In the following report, Hanover Research investigates best practices in the prevention of bullying and suicide among school-aged youths. In addition, we profile three school districts with effective programs in these areas.
- Districts should facilitate school-wide, multidisciplinary anti-bullying initiatives. Analyses comparing various types of strategies indicate whole-school approaches as the most effective at reducing bullying. Programs should specify clear policies, educate students and staff, build a positive school climate, monitor incidence rates, and engage families and communities.
- Districts should consider addressing mental health issues explicitly in its anti-bullying policy. A review of district policies by the U.S. Department of Education found that local education agencies frequently overlook mental health provisions in official anti-bullying policies. The most effective district policies also clearly outline counseling and other services for bullies and victims.
- Districts should implement a multi-informant approach to assessing the prevalence and characteristics of bullying in schools. Experts recommend that districts survey students, teachers, staff, parents, and community members about bullying, as perceptions among various stakeholder groups often differ.
- Teachers and staff should participate in related professional development to ensure a cohesive approach to bullying. Training should ensure that all personnel who interact directly with students understand bullying and its effects, know district policies and rules, and follow intervention strategies as needed. To that end, several national organizations provide districts with anti-bullying materials, such as guides, presentations, webinars, and even training sessions at no cost.
- It is crucial for districts to gain the support of parents and other key stakeholders in anti-bullying efforts, as bullying often occurs outside of school. Rather than random acts of outreach, family engagement should be both sustained and delivered across multiple settings. Districts also should forge partnerships with community organizations and create a community action plan to prevent bullying in all settings. Potential partners include law enforcement agencies, health services providers, advocacy groups, faith-based organizations, colleges and universities, and local businesses.
- Bullying and suicide should be viewed as interconnected issues, and efforts to prevent both should be fully integrated. Research indicates that districts often use several different prevention programs simultaneously, overwhelming staff and reducing sustainability. Rather, districts should consolidate efforts and exploit synergies in best practices, such as a focus on school climate, family engagement, and careful monitoring.
- Research indicates three largely ineffective approaches to reducing bullying in school: peer mediation, one-day assemblies, and zero tolerance discipline policies. Peer mediation, or peer conflict resolution, often proves misguided because of the appearance of shared guilt among victim and aggressor. One-day assemblies, though useful as part of a comprehensive strategy, remain insufficient as standalone efforts. Lastly, zero tolerance policies that include suspension or expulsion may discourage students and parents from reporting bullying and do not provide bullies with sufficient pro-social supports.