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Bullying is a serious problem that can affect children’s mental health. But with these psychology strategies, teachers and parents might be able to prevent bullying at school.

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[ ♪INTRO ].

Getting picked on in school… well, it's terrible. And when you have to go to the same school every day, facing the same bullies, things can start to feel bleak or even hopeless.

This is something parents and teachers worry about, too. After all, if your student comes to you saying they're being harassed by their classmates, it can be really hard to know what to do. It's a frustrating situation, and while psychologists have found ways to stop bullying at school, you need to get everyone on board to make them work.

Which isn't easy. There is a silver lining, though: When schools use these strategies right, they have a track record of working well. Bullying can be an insidious problem with lasting consequences for kids.

Surveys of teachers and their students show that, at all ages, teachers under-report this kind of behavior. And it can hurt their students' mental health long-term. Children who were bullied have a higher chance of growing up to have lower self-esteem and a higher risk of depression, even if they're no longer harassed or isolated as adults.

In some cases, bullying behavior can even be passed down — like if a kid who was picked on grows up to harass those around them. So this is a big problem, and shutting it down is tricky. Growing up, you might have heard that the best solution is to have everyone involved — to speak up if you see something, and to drag your friends into the fray with you.

But strangely, it seems like programs specifically designed to get peers involved don't go as planned. A 2009 meta-analysis of 89 anti-bullying studies found that bringing peers into a process of mediating conflict was one of the only program elements that backfired. Instead of reducing bullying, it made reported victimization worse.

It's not clear why, but one idea is that kids are susceptible to peer influence, and forming peer groups around bullies helps the bad behavior spread. That definitely doesn't mean you should keep it a secret if you or someone you know is being harassed. But it does mean that group involvement might not be the best universal strategy.

Instead, one thing that seems to be common among lots of successful programs is something called social and emotional learning, or SEL. The idea here isn't so much to teach kids what bullying is and why they should cut it out. Instead, this method focuses on improving skills in areas like emotional regulation, empathy, and relationship management.

So, for example, you might encourage students to elaborate on their feelings so they can understand them better, or have them practice imagining other people's perspectives and emotions. That way, instead of just focusing on intervening or punishing when things go wrong, teachers and schools can reward students for getting along well — like if they work out a social issue on their own. A meta-analysis published in 2011 studied more than 270,000 students across more than 200 schools.

And it showed that this kind of program really works. Students who were involved in an SEL intervention showed fewer conduct problems and more positive social behaviors. It even seemed to improve their grades.

There was an important caveat, though: Age seemed to be an important factor here. Specifically, students learned these skills better if they were younger. Researchers are still debating if that's generally true, but other studies have found that strategies that work for younger kids aren't as effective on teenagers after eighth grade or so.

For example, some programs that have been effective in high schools have focused on identity development, the history of discriminated groups, and tap into adolescents' desire to make a difference. But for younger kids, it seems to be more important to focus on basic social skills, cooperating with others, and resolving conflict in a positive way. So it's possible that this younger group would also respond better to SEL.

Overall, though, it seems like social and emotional learning is a really useful strategy. There's just something you have to keep in mind. For any anti-bullying program, success doesn't happen just because you teach students how to resolve conflict or manage their feelings: Teachers' involvement really seems to matter, too.

After all, not only do teachers fail to see some bullying, they might unknowingly harass students themselves. Plus, it can be hard to figure out what kind of behavior is just normal kid stuff, and what's malicious and unhealthy. And if bullying isn't being noticed… it can be hard to take steps against it.

That's true for more interventions than just SEL, too. For example, in a 2012 study, researchers observed that an anti-bullying program worked really well for younger students in Finland by heavily involving teachers. They gave lessons to all students, and then intervened when bullying occurred.

But that same program barely did anything when it was tried in the U. S. — possibly because U. S. teachers had more demands on their time and weren't able to deliver the program as completely.

So whether it's SEL or something else entirely, getting rid of bullying is about more than just teaching students some strategies. The strategies are great, but it takes a commitment from the school to really make a difference. So if you're a teacher, maybe that's something to keep in mind.

And if you're a student and your school isn't doing something like this — well, if you're facing this kind of problem, still tell someone, like your teachers or a parent. Ultimately, they can't help if they don't know about it. If you want to learn more about psychology in education, you can check out our video about how psych can help you become a better teacher — or student!

And as always, thanks for watching this episode of SciShow Psych! [ ♪OUTRO ].