The statistics are deeply concerning: one out of every four students reports being bullied at school, and the majority of students who experience bullying never report it at all.
Bullied students are at higher risk for depression and anxiety, substance abuse, violent behavior, and poor physical health. (Pacer.org)
And yet, school-based, zero-tolerance, anti-bullying programs -- largely focused on victim self-reporting and bully self-restraint -- have been rendered mostly ineffective.
But we can't afford inefficacy.
So, what will work?
Research says: empathy.
A UCLA-led study of more than 7,000 students in 77 elementary schools found that an empathy-building, anti-bullying program called KiVa has been more significantly effective than most school-based efforts.
According to Science Daily, the KiVa program uses role-playing and computer simulations to increase empathy among students, encouraging them to think about how they would intervene to help stop a bullying situation.
Jaana Juvonen, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at UCLA, explains that the program improves students' overall perceptions of their school environment, as well as the mental health of those most often victimized by bullying.
The KiVa program is being evaluated for use in the U.S., where zero-tolerance programs are the most common school-based effort.
Juvonen told Science Daily that she does not support zero-tolerance programs as they're punitive and do little to teach kids about empathy, whereas KiVa is effective in leading students to be kinder to one another.
In other words, an empathy-based program can help keep all of our kids safe, and maybe even make the world a better place.
I now know there are steps I can take to change how I think, to find the true me again. That is why I am going to take better care of myself this year. In fact, that’s the only resolution I care to make. For both my own health, and as an important example to my kids, this year, I'm resolving to practice a kindness that starts from within.