Can These Psychology Strategies Prevent Bullying?

[ ♪INTRO ] Getting picked on in school… well, it’s
terrible. And when you have to go to the same school
every day, facing the same bullies, things can start to feel bleak or even hopeless. This is something parents and teachers worry
about, too. After all, if your student comes to you saying
they’re being harassed by their classmates, it can be really hard to know what to do. It’s a frustrating situation, and while
psychologists have found ways to stop bullying at school, you need to get everyone on board
to make them work. Which isn’t easy. There is a silver lining, though: When schools
use these strategies right, they have a track record of working well. Bullying can be an insidious problem with
lasting consequences for kids. Surveys of teachers and their students show
that, at all ages, teachers under-report this kind of behavior. And it can hurt their students’ mental health
long-term. Children who were bullied have a higher chance
of growing up to have lower self-esteem and a higher risk of depression, even if they’re
no longer harassed or isolated as adults. In some cases, bullying behavior can even
be passed down — like if a kid who was picked on grows up to harass those around them. So this is a big problem, and shutting it
down is tricky. Growing up, you might have heard that the
best solution is to have everyone involved — to speak up if you see something, and
to drag your friends into the fray with you. But strangely, it seems like programs specifically
designed to get peers involved don’t go as planned. A 2009 meta-analysis of 89 anti-bullying studies
found that bringing peers into a process of mediating conflict was one of the only program
elements that backfired. Instead of reducing bullying, it made reported
victimization worse. It’s not clear why, but one idea is that
kids are susceptible to peer influence, and forming peer groups around bullies helps the
bad behavior spread. That definitely doesn’t mean you should keep
it a secret if you or someone you know is being harrassed. But it does mean that group involvement might
not be the best universal strategy. Instead, one thing that seems to be common
among lots of successful programs is something called social and emotional learning, or SEL. The idea here isn’t so much to teach kids
what bullying is and why they should cut it out. Instead, this method focuses on improving
skills in areas like emotional regulation, empathy, and relationship management. So, for example, you might encourage students
to elaborate on their feelings so they can understand them better, or have them practice
imagining other people’s perspectives and emotions. That way, instead of just focusing on intervening
or punishing when things go wrong, teachers and schools can reward students for getting
along well — like if they work out a social issue on their own. A meta-analysis published in 2011 studied
more than 270,000 students across more than 200 schools. And it showed that this kind of program really
works. Students who were involved in an SEL intervention
showed fewer conduct problems and more positive social behaviors. It even seemed to improve their grades. There was an important caveat, though: Age
seemed to be an important factor here. Specifically, students learned these skills
better if they were younger. Researchers are still debating if that’s
generally true, but other studies have found that strategies that work for younger kids
aren’t as effective on teenagers after eighth grade or so. For example, some programs that have been
effective in high schools have focused on identity development, the history of discriminated
groups, and tap into adolescents’ desire to make a difference. But for younger kids, it seems to be more
important to focus on basic social skills, cooperating with others, and resolving conflict
in a positive way. So it’s possible that this younger group
would also respond better to SEL. Overall, though, it seems like social and
emotional learning is a really useful strategy. There’s just something you have to keep
in mind. For any anti-bullying program, success doesn’t
happen just because you teach students how to resolve conflict or manage their feelings:
Teachers’ involvement really seems to matter, too. After all, not only do teachers fail to see
some bullying, they might unknowingly harass students themselves. Plus, it can be hard to figure out what kind
of behavior is just normal kid stuff, and what’s malicious and unhealthy. And if bullying isn’t being noticed… it
can be hard to take steps against it. That’s true for more interventions than
just SEL, too. For example, in a 2012 study, researchers
observed that an anti-bullying program worked really well for younger students in Finland
by heavily involving teachers. They gave lessons to all students, and then
intervened when bullying occurred. But that same program barely did anything
when it was tried in the U.S. — possibly because U.S. teachers had more demands on
their time and weren’t able to deliver the program as completely. So whether it’s SEL or something else entirely,
getting rid of bullying is about more than just teaching students some strategies. The strategies are great, but it takes a commitment
from the school to really make a difference. So if you’re a teacher, maybe that’s something
to keep in mind. And if you’re a student and your school
isn’t doing something like this — well, if you’re facing this kind of problem, still
tell someone, like your teachers or a parent. Ultimately, they can’t help if they don’t
know about it. If you want to learn more about psychology
in education, you can check out our video about how psych can help you become a better
teacher — or student! And as always, thanks for watching this episode
of SciShow Psych! [ ♪OUTRO ]