Editor’s Note: Justin W. Patchin is the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center and co-author of Words Wound: Delete Cyberbullying and Make Kindness Go Viral. As the instrumental expert for our March bystander effect article, we wanted to give him this forum to speak to educators. Our question to him: How can teachers play a more active role in preventing bullying in their schools?
One reason many people refrain from misbehavior is because they don’t want to disappoint those in their lives that they care about. Therefore, the key to preventing misbehaviors at school is to develop relationships with students. Inasmuch as many teens are not deterred by the threat of formal punishment (from the police or courts), they are dissuaded from participation in behaviors that they know their friends, parents, or other valued adults would frown upon. When teens are emotionally attached or socially bonded to others, they internalize their norms and values and do not want to disappoint them by behaving in a way that is contradictory to those principles.
The concept of "virtual supervision" suggests that youth will behave in ways that are consistent with adults they value and respect, even when those valued others are not directly looking over their shoulders. For example, if I really value my relationship with my mom, and I know that she would be disappointed in me if she knew that I bullied someone, then I am less likely to bully others, even in situations where she is not physically present because I am considering how mom might feel if she found out about my behavior. Of course this only works if I have a really great relationship with mom and don’t want to damage that relationship by disappointing her. So the key is developing strong relationships with kids.