Skip to main content

Why Anti-Bullying Programs in Schools Don't Work

Casey has a Ph.D. in Sociology and 15 years of experience in academia.

Research shows that anti-bullying programs don't reduce the rates of bullying in schools. Here's why.

Research shows that anti-bullying programs don't reduce the rates of bullying in schools. Here's why.

Do Programs to Prevent Bullying Actually Work? Which Techniques Work Best?

Bullying is a big topic of discussion in the United States. I am constantly reading news stories about children who have been bullied, schools passing new policies about bullying, anti-bullying programs, and more. Because bullying is a big issue, I was curious to see how effective anti-bullying programs have been at solving this problem and which techniques are helpful.

In my research, I was extremely surprised to find out that anti-bullying programs don't work. There are plenty of scholarly articles discussing evaluations of anti-bullying programs, and overall there is a consensus that, more often than not, they are ineffective at combating the issue of bullying.

Individual Programs vs School-Wide Programs

The least effective anti-bullying programs are the individualistic ones. Having a guest speaker come in and talk to kids for one class, giving kids pamphlets, making them watch a film, and nothing else is what I mean by individualistic programs. These programs last for only a short period of time. Kids pay attention for a moment, then forget the lesson shortly after. Individualistic programs are a waste of time because they don't influence levels of bullying. Schools spend money on these programs, but they are a waste of resources.

School-Wide Programs Use More Resources

School-wide programs have better results, but they still have major flaws. A school-wide program means the entire school has numerous anti-bullying practices in place, and the entire school works together to combat bullying. Principals, teachers, staff, students, and parents all play a role in teaching students about the negative impacts of bullying. Because the entire school is designed to focus on preventing bullying, schools have better results in lessening the problem.

The big issue with school-wide programs is they take lots of time, resources, money, and dedication. They require schools to restructure how they do things. Not all schools have the ability to do this. School-wide programs may work better, but they take a lot of resources which most schools don't have; instead, individual programs are used as a cheap way of looking like they are dealing with the problem (Smith, Schneider, and Ananiadou, 2004).

Little Kids Accept Anti-Bullying Lessons the Best

Age is another factor that determines when anti-bullying programs will work. Little kids are the only age group where these programs really work. Young elementary school kids are impressionable, don't have adult reasoning skills, and are more accepting of what adults teach them. Because of their age, young children accept anti-bullying lessons better and behave in more positive ways. (Crothers, 2006)

High School Is the Biggest Challenge for Anti-Bullying Programs

Anti-bullying programs don't work for teenagers. They are the hardest age group to develop anti-bullying programs for. Teenagers have free will and critical thinking skills. Because they have a mind of their own, anti-bullying programs that exist now targeting teens fail. Teenagers who do bully choose to ignore anti-bullying lessons. They may turn the lessons into a joke to criticize them so that the lessons seem silly to other teens. (Crothers, 2006)

Research shows that anti-bullying lessons are best absorbed by younger children.

Research shows that anti-bullying lessons are best absorbed by younger children.

Teachers Are the Best Role Models

According to scholarly research, teachers are the main individuals who students listen to and can cause an anti-bullying program to succeed. They are role models, spend quality time with their students, and students are more likely to respect them. Research shows that principals, staff members, and other administrators aren't perceived in the same way as teachers by their students.

Because students hold teachers in such high regard, this means they have to be the leaders to teach children not to bully. Many programs don't focus on the importance of teachers leading to anti-bullying program failures. Also, not all schools can afford training for all teachers to learn how to handle the issue of bullying. Without proper training, teachers may handle situations wrongly or ineffectively. (Ferguson, 2007)

There Is No One-Size-Fits-All Model

Age, gender, culture, socioeconomic status, and other factors may influence the social structure of a school. When developing anti-bullying programs, all these factors and others must be taken into account to ensure lessons students will be taught and how they are taught will be effective. As I mentioned before with teenagers, anti-bullying programs that are effective with younger children don't work with teenagers. Because there is a lack of research examining what anti-bully programs work and which don't, it is difficult to figure out what kinds of programs different schools should use.

Right now, we live in a time where bullying is a focus of educators. Because most anti-bullying programs are new and being developed, more research needs to be done to figure out what works and what doesn't to develop better programs that don't waste time or school resources.


Crothers, L., Kolbert, J., Barker, W. (2006). Middle School Students' Preferences for Anti-Bullying Interventions. School Psychology International.

Ferguson, C., (2007). The Effectiveness of School-Based Anti-Bullying Programs: A Meta-Analytic Review. Criminal Justice Review (4)32, 401-414

Smith, J., Schneider, B., Smith, P., & Ananiadou, K. (2004). The Effectiveness of Whole-School Antibullying Programs: A Synthesis of Evaluation Research. School Psychology Review, 33(4), 547-560.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2020 Casey White