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Ask for help, settle fights: To reduce school bullying, we must teach kids social responsibility

Researchers found that fostering a collaborative learning environment was imperative to reducing incidents of bullying in schools.

Ask for help, settle fights: To reduce school bullying, we must teach kids social responsibility
Image Source: Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images

A peer-reviewed study published in the International Journal of Behavioral Development earlier this month suggests that schools that teach children how to care for each other are more successful at preventing bullying. Encouraging behaviors such as paying attention to peers’ feelings and peacefully resolving conflicts with their classmates were imperative to reducing incidents of bullying. The study surveyed 1,850 Brazilian schoolchildren aged between seven and 15 years old and their teachers over a period of three months in 2019—before the ongoing pandemic disrupted in-person teaching. At the time, teachers were working on cultivating more socially responsible behaviors among their students, The Conversation reports.



According to the study, students who reported that their teachers were actively teaching them how to work together with their peers and settle disputes in a peaceful manner also said they were less likely to feel aggressive with their classmates or feel victimized by them. Teachers who fostered a classroom environment with clear rules were also responsible for these outcomes, students added. More specifically, there was a 34% decrease in reported incidents of hitting, kicking, pushing, spreading rumors, and leaving people out at the end of the three-month period. Pupils confirmed that a supportive classroom climate was the main reason for this decrease.



While the survey did not directly study classrooms in the United States, the results can easily be translated to American learning environments. At present, across the world and indeed in the United States, over half of children and adolescents say they are victimized by their classmates. Ten percent of victims experience repeated instances of bullying. Therefore, by exercising what psychologists call "social responsibility," such as helping each other out and cooperating to resolve conflicts, children are able to contribute to the greater good of a group or classroom in a meaningful manner.



Schools can nurture social responsibility within their students by building a learning environment that combines fairness and positive social connections. Teachers must also ensure that students have enough opportunities to learn and model ways to be kind and include others. For instance, teachers can encourage their students to help others and be confident when seeking assistance if they are in need. Unfortunately, it is currently unclear how social distancing mandates will affect children and teens who are growing up today, in Brazil or other parts of the world. However, the decrease in interpersonal interactions will inflict some kind of toll on students, experts believe.



In the future, the researchers plan to conduct rapid-response surveys and interviews with schoolteachers. They will also design new programs, such as new lesson plans for remote learning, including for children without internet access. In addition to this, the researchers hope to deploy program activities through social media and online learning platforms in order to help children continue learning skills related to social responsibility while nurturing a sense of connection through their remote schooling activities. Their next goal is learning more about how fostering social responsibility in children can aid the development of engaged and responsible citizenship as students grow up. They affirm, "We want to understand new ways to create opportunities for children and adolescents to actively engage and contribute to the well-being of their communities."


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