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Anti-bullying programs: Sound and fury, signifying nothing

By   /   October 21, 2013  /   4 Comments

NOT WORKING: A new study finds that children who attend schools with bullying prevention programs are more likely to be bullied than children who do not.

NOT WORKING: A new study finds that children who attend schools with bullying prevention programs are more likely to be bullied than children who do not.

By Joy Pullmann | The Heartland Institute

Remember DARE, Drug Abuse Resistance Education — the prevention program that took decades to fade despite repeated evidence it actually increased drug and alcohol abuse among schoolkids?

Early evidence on bullying, the current scare story, is showing a similar outcome.

A new study from the University of Texas-Arlington finds children who attend schools with bullying prevention programs are more likely to be bullied than children who do not.

Anti-bullying programs appear to teach kids new ways to hurt others and hide their activities from adults, said the study’s lead author, Seokjin Jeong.

“Usually people expect an anti-bullying program to have some positive impact,” he told a Dallas-Fort Worth CBS affiliate, sounding shocked. But his study, which used data regarding 7,000 children in all 50 states, found either no reduction in bullying or an increase in bullying as a result of anti-bullying measures.

Since 2006, 49 states have enacted laws attempting to prevent bullying. But they didn’t need Jeong’s study to indicate their frenzied activity might be sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Federal data and independent studies actually show that bullying has declined since 2003. So while bullying has declined, lawmaking and talking about it has dramatically increased.

It appears the effects will be not just more children bullied from heightened knowledge of cruelty and the perception that “everyone’s doing it,” but more restrictions on free speech and mounting paperwork for school officials to complete and taxpayers to sponsor.

New Jersey’s bullying law, for example, requires schools to appoint “safety teams” of parents, teachers and staff. Schools and districts must designate or hire an “anti-bullying coordinator.” Within one day, schools must investigate every incident that could be considered bullying, convening meetings with parents of children involved and file district and state paperwork. Under the law, even looks can count as “bullying.”

But that’s not all. New Jersey requires administrators, parents and school board members to take yearly bullying or suicide prevention training. It makes schools responsible for bullying that takes place off-campus and outside of school hours.

Maryland’s new anti-bullying arrangement with Facebook lets school officials flag any posts for removal that they find “questionable,” for whatever reason. It also makes schools responsible for what kids say and do outside school hours and off school property. Every school district in Maryland also must appoint a liaison to handle Facebook monitoring.

And it’s not just blue states calling the bullying circus. In my home state of Indiana, for example, a new law also makes schools responsible for kids’ behavior on and off campus. They must implement anti-bullying programs for all grades and report every incident to the state. Local school administrators told me the law is making them hire more paper-pushers at taxpayer expense — and all for nothing.

Schools cannot be foster parents for children and educate them at the same time. The more we ask them to take on obligations that rightly reside with parents and families, the less time and expertise they have for actually teaching children. Nowadays, schools are the new orphanages. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Beyond the studies, and the drop in bullying nationwide, just check your common sense. In what world does filing paperwork and hiring consultants stop children from hurting each other or committing suicide? More box-checking and pointless meetings will absorb the time adults could have spent teaching children how to treat others well and befriending kids who feel unloved.

Joy Pullmann is managing editor of School Reform News and an education research fellow at The Heartland Institute. Contact her at


Joy Pullmann is a research fellow on education policy for The Heartland Institute and managing editor of The Federalist, a web magazine on politics, policy, and culture. She is also a former managing editor of School Reform News. In that capacity, Pullmann interviewed and produced podcasts with many of the leading figures in school reform. Before that, she was the assistant editor for American Magazine at the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Grrr– Humans have been dealing with bullies since before we were human- Probably for close to a half a million years before we had experts who are getting rich off “socially acceptable” schemes that won’t work

    Recently my grandson learned how to deal with bullies,

    As a brand new 7th grader he caught the attention of the biggest bully in the 9th grade.. The older kid had him on the ground and was punching the crap out of him- until my grandson hit him in the solar plexus. The fight was over. Grandson no longer gets bullied by anyone at school- The bully now treats him with respect.. No teachers were around-no one got into trouble.

    I laughed when I heard the story,

    I’d had a similar experience 50 years before,, I was 5 or 6 years old, a third grader had me pinned up against a porch rail.. I threw a wild but lucky punch- gave him a bloody lip, and finished taking out an already loose baby tooth.. He went crying to mommy. I was scared to death he’d come back and kill me.. My father laughed and told me the kid would never bother me again. He was right

    Studies have shown kids who stand up to bullies, don’t get bullied.. They’ve also shown that kids who step in between a bully and his victim, have the respect of their classmates and later in life tend to become leaders..

    Teach you children how and when, to defend themselves.. If you have a child that’s being bullied, and you can’t teach them, put ’em in a karate class.. It will build strength, stamina and self confidence. They build self esteem, learn discipline and self control. In a fairly short period of time the bullying will cease.

    Laws, regulations and social experiments won’t change human behavior. There have always been bullies, there always will.. The solution that’s worked for thousands of years will continue to work

    Teach your children well

  • Rebecca

    As a former teacher, retired after 30 years, I have taught these and other programs. Sensitivity training and teaching it was another one. But I found that a bully often had a parent who would try to be a bully too.
    I wish I knew the answer. Education has to start when the child is very young. Befoe school age.

  • As a part of Common Core Oregon is talking about a P (prenatal) through 20 education system.. Government Education starting in the womb

  • Foamman77

    This is what my mom taught may sisters and I, and its what she still teaches her first graders who are being bullied (in addition to addressing things with the bully).

    “Only you control yourself, your feelings, and your actions. You cannot control someone else, but you can control how your respond, to the bully and to yourself. We need to teach internal strength, and remind kids that it is the people who love them that they should listen to, not every kid on the playground or in cyberspace!”