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Presentation to Participation: Arkansas School Students Show Solidarity Against Bullying

How Positive Peer Pressure can Shut Down Bullying


Peer pressure has been known to be the source of all sorts of bad decisions — like stealing your parents’ booze when you were a teenager or that really horrible mohawk you got in ninth grade — but can it also be a force for good? More and more school districts across the country are hoping to harness the power of peer pressure and direct that energy towards something positive, like standing up to bullying.

That’s what administrators at an Arkansas school district did during an assembly last year on bullying, which encouraged students to stand together against threatening and intimidating behavior and gave them a powerful tool to help change the culture of bullying in their buildings.

During the assembly, at Southside School District in Batesville, AR, middle and high school students watched an emotional video that featured a mom who had lost a child to bullying. The video, along with the presentation that included values-based information about bullying and harassment, and an introduction to a valuable new digital tool, ended up inspiring about 85 percent of the kids to download STOPit, the reporting app that gives them the power to report inappropriate behavior to authorities quickly -- and anonymously.

“Kids really do want to do the right thing,” says Paul Coughlin, who ran the assembly and whose organization, The Protectors, brings its powerful and effective anti-bullying programs to schools nationwide. “They just need the inspiration — which is what the assembly does — and the tools — which STOPit does so well.”

Shutting down a bully culture through peer pressure

Creating a culture of respect and courage in any school building requires involving the entire school community to confront the problem from many angles, according to a long-term study by the Dept. of Health and Human Services. Organizing a school-wide assembly can jumpstart that shift and encourage students to support each other and reject negative behavior.

“Kids get excited about helping their classmates,” says Coughlin, who explains that most bystanders know that staying silent is wrong, but they lack the courage to do anything about it. “But bullies will listen to their peers.”

According to research, you’re more likely to hear a message that changes your thinking and behavior if it comes from a messenger who is similar to you. Serial bullies don’t change their behavior after sitting down with authorities, says Coughlin. What changes the way they think and act is assertive, positive peer pressure. “High schoolers have a jaundiced view. You just can’t lecture to them,” he says.

At many of his rallies, Coughlin says that students publicly apologize in front of their peers for bullying behavior. “They just grab the microphone out of my hand,” and he says that a lot of those kids admit that they didn’t know they were being bullies. “The assemblies give them a safe space to do that.”

At that Arkansas assembly, which was covered by a local television station, students downloaded the STOPit app together and held a sea of smartphones high in the air as a symbol of solidarity against bullying.

A powerful tool to fight bullying

Silence is perhaps one of the biggest factors helping to perpetuate bullying. According to the Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center, 64 percent of children who are being bullied do not report the abuse.

“That’s because they don’t want to be the tattletale,” says Coughlin. “But there’s a big difference between tattling and reporting.”

“STOPit helps them overcome that” he adds.

STOPit is a high-tech solution to bullying that empowers students to call out inappropriate behavior because all reports remain anonymous, which is key, says Coughlin, because kids don’t want to become the next target.

Almost as important, STOPit comes to middle and high schoolers in a way they understand: as an app that they download to their phones. With just a few taps, they can not only report threatening or abusive behavior but they also have the option of adding a photo, video or screenshot as evidence.

Administrators can choose where reports go within the district — like to the school’s resource officer or guidance office — or can opt for STOPit’s Incident Monitoring Service (IMS), staffed by trained operators 24/7.

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him download an app

While STOPit has been proven to be an effective tool for students to report bullying and other inappropriate behavior to school authorities, students need to actually download the app to use it, a step which isn’t always automatic. Districts that have had success with download rates, attribute their higher-than-average participation rates to implementing a roll-out plan that creates some excitement in the building about this new tool for shutting down bullying.

Assemblies and presentations like the one that was so successful in Arkansas are certainly proven to increase participation and effective use of the tool.

Schools are also encouraged to choose activities and messaging that will resonate best with the young people they serve, and there is also an expertly designed, easy-to-use toolkit that can be customized to make the roll out easier. Prior to launch, STOPit will deliver your Launch Kit containing all of the tools and resources you will need to successfully implement the platform and start creating a buzz about the app.

Each Launch Kit contains:

  • Posters
  • Videos for students, staff and parents
  • Student Assembly agenda
  • Staff Meeting agenda
  • Press Release template

STOPit also offers Cybersafe Assemblies with presenters such as Paul, mentioned above. These help schools across the country educate their students and parents on the safety of online technology, how to detect bad behavior and how to respond effectively … and safely. Sessions are available for parents, administrators and age-appropriate programs for students.

Coughlin suggests promoting STOPit in your school by talking it up during morning announcements, hanging posters in hallways and holding a big rally, like the one that was so successful in Arkansas, that encourages kids to stand up to bullying and download the app.

“Kids want to be heroic,” Coughlin says, “but they need adults to help fulfill their heroic desires and empower them to be courageous.”

“STOPit does that,” he adds.

Learn how STOPit can support a rally in your school that will boost buy-in among students and increase anonymous reporting. Click below to contact us.

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