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Bullying Prevention: Students Share Dos and Don'ts

Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (
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Stan Davis has devoted a long career to the well-being of youth, in particular their empowerment through voice and their safety and dignity through bullying prevention. With Charisse L. Nixon, Davis recently published a study of 13,177 students in fifth through twelfth grades from 31 schools and in 12 states, focusing on giving students a chance to speak about school connection, peer mistreatment, and student and adult actions.

The Findings

Writing in the report of their work, Youth Voice Project: Student Insights into Bullying and Peer Mistreatment, they state:

"We are concerned that too much work in this field has focused on adults telling youth what bullying is and what to do to address bullying behavior. In reality, youth are the primary experts on what is happening at school and on what works best to prevent peer maltreatment....We see authentic youth involvement as key to success in bullying prevention."

Lessons learned from surveying the students can be summarized in the following don'ts and dos:


#1: Don't try to help youth differentiate between "tattling" and "telling." They key is to have trusting relationships between adults and youth and that means expressing their concerns about what their peers are doing.

#2: Don't imply that a mistreated youth "has it coming" to him or her. No one "deserves" to be bullied or harassed, regardless of their provocations.

#3: Don't overuse the term, "bullying." There are many peer misbehaviors that may not conform to the formal definition of bullying but still have no place in schools. Actions that harm, or potentially harm, others should be the targets, not finding the "bullies."


#1: Work collaborative with students to build clear definitions of respectful behavior and respond promptly and consistently, with care and concern, when respectful behavior is not shown.

#2: Encourage youth to reflect on their own behavior and how it relates to their personal aspirations and the school's code of conduct or core values. Students perceive this as showing them considerable trust.

#3: Place a high priority on activities that connect students with one another and school staff, including adviser-advisee times, advisory periods and class meetings, cross-age, interest-based activities in and after school, and meaningful service projects.

#4: Adults must communicate "unconditional positive regard to all students" (p. 142) without exception or hesitation. Students must believe that the adults in the school believe in them and their potential to achieve in the classroom and in life.

#5: All students should be taught "the cognitive skills of social problem solving so they can try different solutions instead of giving up when they experience failure" (p. 142). These skills have the potential to support alternatives to bullying, considering consequences before cyberbullying, determining how to be an upstander, and how to respond with determination if one is victimized or threatened. Social problem solving skills also help youth to evaluate what is said about them and better equip them to "choose how they feel about themselves" (p. 143).

#6: Youth want to see adults respond proactively (i.e., actively discourage hurtful speech and actions), promptly when an incident is reported, and to follow up afterwards. They want to see enduring caring.

Even if the Glass is Half Full, It Needs Filling Up

Looking at general trends across a large number of youth leads to three observations that must be viewed with great caution:

First, the data at times are not "so bad." Fifty-five percent of students who are mistreated because of sexual orientation feel that adults listen to them; 42 percent of the time, they maintain ongoing supervision for a meaningful period of time -- more than happens for other kinds of mistreatment (37 percent). There are many finding like this and one can be tempted to think things are not as dire as one might have predicted. However, why the figures are not 90 percent or more is the real question. Every child deserves to be heard and supported after an incident, whether for reasons of sexual orientation, physical disability, special education status, etc.

Second, students receiving special education services are mistreated by peers more often than their peers and feel noticeably more supported by adults (though not by peers) than other students who are mistreated. While this seems like good news, it is very likely a consequence of social exclusion. These students tend to have a narrower range of contacts with adults than most other student groups, but do feel supported by those adults they do see. On the other hand, their school day will often bring them into contact with a wide range of peers, often without inclusive supports, and those contacts tend to be unsupportive.

Third, general trends mean little in the context of specific schools. Each school must gather and analyze data on incidents of mistreatment and victimization, and tap student voice and involvement and student and staff perception of climate, using anonymous surveys that allow for disaggregation of data while protecting confidentiality. Many schools would find the surveys in Youth Voice to be helpful, at least as starting points for gathering information.

Next Steps

The action implications of these findings, as well as some of the dos noted earlier, are to promote a genuine and broad sense of inclusiveness by educating for true understanding of diversity, especially as manifest in one's own school, to ensure that school codes of conduct and core values are integrated into everyday routines, including opportunities for student reflection and feedback on student report cards (versus being relegated to statements in handbooks or on web sites), and to require that all students are given systematic training in social problem solving or related social-emotional skills and encouraged specifically to use those skills in finding alternatives to mistreating others, seeking help effectively, and upstanding in the presence of injustice and inequity.

What are your thoughts and ideas about this post? Please share in the comments section below.

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Maurice J. Elias

Prof. of Psychology, Director, Rutgers Social-Emotional and Character Development Lab (, Director, the Collaborative Center for Community-Based Research and Service (

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Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program; Elementary Library Media Specialist

Can I add a "don't?" Don't try to use peer mediation in real bullying situations. Kids aren't equipped with the emotional skills necessary to really navigate those waters properly and the end result is more damaging than helpful. When a real bullying event occurs (one with, among other elements, an ongoing power imbalance), the grown-ups have to step in and take care of it. We wouldn't expect a kid with one first aid class to take care of a peer with a broken leg, we shouldn't expect peer mediators to take care of equally dangerous situations between their age-mates.

