The “Dirty Little Secret” About Bullying in School

April 18, 2017 - 8 minutes read

Is your child being bullied in school? Have you done as you’ve been told, and reported the problem to the school authorities? And is the problem continuing or even getting worse?

It is no secret that being bullied is an agonizing experience for children. It hurts their self-esteem, mood, popularity and academic functioning. It can even hurt their physical health.

It is also well known that newcomers to a school are especially likely to be picked on. When students come from a different country, the problem can be exponentially worse. As much as we love Israel, we know how prickly “Sabras” – especially children – can be. Many Anglo families are devastated by the humiliation their children experience at the hands of their classmates. Avoidance of bullying has become a major reason for homeschooling throughout the world. In Israel, it has even led some families to give up on Aliyah and return to their country of origin.

You have also undoubtedly learned that if your child is being bullied, you must report it to the school authorities so they can make the bullying stop.

There is a good chance, though, you did precisely that, and not only didn’t the bullying stop, it got worse! If so, you may have repeatedly complained to the school that they aren’t doing anything to stop your child from being bullied. And they may have repeatedly insisted that they are doing everything in their power to help your child. Even more enraging, they may have blamed your child for the problem. Maybe they even blamed your parenting skills.

Is the school lying when it insists it is trying to make the bullying stop? While you may be convinced the answer is, “Yes!” the truth is probably the other way around. The school is trying very hard to stop the bullying.

But there is a “dirty little secret” no one is telling you. When schools follow protocol to stop bullying, they are more likely to fail and even to make the problem worse! As outrageous as this statement may sound to you, it has been confirmed repeatedly by research. Numerous meta-analyses conducted on anti-bullying programs have all found that they rarely produce more than a minor reduction in bullying and often result in an increase. The most highly respected anti-bullying program in the world is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, a highly intensive program that has served as a model for almost all other anti-bullying programs. The largest scale research study ever conducted on it found a 12% reduction in the number of children who claim they are bullied twice or more per month. That is an 88% failure rate! So how can we expect schools to stop your child from bullied if even the “gold standard” program helps only one out of nine children?

Thus, there is no good reason to expect the school to be able to stop children from being mean to your child. It’s not the school’s fault that your child continues to be bullied. It’s just that what the school is being required to do is not likely to work.

There are numerous reasons anti-bullying programs and policies have such disappointing results. The following reason tops the list: Schools are required to investigate every complaint of bullying so that they can determine who the bully is and hold him/her responsible for the problem.

Let’s examine what happens. Imagine you and I are students in school. You insult me and I get upset. Then I tell the teacher, who proceeds to send you to the principal for bullying me.

Are you going to admit to the principal that you are guilty? Most likely you will defend yourself and blame me, saying that I’m lying or that I’m the one who started.

Are you going to like me for getting you sent to the principal’s office? No way! You are going to hate me. You will try to turn all your friends against me. You are going to tell everyone I am a snitch. You will want to get even and look to do worse things to me. You may also look for opportunities to tell on me and get me in trouble.

So now we have become bitter enemies. And every time we get the school authorities involved, the hostilities between us further intensify.

Meanwhile, my parents think the school is doing nothing to make the bullying stop. They don’t realize that the school’s attempts to help are creating a state of war between us!

Does this mean there is nothing that can be done to make the bullying stop?

Fortunately, the bullying can be made to stop, often quickly and easily. It’s just that the school is usually not the one who can make it happen.

Then who is?

Your child! No one is in a better position to solve the problem than your child. With the proper techniques, your child can be taught to understand the hidden dynamics of bullying and how easy it is to put and end to it.

Once children learn to solve their social problems on their own, they grow in self-confidence and self-esteem. When they are no longer seen as losers or snitches, other children stop feeling embarrassed to be seen talking to them, so their popularity increases. Their happiness and academic functioning also improve when their waking hours cease to be consumed with the anger and misery over the way other kids treat them.

So please stop blaming the school and instead discover how to empower your child to take control of his or her situation. And yes, even a child with a heavy Anglo accent can thwart prickly Sabras and earn their respect and friendship!

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