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Friday, January 13, 2012

Why focusing on rules and consequences is ineffective

Rules and consequences have their place in school discipline and serve a purpose, they are however, ineffective in preventing or reducing bullying. Rules and consequences do send a signal about what is important and valued in a community, but do not really help kids learn what they need to learn to be successful.

Educators continue to rely on these because there appears to be few alternatives to controlling inappropriate behavior. Often educators will reiterate the rules or publicize them more. They will also increase the severity of the consequences or increase the rewards for following the rules. One problem with this approach is that it is hard to tell if any of this is working since adults are unaware of most of the bullying that is occurring anyway-especially bullying that is on the bus.

Here are a few of the reasons why rules and consequences are not effective:

  • The socially competent kids who bully are skilled in doing it under the radar and can do so very subtly. If you are pretty confident that they you will not get caught, potential consequences are easy to ignore.

  • The socially maladjusted kids who bully are often bully/victims. They bully to raise their status since kids who bully are viewed more favorably by peers than kids who are victims. These students often also have poor self regulation skills and can tend to act impulsively without thinking. In short , if they could stop and think about consequences they probably wouldn't do it in the first place, or would bully in a more clever way.

  • These bully/victims are probably the perpetrators in the bullying that adults do witness. If these tend to be the kids who receive the consequences while other kids who bully go untouched, it only adds insult to injury to these kids since they are already "punished" enough by the more clever bullies. No wonder the research is pretty clear that these kids are at the greatest risk for serious problems later on in their lives.

  • The social/developmental payoff for bullying is usually more powerful than any reward or consequence adults can provide. Some kids bully to impress peers. Some boys bully to impress girls. The need for social status and approval from peers can easily outweigh the desire to avoid adult consequences or disapproval.

  • Rules and consequences are directed toward individuals and their actions. Bullying is really a social problems tied to relationships and the social dynamics among students. To be effective educators must realize that their efforts need to be directed toward all the students. Bystanders are really the key element in determining the hold that bullying has on a group of kids.

  • Consequences by themselves do not "teach" or give kids new skills or strategies to use in the future. The social world is confusing at times for kids and they are dealing with forces often beyond their own understanding. Unless we help them learn to "navigate" their own social and emotional world, we will be sending them back in situations ill equipped for success.

Educators need to change the social norms of how kids interact. This is harder to do but it is the only effective way of addressing the problem of bullying on the bus or anywhere.

Ironically even if the traditional rules, rewards, consequence approach to controlling student behavior "works" in the short run, there are long term effects from its "success" than could contribute to the problem of bullying. I will try to expand on this in my next post.

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