It must first be acknowledged that the distinction between "prevention" and "dealing with incidents" is somewhat artificial. For example, if bullying is dealt with in such a way as to deter future acts of aggression, the procedure for dealing with it can also be said to have a preventive function. In what follows, I will focus primarily on those actions have been suggested and undertaken in schools to deal directly with incidents. An important distinction can be made between actions taken by school authorities that take the form of sanctions or penalties to be imposed on children judged to have bullied another child or other children, and actions that do not involve the use of sanctions or penalties. Both kinds of actions may be regarded as "consequences" for engaging in bullying, but the former contains a punitive element that is absent in the latter.
The Use of Sanctions
The most commonly used method of dealing with bullying is to identify the person who has engaged in bullying and to apply a sanction that is considered appropriate. The rationale is generally clear. The person who has bullied someone deserves to have the sanction applied. It is expected that the offender will be deterred from bullying in the future. Others learning about how the bully has been treated by the school authorities will be discouraged from engaging in such behavior. It is common, however, for those who endorse this approach to dealing with bullies to maintain that it is different from punishing an offender. This is done by viewing the penalty as a logical consequence of having been chosen to behave in a certain way, rather than as an act undertaken by a person in power to hurt somebody for behaving badly. That the person receiving the penalty is actually hurt and sees it as a punishment imposed by a powerful authority for behaving badly is sometimes seen as "besides the point" (see Glasser).
The use of sanctions is generally linked with the breaking of rules that students have been told about. It follows that the student knows what to expect. If the students can be directly involved in the formulation of rules relating to bullying the use of sanctions appears more clearly justified. The sanctions may take different forms, such as being detained by the school, deprived of certain "privileges" such as taking part in a game, given menial tasks to do, and in extreme cases, being suspended or excluded from attending school The bully may also be required to apologize to the person he or she bullied and/or make suitable reparations, for example, when property has been damaged.
The rationale underlying the use of sanctions has been challenged. It has been pointed out that children who see themselves as being punished for bullying someone are often inclined to continue the bullying, especially if they think they can get away with it—and often they can do so by engaging in more subtle, covert forms of bullying. Such bullying can be just as devastating to the victim. Moreover, protecting a victim who has informed about the bullying can be very difficult and time consuming. A further problem is that it is sometimes difficult, if not impossible, to define the rule that has been broken when bullying occurs. In the USA, some state legislatures have seen fit to pass laws which identify "bullying" as a violation of school rules or behavior codes. Where some forms of bullying are concerned—for example, bullying involving repeated physical assault—it is relatively easy to formulate appropriate rules. But, in fact, most bullying is difficult or impossible to legislate against. Take, for instance, milder forms of bullying involving verbal ridicule and indirect modes of aggression, as in excluding someone from a group. Such forms of bullying need to be confronted, but rules to cover such behaviors are difficult or impossible to formulate. Finally, it is sometimes maintained that sanctions are a mere euphemism for punishment and have the same limitations in their effectiveness as any punishment; that is, they may deter further offensive behavior under conditions of surveillance, but fail to result in any significant internal change. There is no change of heart on the part of the bully, no essential character change.
Bullying may be viewed as a conflict between persons that is amenable to mediation; that is, intervention by a third person who can help the participants to reach some mutually satisfactory outcome, which involves the abandonment of bullying tactics. The "bully" needs to be convinced that a different, no—bullying way of relating to the "victim" is preferable. The victim needs to be assured that the bullying will cease. Much may depend upon the level of skill of the mediator and his or her perceived neutrality. Whether teachers—powerful authority figures—can fulfill this role has been disputed. Similarly, doubts have been expressed regarding the suitability of students as mediators, especially in cases of bullying.
