The Best Way to Stop Bullying Is to Teach Empathy

Following a rash of tragic suicides by bullied adolescents and teenagers, schools around the world have devoted more attention to trying to prevent bullying from happening in the first place. Though schools have experimented with a number of different approaches to reduce bullying, research hasn’t been able to verify that these programs are actually successful at changing social dynamics.

Finally, however, researchers at UCLA have identified one specific course of action that seems to actually make a difference: providing kids with empathy and intervention training. According to the data, schools that take this approach can have as little as one-half the rate of bullying that occurs at schools with bullying programs that focus on convincing would-be bullies to not be so cruel.

The study examined 77 elementary schools in Finland, half of which used traditional bullying curriculum, and half of which tried a new computer simulation program called KiVa. With KiVa, students role-play digitally to see not only how it feels to be in a bullied kid’s shoes, but also practice various steps they could take to stop bullying when they see it occurring.

What makes this approach particularly beneficial is the difference it holds for the kids who are habitually bullied (once or multiple times a week). Following the program, not only were these kids bullied less, but they also felt less depressed and more welcome in in the schools they attended. By empowering peers to look out for each other, KiVa seems to foster a better sense of community and accountability.

Beyond that, the program also improved the mental health of kids who are bullied less frequently (i.e., a few times a month). “Typically we think individuals with mental health needs must be addressed individually,” said Jaana Juvonen, head researcher on this study. “The beauty here is that this school-wide program is very effective for the children who most need support.”

Since the success of the trial, KiVa has become Finland’s official anti-bullying program. Fortunately, schools in other countries wouldn’t need to understand a Finnish computer program to take lessons from this research. The take-away for future anti-bullying measures is clear: Don’t just worry about bullies and the bullied – get the kids in the middle who tend to turn a blind eye to these incidents involved, too.

Often, adolescent bullies are looking to increase their own statuses by putting down other, more vulnerable people. If bystanders refuse to validate bullying and instead show support to the bullied individuals, this interaction would serve as a major deterrent to subsequent bullying. Teaching kids how to take a stand for classmates who are being picked on appears to be the best solution.

64 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

TYFS

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Jeanne R
Jeanne Rabout a year ago

TYFS

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Joon m.
Past Member 2 years ago

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Deborah J.
Deborah J2 years ago

The insecurities that fuel bullying and block empathy start very young and very likely in the home, with today's parents overwhelmed with demands of staying afloat, let alone getting ahead. All of society should care about and support the health and well-being - including the psychosocial - of the next generation.

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Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

With today's over indulged, high esteem no accomplishment kids going to be a struggle.

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Lindsay Kemp
Lindsay K2 years ago

A lot of bullies don't even realise they are bullying, especially in adulthood!

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