Katie's picture

With the Internet consuming much of our daily lives, I believe we also need to be mindful of what our kids are doing on their computers and phones. It has been found that kids spend around 40 hours a week in front of a screen, playing games on the Internet or chatting with their friends via text messaging. With this spike in technology and introduction of new gadgets, the risk of cyberbullying heightens. Below, Knapp & Roberts PLC wrote a piece diving into the details regarding cyberbullying that you may be interested in. With almost half of teens experiencing cyberbullying, it is definitely something parents need to watch for.

Laurie Marhsall's picture

Thank you for the summary of this important study. Two great resources are Community Matters, and the Worldview Exploration Project. Community Matters trains student social leaders in 5-7 practical actions they can do with their friends when they see mistreatment. The training is followed up with monthly meetings in small groups with an adult to share what's happening, what's working, what's not. The Worldview Exploration Project is a curriculum for social studies or English in social/emotional intelligence that meets common core standards. Let's use academic subjects to give the kids what they need.

Karen Bell's picture

Bullying is such a big topic in education today. Over and over again you hear parents talk about how they are homeschooling their kids or doing online schooling at home because their child received excess bullying.
I think overall there needs to be a better communication between teachers and parents to not loose these folks. Our team recently wrote a blog about better ways to improve parents communication This is just through email but there are so many ways to bridge the gap.

Michelle @ eSchoolView's picture
Michelle @ eSchoolView
School PR/Communications

Great presentation of information and insightful details included in the Dos and Don'ts. Particular points that resonate with me personally and the work we do with folks is Do #1 and Point 3 in Glass is Half Full.

School systems have policies adopted by the Board of Education that defines bullying and detail the district's official response when and should it happen, but most are written in legalese and transferred verbatim into student handbooks. So the translation and how that's applied in a school system has to be real and authentic. Administrators, counselors, teachers and students can do a lot TOGETHER to create an atmosphere where it is understood bullying is not only not tolerated, but a place of protection where response to the threatening behavior is swift.

Point 3: Surveys are a great tool for taking the pulse of what's in play and how students (and parents) feel about the safety / sense of belonging in the daily environment. Children need a place to turn when and if they need help. Their voices need to be heard so they will not continue to feel threatened or scared. Anonymous hotlines can help contribute to a sense of safety.

Sam's picture

I believe bullying is a serious problem that can dramatically affect the ability of students to progress academically and socially. A comprehensive intervention plan that involves all students, parents, and school staff is required to ensure that all students can learn in a safe and fear-free environment. Throughout this research project, I have put together my literature review, methodology, and the analysis of my pilot studies. Conversely, this research project made me realise the importance of how to analyse research questions in an appropriate way. However, the wordings of the questions could be improved to avoid misunderstanding of the participant. Moreover, for my research project next year, I will be using the method interview as I believe it is a best way to gather more information.

Sam's picture

I have done a pilot study in a pre-study of a major project. It permits preliminary investigation of a research question or testing a proposition that leads to testing more precise investigation or testing in the main research project. The analysis of any type of pilot study should be mainly descriptive or should focus on confidence interval estimation, depending upon the objective of the study. My pilot is a questionnaire as stated in the research design, which indicates open-ended questions. It contains 8 questions in total, regarding aspects of bullying and how practitioners reduce the problem in schools. I have planned my questions in a suitable method in order to gain the best answers out of my questionnaire. I believe the questions were useful enough to gather information that I wanted to achieve because the questions where simple to answer.

The participant was my friend, so when I offered her to take part in my research project, she kindly accepted to answer my questionnaire. We arranged a date and met at my house with the participant and we met at the expected time and date in order to complete the questionnaire. What did not go well was the participant had to leave in 15 minutes which, was difficult for her to answer the questions in a less amount of time so she rushed through the questions. However, due to 1 participant involved there has not been an opportunity to explore further within this topic. Through the analysis that I have gained from the questionnaire, I have came to a point that if an anti-bullying policy is provided in the school it will make it clear about what bullying is and how it will be stopped. Also, I have also analysed through the answers in the questionnaire that if schools provide lessons regarding how bullying affects children, the amount of bullying will definitely reduce as it happened in the school the participant works at. On the other hand, if I were to do this research project again, I would use the method tool interview as I believe interview is a better tool when a researcher wants to gain better answers. An interview is a conversation between two or more people where questions are asked by the interviewer to elicit facts or statements from the interviewee. Interviews are a standard part of a qualitative research. Due to asking only 1 participant, I couldn't collect the data I was expecting, so for my research project next year, I will be using the interview method as I believe interviews are a better way of collecting data.

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