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Why anti-bullying laws don’t work: School psychologist’s view

With the passage of Massachusetts’s new anti-bullying law, 42 states now have laws against bullying, Education Week reports, citing “the most recent data available from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration” of the Department of Health and Human Services. But anti-bullying laws don’t work, says Izzy Kalman in a blog at Psychology Today. They don’t work because they require a punitive approach to dealing with bullying, which the research shows doesn’t work, Kalman writes, and – even so – hold schools responsible if the approach doesn’t work. “Law enforcement agencies are responsible for protecting the public from crime, but they don’t get sued for failing to prevent a crime from occurring,” he argues. So schools shouldn’t be sued for failing to detect and prevent bullying – especially cyberbullying, which is even harder to detect. “Both the American Psychological Association and the National Association of School Psychologists have issued research-based opinion papers recommending that schools shun punitive approaches … because they cause more harm than good,” Kalman writes. Here’s how “well” punitive works: “Let’s say you and I are kids in school and you are mean to me,” Kalman blogs. “Then I tell the teacher, who sends you to the principal, who in turn punishes you for bullying me. Is that going to make you want to be nice to me? You will hate me and want to beat me up after school! You will enlist all your friends against me! You will make me look like scum on Facebook and MySpace! You will look for an opportunity to tell on me and get me in trouble with the school! So subsequent incidents – and probably worse ones – are unwittingly set into motion by the school.” [See also “Students leery of school cyberbullying actions” and “Parenting & the digital drama overload,” and “Clicks, cliques & cyberbullying.”]

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Joseph Witkowski #

    Very good article

    October 19, 2013
  2. Ila #

    The problems I have encountered are yes the schools & law enforcement set further problems in motion AND many times it is hard for outside people to prove who the bullied vs. the bullies are. Many adults suscribe to the many must be right/ truthful and this one must be “crazy, lying, a bully themselves” etc.

    September 4, 2012
  3. If laws were all that we needed to prevent crime, we’d have no crime because certainly we have plenty of laws.

    The problem with anti-bullying laws is that a law only works for those who are already lawful. I’m sure Wayne Treacy was worried about laws and consequences when he rode his bike 3 miles across town to beat up Josie Lou Ratley.

    We have to stop taking these outside-in approaches to minimizing and managing the bullying epidemic and start dealing with the problem at its root cause. We need to stop thinking “anti-bullying” and start working on “pro-social” skills that prevent the problem for happening in the first place.

    If you’d like to join our on-going discussions, visit or

    Our kids, teachers, staff and families deserve to be safe — without that, does anything else we try to teach them matter?

    May 17, 2010
    • blogadmin #

      So agree, Corinne, that we need to be a lot more pro-social! And maybe stop making such a distinction between online and offline behavior and stop letting “disinhibition” or anonymity be an excuse for or barrier to respectful behavior online. Does that make any sense?

      May 17, 2010

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