Peter Russo Analyzes How to Mitigate the Modern Bullying Crisis


Bullying is a uniquely damaging problem that has serious effects on children and young people. School administrators have come to realize that bullying has long-lasting effects, causing depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. Bullying can cause vulnerable students to avoid going to school, leading to a lack of academic achievement.

In prior decades, school administrators brushed off bullying, believing that it was normal in a school setting. The movement toward bullying prevention was made more urgent when it became clear that children were affected in the long term, possibly causing such serious problems as suicidality.

Peter Russo, an experienced teacher, explains the causes and effects of the bullying epidemic and gives solutions that school systems can use to help to contain the problem.

An Epidemic of Bullying
The National Center for Education Statistics claims that a full 20 percent of students between 12 and 18 have experienced bullying. Even more urgent is the knowledge that 30 percent of students in this age group have bullied another student.

70 percent of students in elementary and high schools have witnessed bullying. Teachers report this problem in similar numbers. 15 percent of all students who have been bullied say that they have been cyberbullied, or bullied online or via text.

The Three Types of Bullying Behavior
Verbal, social, and physical bullying are the three main types of behavior. While boys are more likely to commit verbal and physical bullying, girls most often commit social bullying, including ostracizing classmates. Spreading rumors, name-calling, social shunning, and teasing are acute forms of bullying.

Areas where Bullying Occurs
For young children, most of the bullying occurs on the playground, in the lunchroom, or on the school bus. The bus is an area of particular concern because the students may not be adequately supervised when the driver must pay attention to road conditions. Bus drivers do their best to combat bullying, but they often do not have the resources to do so.

Older children and teens bully one another in the hallways, on the bus, and in some cases, in class in front of a teacher. This brazen behavior can lead to social and developmental consequences for the bullied child.

Cyberbullying is the most difficult to control because it often happens at home, on privately-owned electronic devices. Most schools have an anti-cyberbullying provision in their student handbooks, meaning that students have signed an agreement to stay away from cyberbullying their peers or that they will face behavioral consequences at school.

Having these precautions in place does not always help. For example, on Snapchat, pictures, and videos disappear after they are viewed. It is difficult to create a “paper trail” on today’s social media sites, but students should be encouraged to keep screenshots of any damaging material they may receive.

Solutions for the Bullying Epidemic
Many schools are lost as to what they should do to combat bullying among their students. Fortunately, there are several effective programs in place at schools across the country and around the world. 

Programs that Do Not Work
According to a study of 7,000 students published in the Journal of Criminology, students in schools with anti-bullying programs were actually more likely to be victims of bullying. This statistic should alarm school administrators who believe that they are doing enough to stem the tide of bullying behavior. Anti-bullying programs that focus mostly on punishment, like zero-tolerance policies, are less likely to be effective.

Programs that work focus on increasing empathy for bullying victims and on supporting the mental health of students involved. It is true that bullies are often the victims of bullying themselves or have significant social factors, like parent abuse or neglect, that cause them to take out their frustrations on their classmates. Addressing all of these programs makes an anti-bullying program more successful.

An Innovative Finnish Program Against Bullying
A study published by UCLA in 2016 found that a Finnish anti-bullying program was extremely effective among sixth-graders. This program had beneficial effects on sixth-graders’ mental health, especially when they were victims of bullying.

The program is called Kiva. In Finnish, the word Kiva means “nice.” The program features role-playing exercises to help children explore their empathy skills. The program also includes computer simulations to help students learn to deal with bullying episodes in real-time. The bystander effect has been well-documented, where a student intervenes in an episode between their peers.

The Kiva program reduced bullying in the pilot schools by up to one-half. This program improves students’ view of the school environment, particularly for children who have been bullied.

This program contrasts with zero-tolerance bullying prevention initiatives. The Kiva study’s author, Jaana Juvonen of UCLA, claims that zero-tolerance policies punish without teaching anyone to change their behavior.

Mitigating the Bullying Crisis
Peter Russo offers these solutions to school districts that are struggling with bullying problems. While anti-bullying programs may pay lip service to the problem without making any significant impacts, there are programs that work, like Finland’s Kiva program. School administrators and teachers need to survey their student bodies and find out exactly where the problem is taking place so that they have the most accurate data to help them create a tailored program.

When adults stand up for bullied children, they can help to improve mental health and school performance. This could affect a student’s life for many years after leaving the school system.


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