Anti-Bullying Programs: Sound and Fury, Signifying Nothing

Published October 23, 2013

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.