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Bullying Prevention: What Works? What Doesn’t? (Part III)

Bullying Prevention: What Works? What Doesn’t? (Part III)

Written by Frank DiLallo | |

Part I of this series referenced least effective bullying prevention strategies. Part II focused on four most effective approaches to bullying prevention.

In this third segment, five additional most effective approaches are highlighted, which include more compelling research from the “Youth Voice Project: Student Insights Into Bullying And Peer Mistreatment,” co-authored by national bullying prevention experts Stan Davis and Dr. Charisse Nixon ( and

1. Connect kids with adults: Creating positive kid to adult connections via formal or informal mentoring opportunities is key to helping youth thrive. Traditionally sports is a successful way adult coaches mentor youth, but not everyone connects with sports — potentially leaving some youth marginalized. The possibility to open alternative pathways connecting kids with adults that share common interests is endless: theater, dance, chess, art, music, scouting, woodworking, coin and stamp collecting, cooking, technology, gaming — just to name a few. Involving youth in service projects naturally connects kids with adults. As Davis says, “Kids who know they’re helping others don’t care about how they look to someone else.” Helping youth make connections with what interests them increases their level of joy (increased mastery of what I could not do before) and immediate connection with those who share the same interest or hobby — ultimately increasing protective factors and thriving indicators for youth. Connections with mentors and coaches on specific interests also translates to such life skills as creative divergent thinking, problem solving and positive peer and adult relationships.

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2. Prevent harm for mistreated youth: Putting a stop to mean behavior should certainly be kept in focus; however, as mentioned in Part I, it is not possible to stop or prevent all forms of mean behavior even with the most diligent efforts. Adults are in a powerful position, however, through meaningful connection to influence youth by giving support, encouragement and hopeful advice — enlisting and modeling for youth to do the same for peers that are struggling with mistreatment.

The Youth Voice Project research tells us what youth are saying is most helpful in responding to peer mistreatment as indicated by the authors as a “helpfulness score.”

Three of the most helpful Adult Actions are:

  • Listened to me (38 percent): Listening to youth is an imperative toward preventing harm for mistreated youth. When adults listen they are in a better position to help mistreated youth understand the mistreatment is really not something negative about them.
  • Gave me advice (34 percent): Giving hopeful and supportive advice demonstrates caring.
  • Checked in with me afterwards to see if the behavior stopped (31 percent): Checking back with youth over time, both at school and reaching out to them at their home, also demonstrates concern, support and care.

None of the Self Actions (actions used by the mistreated students alone) was as helpful as support from peers or adults, though some worked better than others.

  • Told an adult (21 percent) or told a friend (21 percent): Worked more often than either confronting the mistreater or pretending not to be bothered at most grade levels.
  • Pretended it didn’t bother me (5 percent)
  • In grades six and higher, youth said things got better when they reminded themselves that the mistreatment is not their fault and that those who are mistreating them are the ones who are doing something wrong (17 percent).

3. Reduce negative student behavior: Schools are in a prime position to garner student input via surveys or other means to develop clear definitions of wanted and unwanted behavior. From this input, consistent approaches can be developed whereby students and adults can come to agree on what specific behaviors constitute moderate to high potential to harm (see Part II), using small and escalating consequences to deter behaviors. Student survey data can also be used to create new norms that show students their peers disapprove of negative actions and help them see the value in acts of kindness and inclusion.

4. Help mistreating youth change: Often, a hallmark of mistreating youth is a lack of empathy. We can help mistreating youth build empathy with increased opportunities for them to reflect and write about the consequences surrounding their actions, including restorative actions that move them toward helping heal the harm they have done. In addition to the strategies listed above, some mistreating youth need to learn social skills,  self-control or anger management. Some may need to deal with past trauma. Mistreating youth can also benefit from experiences with the positive power of service to others.

5. Support youth who witness peer mistreatment: Davis said, “We can help youth who are aware of mistreatment to use the positive power of encouragement and inclusion to make things better. The most effective actions reported in our survey were done by peers, including encouraging, helping youth get away and helping them tell adults. Even private encouragement away from school was helpful. These actions were more helpful for mistreated young people than the often-advised confrontation.”

From the Youth Voice Project, the top three most helpful Peer Actions are:

  • Spent time with me, sat with me or hung out with me (46 percent)
  • Talked to me at school to encourage me (44 percent)
  • Listened to me (36 percent)

All three are strong indicators of how vital peer support and care from peers is for mistreated youth. Adults must help increase opportunities for all youth to build stronger peer connections that support and encourage youth who witness peer mistreatment via informal and formal methods of peer outreach in an effort to reduce harm for mistreated youth and to create a safe and thriving school environment overall.

Peer mistreatment is a daunting and overwhelming challenge we all face today. Davis offers some reassuring wisdom: “We can build hope. We can listen. We can include. We can help.”

The Youth Voice Project is a beacon of hope guiding us in meaningful ways via a menu of practical and effective Self, Peer and Adult Action strategies. The ball is in our court to listen with open hearts and capitalize on what youth are telling us from this research. We must courageously capitalize and boldly follow through with these prescriptive actions to positively impact our youth, our communities, our families and our schools.

Thank you, Stan Davis, for your courage to ask and listen to our youth and for the helpful and hopeful input you provided as the basis for these articles!

Click here for Part IClick here for Part II

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