Beyond bullying prevention: Addressing bullying through positive youth development

Youth development experts say prevention is not enough; learn about other measures that must be considered.

Bullying is widespread in the U.S. and of great concern to many families, educators, youth workers and other community members. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying is a form of youth violence that can cause physical injury, social and emotional distress, and even death. Bullying has serious consequences that put youth at risk for substance abuse, academic problems, mental health issues and violence in late adolescence and adulthood.

While these concerns are valid, a focus on “preventing” bullying is not enough. Too many programs come from a deficit approach and focus on bullying as a set of problem behaviors to be eliminated and prevented. In addition, these prevention efforts often frame the issue as a “youth problem,” rather than examining the complex issues surrounding bullying through larger institutional, cultural and societal influences that impact young peoples’ development. According to Karen Pittman of the Forum for Youth Investment, prevention is an important but inadequate goal. Pittman says, “Problem-free is not fully prepared,” and adds that “Fully prepared is not fully engaged.”

Several youth development experts have built a framework for Positive Youth Development out of what has become known as the “Five Cs”: competence, confidence, connection, character and caring. Some stress that a “Sixth C” – contribution – is essential to the kind of youth engagement necessary for positive youth development and positive community change.

Using the Six Cs as a guide, here are suggestions for taking a positive youth development approach to anti-bullying efforts:


Includes   cognitive, academic, social and emotional competencies. Engage young people   as full partners in your efforts. Tap   their wisdom, assets and strengths and provide opportunities for them to   practice decision-making and problem-solving skills, and engage in dialogue   around the complex issues of bullying. Provide opportunities to develop   social and emotional intelligence and help kids learn to address bullying from “the inside out.”


Refers   to an internal sense of positive self-worth and self-efficacy. Developing a   positive identity can be challenging when young people beginning at early   ages hear biased remarks that target them and   others based on differences and other aspects of who they are. Unfortunately,   kids (and adults) get a steady diet of shame-based messages that say they are   not okay or “not enough,” which can undermine healthy development. Learn more   about the role shame plays in bullying and help kids develop shame resiliency. Nurture healthy   individual and group identity development across race, gender, class and   other differences.


Young   people need to feel a sense of belonging and establish positive bonds with   peers, families, schools, communities and the earth. Help youth develop   sustained, caring, healthy relationships and become allies to each other to   address bullying. Work with youth to create safe, affirming   and fair environments across community settings.


Includes   a commitment to shared values such as integrity, respect, trustworthiness,   fairness, responsibility, compassion, freedom and unity. Instead of simply   working to “prevent bullying” and other problem behaviors, adults need to model these important character   traits – and nurture young people’s natural inclination and development   toward these values throughout their lives.


Developing   compassion, caring and empathy is one of the most important aspects of   positive youth development. Provide opportunities for young people to develop   caring relationships – particularly across differences. Young people report   that people are often targets of bullying behavior because of real or   perceived “differences.” Adults have an important role to play in helping   kids learn about differences   in healthy ways.


Young   people need and want to be full participants in the life of organizations and   communities to which they belong. Children are not “the future.” They are thepresent – and they long to be   engaged in meaningful ways around important issues that impact their lives.   The contributions they make enhance their own development – and their   engagement is essential if we want to make significant positive changes   around issues of bullying in our communities. Create opportunities for young   people to put the other Cs of Positive Youth Development (competence, confidence, connection,   character and caring) to work   through purposeful and meaningful contribution   to your bullying efforts.

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