Tuesday, March 3, 2009

What doesnt work?

Interventions that are unlikely to work except as part of a comprehensive intervention:

Asking the target to solve the problem:
Just as in our social reaction to other forms of abuse, we have all tried to get the victims of bullying to act differently to solve the problem. We have trained victims to:
be assertive

blend in

ignore bullying

pretend they're not bothered by bullying ("Sticks and stones…")

The problem with these approaches used in isolation, no matter how good our intentions in using them, is that they displace responsibility for stopping bullying from us to the victims. If these approaches do not work ( and I believe they rarely do), the victim is left with a sense of failure. These interventions can, I believe, be effective only if they are part of a comprehensive intervention.

Whole-population education
There are a number of curriculum approaches to reducing aggressive behavior. Most of them teach alternatives to aggression and work to build empathy. These approaches, like sensitivity training as a preventive to workplace sexual harassment, are often ignored by the people whose behavior we want to change. Bullying youth tend to either deny their behavior or see it as justified. As we watch bullying youth in an educational discussion of bullying we see one of two reactions:

boredom ("This is stupid")

or outrage directed at others, with no realization that the presentation is about them ("I can't believe bullies do that.").
This kind of educational presentation will not, I believe, change bullies' behavior or attitudes unless it is part of a comprehensive intervention.

Four phases in social reactions to abuse:

We can learn from these relevant
parallels and the interventions that have been tried with them:

sexual abuse

spouse abuse

sexual harassment

Society has dealt with sexual abuse, spouse abuse, sexual harassment, and bullying with a series of reactions:

1. Denial: ("Uncle Dan would never do that;" "I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you;" "Men are just like that;" "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never harm me.")

2. Telling the victim to solve the problem: ("Just make sure you're never alone with him;" " Say no;" "Well, GET the dinner on the table on time;" "Wear less revealing clothes;" "Pretend it doesn't bother you")

3. Broad-brush educational efforts alone: ("Soft is the heart of a child;" Sensitivity training; "Hands are for helping, not hurting")

4. and, finally, after each of these individual interventions failed, with an integrated approach based on clear expectations and consistent consequences, followed by counseling for perpetrators, support for victims, and education of the silent majority within a comprehensive approach.

Resources will always be limited, so we have a responsibility to know which interventions are likely to work and which are unlikely to work.


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