Bullying Prevention & Intervention
Dorothy Espelage, Ph.D., began studying bullying in 1993—long before the 2011 White House Conference on Bullying Prevention that brought national attention to the issue. Even though awareness has greatly increased, Espelage regrettably reports that “face-to-face bullying is alive and well.” Statistics show that one out of every four students reported being bullied during the 2015 school year and that bullying is one of the risk factors for youth suicide.
With a focus on prevention and intervention, Espelage shared her research-based strategies with an eager audience of 200 teachers, parents, administrators, and counselors who gathered in Honolulu with the support of a partnership between the Pillars of Peace Hawai‘i initiative of the Hawaii Community Foundation and Montessori Community School.
One of the approaches to peer mistreatment that has shown promise is the integration of social and emotional learning (SEL) in K-12 classrooms, with the full support of administration, faculty, and staff and, ideally, in conjunction with families. “When SEL is implemented with commitment and fidelity,” says Espelage, “it can serve as a buffer, enabling kids to better grapple with the serious fallout of bullying.” She warns, however, that “the skills need to be woven into every subject taught, and they need to be repeated, just like multiplication tables.”
Bullying changes shape with age and place. Middle school kids who taunt others with gender-based harassment might engage in dating violence in high school. “Ineffective aggressors” might end up in the principal’s office, whereas “effective aggressors” might be looked upon as public opinion leaders. Bullying might occur at school or online, as well as in families and neighborhoods. And that’s why, according to Espelage, “There is no single approach or antidote. We need to give kids life and social skills, not just knowledge about bullying.”
Because Dr. Espelage believes that bullying is not hard-wired, that the same child in a different environment will act differently, she advocates for making the climate and culture of school more positive. “When teachers intervene, kids intervene. When classrooms feel safe, when issues are talked through, when children feel known for the individuals they are, they are less likely to be aggressors, targets of bullying, or passive bystanders.”