THIS Is How Teachers Can Stop Bullying

By Justin W. Patchin
February 3, 2017


With the prevalence of social media among teens, it's so easy to get involved in cyberbullying. Keep teens away from these behaviors! 

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.

And this powerful effect can also work with others who work with young people (educators, church leaders, and law enforcement officers, to name a few). As an example, one time when I was in high school, I drove my ATV across town to some community event. Several minutes after I got there, one of the local police officers arrived and immediately started chewing me out for driving too fast on the city streets. He was yelling at me, saying that after he saw me he had gone to my house and was waiting for me and was going to give me a speeding ticket!  (For the record, I really didn’t think I was going that fast.) But nonetheless, I was devastated. I was embarrassed and upset that I had disappointed him--not just because he was a police officer, or that he was threatening to give me a ticket, but because he had been my hockey coach the year prior and I had a great relationship with him. I felt terrible. In the end, he didn’t give me a ticket, but from then on I drove very slowly when navigating the city streets with my ATV.


In addition to preventing bullying from happening in the first place, a positive relationship with a student can make it easier to deal with bullying when it does come up. Students are much more likely to confide in adults who they know care about them and with whom they trust. We know that youth are reluctant to report bullying experiences to adults, so developing a caring connection may be the mechanism necessary to get early information on bullying or other problematic behaviors to they can be addressed before it gets even worse. Know your school’s procedures for responding to bullying and who within administration would be best to bring in. You might not have the perfect solution to the situation, but simply letting the student know you are on their side and willing to help could be all that is needed.


So take the time to develop a positive relationship with your students. For decades we have known the power of spending just a bit of regular time with students (e.g., two minutes a day for 10 days in a row). Learn their names. Give them high-fives as they come off the bus. Show them that you care—because we know you do. It can make all the difference.



At only 13, Trisha Prabhu built a browser plug-in called ReThink, that helps prevent cyberbullying. Her story will inspire teens and keep them safe!


This engaging card game will help you create a cruelty-free classroom!

Have teens follow these three simple steps to create a culture all about kindness, using social media.