It is generally agreed that for effective mediation to take place the participants in a dispute must be of roughly equal power. As we have seen, it is now customary to define bullying as occurring only in situations in which there is an imbalance of power favoring the perpetrator. This imposes a limitation on what mediation can achieve. Typically, the victim is anxious for the bullying to stop. Not so the bully, who may be enjoying and profiting by the domination of the victim. How to bring about a mutually acceptable outcome in such a situation is often difficult. At the same time, mediation may have a role in countering bullying, especially before conflicts have developed, as they sometimes do, into occasions for bullying by the more powerful party. There are also cases in which a victim may be constantly provoking another person and seemingly "elicit" the bullying. It is argued that a mediator may help the participants to agree that one of them will discontinue the provocation and the other will abandon the bullying.
The No-Blame Approach
The term "no-blame" as applied to bullying implies that an attempt will be made to solve the problem of bullying without resorting to sanctions or penalties. It does not imply that the bully is not responsible for the bullying or that the victim is not especially deserving of support. The aim is to change the motivation of the bully or bullies and to get them to behave responsibly. One approach developed by two English educationalists, Maines and Robinson, has been called the No-Blame Approach. Their method begins when a victim is identified. This may be through a teacher observing what has been happening or by being told about it by the victim, the victim’s parent(s), other children or other adults. The victim is interviewed to discover had what happened and who was involved. It is not intended that there should be a detailed investigation of the incident or incidents or an attempt made at this, or any subsequent stage "to get to the bottom of it." The focus is to be on the feelings of the child who has been victimized. The interviewer seeks to get permission from the child to tell the bullies how he or she (the child) feels about it. It is emphasized that the bullies will not be punished and that there is no reason to be fearful of informing. To provide a graphic account the child is asked to describe his or her feelings, if possible, in the form of a piece of writing, a poem or a drawing. Next a meeting is convened. This includes the bully or bullies, but also any colluders or bystanders. The group also commonly includes children who are specially selected because they are known to have pro-social attitudes and are likely to exercise positive peer influence. The victim is not included. At the meeting, the teacher or counselor seeks to describe how the victim feels about the bullying, drawing upon the materials that have been provided by the victim. This may involve or a simply a description of how the victim feels or perhaps the reading of a poem. There is no interrogation and no blaming. The aim is simply to share information and produce an empathic response. It is pointed out that it is their joint responsibility to help by improving the situation for the victim. Specific responses should be elicited as to how the victim can be made happier. No promises are required from the children regarding any proposals to help. The meeting ends with the teacher handing over to the group the responsibility for deciding how the victim is to be helped and the situation put right. However, the teacher undertakes to meet with them about a week later to review progress. The teacher also meets with the victim and members of the group individually to monitor progress and to express appreciation for the positive things that are being done.
The assumptions underlying this approach are twofold. First, it is believed that children who bully are potentially empathic enough to respond positively to a description of the hurt that has been experienced by a victim. Secondly, that most children who are aware of the situation, as explained at the meeting, will exert peer pressure on the bully or bullies to ensure that constructive and responsible actions will happen that will solve the problem. This method is seen by its advocates as superior to an approach that relies on sanctions in that it is based upon the idea that one can "bullying the bullies" into submission. Its critics, however, argue that the approach is idealistic and unrealistic, that children who bully others lack empathy and good will and need to be deterred from bullying by the use of effective penalties.
