Zero tolerance for bullying behavior policies sounds like the answer. We will not tolerate a bully harming our children. Get rid of them. Expel them. Send them to other schools. Zero Tolerance sounds good, but is it effective.
The simple answer is no. As early as 2004, the American Psychological Association stated that “existing research indicates that bullying at school may be significantly reduced through comprehensive, school-wide programs that are designed to change norms for behavior (Olweus, 1993a; Olweus, 1993b; Olweus, Limber, & Mihalic, 1999; Whitney, Rivers, Smith, & Sharp, 1994)”. Unfortunately, as Dr. Kalman, a nationally certified school psychologist, states “everyone loves the idea of going after bullies”. Regardless of the evidence showing that zero tolerance doesn’t work, we hold to the belief that this policy will provide protection for our children.
So what do we do?
In a word-prevention-
Again research has shown that prevention is the best course for changing the behavior of bullies. The Violence Prevention Task Force recommends the following strategies:
· primary prevention strategies targeted at all students,
· secondary prevention strategies targeted at those students who may be at risk for violence or disruption,
· tertiary strategies targeted at those students who have already engaged in disruptive or violent behavior.
There is no fast fix for bullying. The prevention must be long term and comprehensive. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program works on four fronts: school level, classroom level, individual level, and community level. We all must help curb bullying.
Why doesn’t Zero Tolerance work?
The American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force conducted a survey and found that Zero Tolerance Policies are ineffective and create more problems than behavior modification programs. Removing the bully from the school only reduces violence for that day. The long term effect is more violence. “Rather than reducing the likelihood of disruption, however, school suspension in general appears to predict higher future rates of misbehavior and suspension among those students who are suspended.” In fact, suspending children leads to higher school dropout rates and other adverse outcomes. Not a good thing.
The Task Force also found that Zero Tolerance Policies are developmentally inappropriate due to the immaturity of teens. They are not yet able to fully comprehend the consequences of their actions. They cited research in neuroscience that shows the brains of youth are not yet fully developed into adult patterns.
Zero Tolerance is a one size fits all solution for a complex problem. Under Zero Tolerance, the victim who fights back would be suspended along with the bully. Complex issues need solutions that attack the problem from multiple directions. Don’t be tempted to take the easy route. Education and behavior modification are the best ways to address bullying behavior.