Anti-bullying apps are popular. But do they work?

Despite national efforts promote bullying prevention measures, including annual campaigns such as National Bullying Prevention Month,Bullying remains a serious public health problem. Tech developers commented on this crisis with, predictably, more technology. From apps that help parents educate their kids about bullying, to technology that claims to capture and track incidents in the moment, there’s no shortage of downloadable solutions for anyone seeking an answer to this problem.

I had already graduated in New York City the first bullying prevention law came into effect in 1999. In the nearly quarter of a century since the state of Georgia took the lead in criminalizing bullying, all 50 states have, in one form or another, action taken to address this issue. While I’m glad to see progress in this area, it’s too little too late for those who went through school with goals on their backs, as I had. It is because of my own experiences that I follow discussions about anti-bullying activities with great interest – and also with a healthy dose of skepticism.

The technology-based elephant in the room

As an educator, I’ve seen firsthand how school administrators often have a good game when it comes to their school’s “no-nonsense” or “zero-tolerance” bullying policy. Walk into any school and you’ll probably see at least one anti-bullying poster in the hallways, some even made by students themselves. But as a teacher and a survivor of extreme abuse by several of my former peers, I know firsthand that modern anti-bullying laws, policies, and apps are only as effective as the adults they choose to enforce.

It remains true that not all school officials take complaints of bullying seriously, as was the case with a California school district recently found complicit in the digital bullying campaign against one of his students. The district was ordered to pay $1 million in damages to the teenage victim. According to NBC News, “The gross negligence of the school, teachers, principal and district resulted in significant physical and psychological trauma to Plaintiff.”

When I come across stories like this, I wonder if and how anti-bullying technology can make a difference for victims, as well as for their aggressors. According to Kati Morton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, media personalityand author of the book Traumatized: Identifying, Understanding, and Managing PTSD and Emotional Stress, by relying on technology to tackle the problem of bullying, we look outward for solutions that may be from within. “I don’t see technology being really effective. We need to have more conversations, and this should be face-to-face with parents. We also need a teacher’s intervention,” she said. With cyberbullying so much determining how kids experience bullying today, Morton believes “we need to find solutions.” offline.”

It also seems that some technology has placed the responsibility for finding a solution in the hands of the targets. Requiring victims to do more work to achieve safety in areas where safety should be a given (such as schools) does not seem right to some mental health experts. “We put this responsibility on the person who is injured to download an app and take these extra steps. We need to deal with the people who bully. There have to be consequences,” Morton says.

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