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May 24, 2012
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He sees the angry red words spray painted across his locker and the blood drains from his face. His teammates crowd around him as his eyes search frantically back and forth, silently begging for sympathy but finding only judgment and hate. As he’s slammed against a locker his lip twitches and his face contorts with emotion. He rushes out of the locker room, once his sanctuary, as his former friends shake their heads in disgust.

Finally he reaches the safety of his own room and leans his head against the closed door, his breathing beginning to slow. Suddenly his eyes flash open. He walks over to his laptop and logs onto Facebook. He feels his whole world come crashing down to the drizzle of hot tears as he reads the posts “Go back in the closet!” and #$@Homo&$%! plastered all over his Facebook page. His beloved tidy room with the cheerful model airplanes keeping watch over his bed is no longer safe anymore. He lies on his bed crying and thinking and resolves to take his life.

While this boy’s name is Dave Karofsky and he’s a fictional character on Fox’s hit show Glee, stories like his contribute to the heartbreaking crisis known as bullying—a crisis that continues to plague countless young students today.
I believe the main reason this crisis hasn’t been stopped yet is the misguided emphasis placed on enforcement and discipline. The famous Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, boasting 35 years of research and worldwide implementation, emphasizes committees, rules, supervision, and discipline. While these components are important, they miss a simple principle that could change everything: young people’s incredible vulnerability to peer pressure. Peer pressure drives their lives. It leads them to talk certain ways, listen to certain music, wear certain clothes—and most importantly in this context—interact with peers in certain ways.
No one who has observed young people for more than 2 days will deny the all-consuming power peer pressure holds over them. But few seem to remember something I read about in a middle school health textbook: the concept of positive peer pressure. I believe positive peer pressure is the holy grail of bullying prevention. It’s the missing link between experts and school children. It’s the key to the city of bully-less education. And it has almost nothing to do with discipline and rules.
It does have everything to do with trendy campaigns and peer mentoring programs, though. In my experience, most youths will tune out guidance counselors outlining healthy relationships, but will memorize and emulate every word Justin Bieber has to say about bullying prevention and religiously wear a t-shirt with his face on it and a catchy anti-bullying message. The same goes for elementary students when “cool 7th graders” say bullying isn’t cool, and for middle school students when “cool 12th graders” say the same thing.

If the world of young people already revolves around levels of coolness and peer pressure, why don’t we get sneaky and use it in positive ways?





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