🔵 Rutgers U. clinical psychologist explains key practices to prevent bullying

🔵 New Jersey schools must implement bully reporting protocols in all buildings

🔵 The ways to help victims of bullying, correct bully behaviors, and address bystander effect

The recent passing of Central Regional High School freshman Adriana Kuch following a brutal assault by four girls in a hallway has brought the discussion of bullying in schools back to the forefront.

Sue Moll, Townsquare Media
Sue Moll, Townsquare Media

How to prevent bullying in New Jersey schools

Rutgers University clinical psychologist Maurice Elias explains that preventing bullying starts with schools establishing the norm of kindness, caring, and how we treat each other.

"That's something that's built in through the school identity, core values, into the discipline policy, it's something that's talked about at the beginning of a school year in every classroom as well as in assemblies," Elias said. "It also includes students having the opportunity to have skills built in with things like empathy."

Elias explains that students are less likely to bully someone when they have a sense of empathy toward others.

"While we're all born with a capacity, it's something that develops over the course of adolescence," Elias said.

There are many ways schools can and should be teaching empathy to students, Elias adds, and how to develop that emotion and it should be a conversation that's had in classrooms, assemblies and across the building throughout the entire school year.

Maurice Elias school bully quote 1

If you see someone getting bullied, would you step in and stop the attack and help the victim?

The bystander effect conversation has resurfaced following the brutal bullying assault of the Central Regional High School student where she was attacked by four girls while a bystander just stood there and took a video that was later posted.

This is just one example of the bystander effect in a school.

Elias explains that bullying and bystanding is the result of a school not sending a clear enough message about how we're supposed to treat each other.

"Schools should be places where mistreatment of your peers is unacceptable to you as a student," Elias said. "You shouldn't be getting any pleasure out of bystanding another students misery."

attachment-kuch 1

Elias explains that to watch a bullying take place as a bystander and then post a video to social media is unacceptable and a reflection on what message a school is not sending sufficiently enough to students.

"The idea that something would be posted to Tik Tok and that it would be watched by other people who might enjoy it, basically says that in a particular school, they haven't done their job sufficiently," Elias said.

Resources for victims of school bullying

When a student is bullied at school, many of them many not know who and where to go to express how they're feeling as a result of being attacked physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Every school in New Jersey is supposed to have a procedure in place to deal with this and an anti-bullying specialist, Elias explains, but students or parents may not even know who that person is.

"That's something that schools need to communicate clearly and repeatedly to students that when you are experiencing this, when you see this happening to your classmates, here is who you go to, here is what you do," Elias said. "It's not up to the individual student to figure all this out, the schools have to make a pathway to help very clear."

(Photo: Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)
Acting Central Regional Schools Superintendent Doug Corbett addressing the media in February. (Photo: Vin Ebenau, Townsquare Media NJ)

How to change the behavior of a school bully

When it comes to how to address a bully, Elias says punishment alone and then a return right back to the classroom absolutely doesn't work to rectify their behavior.

Elias says what does work are restorative practices, "where there is an opportunity for a discussion about what happened and how the one who was engaged in bullying can attempt to make things better in the school, with the person that they bullied."

attachment-Adriana Kuch Central Regional HS suicide prompts bullying concerns, protests (Masterpeter Funeral Home Ocean Scanner News via Facebook)

These restorative practices provide a more effective approach to dealing with a bully than a sole punishment, Elias explains, and helping them develop skills in empathy.

He said it provides, "the opportunity to develop greater empathy, the opportunity to develop impulse control - in other words, just because I'm angry at someone, doesn't mean I should bully them, I should have many alternatives that I try."

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