Preventing school bullying through the use of empathy: Let’s stop bullying without focusing on offender discipline and treatment

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School anti-bullying plans, like the criminal justice system, are punishment based, not preventive, and do not change children’s ideas and behaviors. While bullying is identified as a violation of school rules and sometimes as a crime, many school and juvenile justice systems are recognizing that attempts to stop this behavior by school discipline and prosecution are just a band-aid approach that is neither preventive nor in the best interest of children. Most schools have anti-bullying plans that include everyone (students, teachers, counselors, parents) involved in an attempt to prevent recurrences, protect the injured child, and assess the need for social skills development. Services are then implemented, such as counseling, culturally and linguistically appropriate resources, social skills programs, and intervention services. Are these plans successful? Do they address (rather than prevent) bullying by protecting the victim and punishing the bully, like the criminal justice system does? Do they needlessly focus on labeling of children? Many school systems and communities, while following mandated plans, have developed different ways of addressing and preventing bullying, such as Circle Time, Mindfulness, Social and Emotional Learning and Restorative Justice approaches. These programmes are not exhaustive, as school systems globally are reinventing how to relate to students, how to be better educators, and how to prevent school violence. The key may be the omission of specific labels such as bully or victim. Most of these programmes have one unifying factor: Empathy, the ability to stand in another’s’ shoes, to know how they feel, to express an understanding of the other’s thoughts and feelings. Is Empathy (from the Greek empatheia, em- ‘in’ + pathos ‘feeling’) the answer and can it be taught? Without empathy children are quick to become judgmental of others that they perceive are different from them. The child who seeks to impose his/her power over others is the child who has not been trained in understanding what it’s like to be someone else. If schools teach empathy, bullying may be eradicated. School systems that have enjoyed a measure of success have come to the table with a multidisciplinary approach, teaching skills and values that honor the dignity and integrity of each individual, promote peace, compassion, reconciliation, forgiveness and healing, and encourage respect for diverse cultures and traditions. The prevention of school violence can thus be achieved by schools that employ restorative justice techniques appropriate for their community without focusing on labeling of offenders and victims.

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... Moreover, these interventions have enabled students, parents, and teachers to find ways of giving voice to community concerns while working together to strengthen communication and esprit du corps (Shein, 2021). In addition to teaching the skills of empathy, these programs promote prosocial values essential to democratic citizenship (Cohen et al., 2019) while avoiding the categorization of offenders and creating pride in collaboration (Kaldis & Abramiuk, 2016). ...
Despite efforts to broaden the focus of school safety provision beyond eliminating individual problematic students, interventions in school contexts have traditionally focused on helping the troubled child adapt to the school; less often do schools view the child's symptoms as reflecting troubles in the community which in turn impact children. Even the “school climate” approach, which is innovative in viewing the child in light of social influences contributing to identity and affective co‐regulation, may not sufficiently illuminate the interactions among neurobiology, teaching methods, family support/networks, organizational systems, and cultural/political disruptions. In this article, we focus on Cohen and Rappaport’s complementary papers on preventing school violence. Although both papers thoughtfully consider individual and school‐climate factors, a common feature in both is the replication of our cultural tendency to split the psychic domain from the social realm—to favor approaches that emphasize individual psychopathology over ones that view the individual and community as inextricably linked and mutually constitutive (Layton, 2020). Models for assessment often unconsciously favor frameworks for understanding individuals' symptoms as opposed to approaches that view symptoms as expressing the needs and troubles of both the individual and the community. We propose that the dialectical relationship between individual and community is the nexus from which we can understand the impact of family and community distress on individual psychopathology in ways that could culminate in a violent incident. We will explore how, in the context of Cohen's policy proposals and Rappaport's case study, a community psychoanalytic model can mobilize different interventions and resources.
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