Steps to Respect teach empathy, constructive conflict resolution and positive social norms. Through these lessons and continual reinforcement, schools with these programs develop a culture of kindness.

Programs like these are seeing results because they take a proactive approach to bullying prevention. They are focused on school-wide student engagement rather than targeted interventions. As a result, changing the underlying environment so that behaviors are changed as opposed to trying to change individual behaviors. These programs thwart bullying by promoting respect, kindness and inclusion, shifting school culture.

In order to see a significant decrease in bullying, we must shift the culture of our schools and communities and prevent more horrific tragedies from occurring.


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