October 31, 2013

Do School Anti-Bullying Programs Work?

Being bullied is no fun and being a bully isn’t a great way to build a social circle. In recent years, parents’ and teachers’ concern about bullying has led many school districts to implement anti-bullying programs. In fact, parents often demand that such programs be instituted. 

Now, a new study calls into question the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs in schools. It seems that there is more bullying in schools with anti-bullying programs than in schools without.

The study by researchers at University of Texas Arlington and published in the Journal of Criminology, surveyed over 7,000 12-to-18 year-olds in nearly 200 U.S. school districts. 

They found that older students were less likely to be victims of bullying than younger students but that the most pervasive bullying occurred at the high school level. Race and ethnicity were not a factor linked to more or less bullying. Boys were more likely to be party to physical bullying and girls more likely to be involved in emotional bullying.

Most disconcertingly, the study found that the presence of bullying prevention programs was associated with more bullying, not less. The study notes, “Surprisingly, bullying prevention had a negative effect on peer victimization. Contrary to our hypothesis, students attending schools with bullying prevention programs were more likely to have experienced peer victimization, compared to those attending schools without bullying prevention programs.” 

The authors speculate that bullies may learn better bullying techniques when schools focus so heavily on what bullies do and their effects. It may also be that schools that implement anti-bullying programs have more severe problems with bullying than schools that do not. The study reports that about 68% of American schools have anti-bullying programs.

If bullying is a problem at your child’s school, what should you do?
  • Remember that anti-bullying programs are not enough to make a change. One cannot simply expect that having a program solves the problem. Bullying is not so simple as that.
  • Do what you can to change the culture of the school and the neighborhood. Bullying thrives in a coercive environment, where people in power wield power over others. Highly controlling teaching methods, zero-tolerance administrative policies, and blatant favoritism of some groups over others are methods frequently employed by the adults in schools where bullying is a problem. It makes sense that bullies learn by adult examples.
  • Listen if your child complains of being bullied. Just because her school has an anti-bullying program doesn’t mean you can imagine the problem no longer exists, or exists only in her mind. Remember that boys can be victims of bullies too (and girls can be bullies, as well).
  • Get help if you suspect your child is a bully. While many bullies learn how to be controlling and coercive at home, some bullies are children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder and other mental health issues, raised in homes with responsive parenting. Don’t be embarrassed. Take action.
The take-home message from this study is that parents cannot assume an anti-bullying effort at school solves the problem. Things may actually get worse or at least get no better.  

As always, parents must still pay attention and take action to protect their children.

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Ask for Dr. Anderson’s new book, Developmentally Appropriate Parenting, at your favorite bookstore.

October 23, 2013

Is Your Child’s Favorite Book on the 100 Best Books List?

The New York Public Library recently released its 2013 list of the best 100 books for kids.  It’s an interesting list and it makes me wonder what are your favorite children’s books? Which books have you most enjoyed reading to your kids – or are you looking forward to reading to them once they get old enough?

You might be surprised to notice that most of these books were around when you were a child. In fact, many of them were around when even I was a child, old granny that I am! The oldest book on the list is Winnie-the-Pooh, first published in 1926. It’s a book still on my own bookshelf and that I remember having fun reading with my own boys, doing the voices for Kanga and Roo and Piglet and all.

More than half (52) of the books were published before 1980. Here is my absolutely favorite book to read to small children, Caps For Sale, but also a close runner-up in Millions of Cats. Green Eggs and Ham is here, along with The Hobbit. The beauty of children’s books is that they do seem to unite the generations. Books your children’s grandparents enjoy are still likely to be ones the children will like too.

The list includes books like Where Is The Green Sheep? that toddlers (and their parents) find charming and other books like A Wrinkle In Time that are appropriate for much, much older children. So there are ideas here for read-alouds at every age group through the elementary school years. Reading aloud to children is a great way to introduce early literacy, of course, but it’s also a great way to support older readers who have trouble “getting into” a book. No one is too old to be read to!

But what’s missing from the list? A list of only 100 books, when there are about 30,000 new “juvenile titles” published each year, according to Bowker’s Books In Print database, is bound to overlook some truly excellent books that might be your favorites or your children’s favorites. 

One entire genre that’s missing is children’s non-fiction. Books like David Macauley’s The Way Things Work are not included. These are books one might not read cover-to-cover as part of the before-bedtime ritual but they are books older children, including many reluctant readers, find deeply interesting.

Poetry is also missing from the list, including Where The Sidewalk Ends, which you probably remember fondly. So this list, like any list, is incomplete. But if you’re at the library, unable to find something good to take home with your child, this list is a great place to start.

Take a look at the list and check off the ones you’ve read with your children, the ones you read and a child, and the books you want to read together soon. Then think of what’s missing. I invite you to comment and tell us what books you recommend!

© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.