The Method of Shared Concern
The Method of Shared Concern is similar in some respects to the No-Blame Approach. It was developed by the Swedish psychologist, Anatol Pikas and has been widely use in Europe and Australia. Its first step is to identify the problem. Unlike the No-Blame Approach, there is no attempt initially to interview the victim. Information is gathered by direct observations or from reports of those who have witnessed the bullying. In this way, the teacher or counselor seeks to identify persons who have been involved in the bullying, the perpetrators and the victim(s), and to learn about how the victim is being treated. Next the suspected bullies are seen. Unlike the No-Blame Approach, the method is to interview each of the suspected bullies individually. No accusations are made. The meeting begins with the interviewer inviting the student to sit in a chair opposite (without an intervening desk) and waiting for eye contact before the interaction begins. The interviewer starts by sharing a concern for the person who is being victimized. Once the feelings of the interviewer have been clearly and sincerely conveyed, the student is asked to say what he or she knows about the situation. As soon as the student has acknowledged some awareness (not necessarily guilt) relating to what has been happening, the student is asked directly what he or she can do to help improve matters. The interviewer is not trying to "get to the bottom of the matter" and to apportion blame but rather to elicit a constructive response and change the situation. Commonly the interviewees do make suggestions. But if they do not, the interviewer may make suggestions, ones that are positive, acceptable and not difficult to follow. The interviewer expresses strong approval for any constructive proposals, but, importantly, arranges for another meeting (at an agreed time) to see how things have gone. At no time are threats made or warnings given. Subsequently the victim is interviewed. The interviewer begins by expressing concern, sympathy and support over what has been happening. However, questions need to be asked to find out whether the victim has been doing anything to bring on the bullying; that is, by acting as a provocative victim. The interviewer discloses that he or she has actually talked with the bullies individually and that each of them agreed to cooperate. The interviewer undertakes to meet again with the victim to see how things develop. Next a meeting with the whole group is organized. At this meeting, it is usually possible to (a) compliment the members on the progress that has been made and (b) to "fall in with" (or elicit) a suggestion from members of the group that the victim be invited to join them for a final meeting to demonstrate that the problem of bullying has really been resolved. Reassurances are given by individual members that they will act positively towards the victim at such a meeting. The victim can normally be induced to join the group for a final meeting, with assurances that there will be no unpleasantness. Such a meeting, if well conducted, can demonstrate publicly that the bullying is well and truly over. However, in cases where the victim has behaved provocatively, the interviewer must seek to facilitate adjustments in the behavior of both sides, that is, play the role of mediator. The aim is to get the students to reach an agreement—ideally in writing and in an agreed form—relating to how each will behave in future. The basic assumption here again is that children who bully can be brought to appreciate the harm they are doing and begin to act responsibly—if they are approached in the right way. Unlike the No-Blame Approach, this method assumes that the best way to approach a bully is in a one—to—one situation. In the company of others who support their bullying behavior, it is thought that a bully is much less likely to experience a feeling of personal responsibility. Another difference lies in the assumption that it is unwise to collect information about the bullying directly from the victim prior to the meeting with the suspected bullies. This is to avoid the impression that the victim has informed on them because that could result in further victimization. The interaction with the bully is intended to help him or her to become "reindividualized" rather than continue to bully mindlessly under the influence of a group. This does not mean, however, that the Method of Shared Concern is aimed at destroying groups. It recognizes that peer groups fulfill an important role in a child’s development. Hence, those who use this method are advised to meet with the group of children who have engaged in bullying—after each has individually acted responsibly—and to share with them an appreciation of how as a group they are now functioning in a constructive way. It does not mean either that the victim is necessarily blameless. It is recognized that he or she may need to change and act in a less provocative manner to prevent further bullying. Finally, it places a good deal of emphasis upon the need to monitor progress and to react to changes in the situation as it develops. The originator of this method, Anatol Pikas, has recently likened his work with individuals involved in bully/victim problems to that of those who practice "shuttle diplomacy" (Pikas).
The Method of Shared Concern is not without its critics. As with the No-Blame Approach, it is sometimes thought that bullies are bereft of empathy and cannot be brought to care about the harm they are doing. Some argue that it requires special skills of relating in a credible way to difficult students and that many teachers do not possess such skills. For some it appears too time consuming.
- Rigby EdD, Ken; What It Takes to Stop Bullying in Schools: An Examination of the Rationale and Effectiveness of School-Based Interventions; in Appraisal and Prediction of School Violence; Michael J Furlong et al (eds); Nova Science Publishers Inc: New York; 2004
Personal Reflection Exercise #7
The preceding section contained information about dealing with incidents of bullying. Write three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section in your practice.
Online Continuing Education QUESTION
According to Rigby, what are four approaches to dealing with incidents of bullying in schools?
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