Could Teaching Mindfulness Put An End To Bullying?
Every few months, schools around the country gather students in an auditorium or classroom and hold an assembly about bullying. Anti-bullying posters are stapled to bulletin boards and taped on doors, and students are reminded to be an ally. The growing awareness of bullying in schools has even been coupled with changes in legislation. All but one of the 50 states have passed anti-bullying laws that punish wrongdoers. Are these programs and laws really making a difference?
About 20% of all U.S. students say they have been bullied, and more than 70% say they have seen bullying take place in their schools. Only 20 to 30% of victims ever report the incident to adults. Sadly, these numbers haven’t changed much, even with the increased implementation of anti-bullying and bystander programs in schools across the nation.
Parents have even removed their children from public schools and enrolled them in cyberschools, where they can avoid negative peers but still get together with others for socialization. Sometimes this is effective, but no one is immune to bullying. Sooner or later, most students will witness or experience bullying no matter where they enroll. So why aren’t conventional solutions working?
Making matters worse
The majority of societal efforts have been directed at reforming bullies while treating victims as martyrs. While these programs and policies represent the best efforts by administrators, they have been proven widely ineffective. Unfortunately, focusing on the bullies only gives them more power. In fact, students who attend schools with anti-bullying programs are more likely to be bullied than students in schools without them. These initiatives are doing more harm than good. These programs fail for several reasons. Many of them require resources schools can’t afford, they don’t recognize the role of adults in bullying and they don’t address the school’s overall climate. Additionally, these assemblies may even give bullies ideas for how to bully more effectively.
The only way to solve this issue is to get to the root of the problem — a school’s culture. To put an end to bullying, a school must change its norms, values, and expectations so students and staff can feel safe. This might not be as difficult as it sounds.
Mindfulness to strengthen victims and prevent bullying
Shifting the focus away from bullies and onto building the inner strength of all students is the key to improving a school’s culture. Mindfulness training is one way to accomplish this. Mindfulness is not a system of beliefs, but basic attention that promotes awareness to the here and now. This may include breathing exercises, mindful walking or periods of focused work. Just 10 to 15 minutes of practice per day can greatly aid in a student’s behavior, attention, and thinking process.
A mindfulness program in schools would, therefore, reduce the impact bullying has on a victim. While the act of bullying is bad, the consequences are even worse for victims. Depression, low self-esteem and anxiety are just a few negative symptoms victims may experience. If mindfulness practice is consistent, it can reduce negative thoughts and help fight these feelings of depression and invalidation. Studies have even shown that mindful meditation may rival antidepressants in terms of effectiveness.
Furthermore, mindfulness practice would also improve self-confidence in students by changing their thinking process. Through mindful meditation, thoughts that are associated with low self-esteem and insecurities are abated and replaced with feelings of belonging and community. Students with high self-esteem and a greater sense of togetherness are then less likely to be swayed by bullies’ criticism and taunts.
Mindfulness to eradicate bullies
Mindfulness programs would also decrease the number of bullies. Because the practice reduces the impacts of bullying, it disincentives the behavior. When perpetrators see their actions aren’t producing the desired effect on their victims, they will be less likely to continue bullying.
Moreover, because bullies are driven by their own insecurities and personal issues, mindfulness can get to the core of what urges them to bully in the first place. Mindful meditation boosts self-esteem, and for a bully, this might be the turning point for accepting themselves and reducing the need to force others’ approval or respect. This also helps them listen to their core and focus on coping with negative feelings and external influences or situations.
Incorporating mindfulness into schools may also short-circuit the vicious cycle of victims becoming bullies. When kids are bullied, they are conditioned to believe they are inadequate and insignificant. Through mindfulness, they can let go of these false self-perceptions and detach from painful past experiences of being bullied and victimized.
Creating an inclusive culture
Current anti-bullying programs and laws are not working, and the consequences are too dire to ignore. The number of youth who are committing suicide, self-harming and being diagnosed with clinical depression is alarming. Sadly, much of this is a direct result of bullying and the public’s ineffective efforts to stop it.
There is simply no excuse for bullying to continue when mindfulness may be a viable and simple solution to the issue. By including it as a natural part of the school day, administrators and teachers can help students improve their self-esteem, reduce depression and increase empathy among classmates. Most importantly, it will create a sense of community and belonging within schools, creating an inclusive culture and a place where students can learn, grow and succeed.
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