Many anti-violence approaches address a common power dynamic often seen in violent schools (Twemlow et al., 2001a). Power dynamic refers to a conscious or unconscious coercive pattern in which an individual or group controls the thoughts and acts of others by repeated verbal and/or physical humiliation. This dynamic may be subtle and unconsciously motivated, but the school climate usually reveals high levels of disciplinary referrals and unrest, with low teacher morale. Besides the bully and victim, systemic interventions must also address the issue of bystanders. The management of such pathology requires the coordinated effort of all school personnel and parents--such programs have been shown to improve academic performance (Fonagy et al., unpublished data).
Core elements include consultation with school staff to promote awareness of the power dynamic and to draw staff out in a non-blaming atmosphere. As part of the assessment of the school climate, several questions for students and teachers may be able to tease out a variety of dynamics. Table 2 provides some specific examples (Scott, 1999).
It is important to develop a non-coercive classroom-management or discipline plan, instead of consequence-based punishments. Innovative approaches promote insights into the bully, victim and bystander roles. For example, a teacher can define infractions as incidents involving the entire class in various roles, thus minimizing blame and maximizing insight.
Positive climate campaigns suggest alternatives to bully, victim and bystander behavior, while encouraging self-reflection, helping and understanding others. Individualized and creative use of buttons, magnets, posters, jokes, classroom banners and other accessories can often increase the awareness of children, teachers and parents.
Using peer and adult volunteers is an established method to assist child development in schools (Sprinthall et al., 1992). There is a need for guidance in managing bully-victim-bystander conflicts because--in contrast to traditional peer mediation where the two parties start from an equal position--there is already a power differential.
Physical education programs allow role playing and discussion, with specific techniques to deal with bullying such as defensive martial arts and/or a focus on competitive sports (Bell and Suggs, 1998; Twemlow et al., 1996). Guided discussion illustrates that win-win dynamics preserve the dignity and value of the losing party, whereas in win-lose situations, the loser is humiliated and often vengeful.
The overall goal of the psychiatric consultation is to soften coercive power dynamics by equipping victims with coping skills and guiding bystanders into helpful reflective roles. This reduces the power of bullies and reduces scapegoating of bullies by emphasizing that everyone occupies all these roles at different times and that each person involved is a part of both the problem and its solution.Barriers to the Success of Violence Prevention Programs
Vernberg and Gamm (2003) noted that all people in the community need to be united by a core set of values, beliefs and attitudes that encourage more peaceful relationships in order for any anti-violence program to be successful. Most people believe that children should be spared from coercive power dynamics. However, coerciveness has long been used for social control in rituals such as union blackballing, college hazing, excommunication and corporal punishment. Victims are often felt to have done something to cause their own problems and that they are getting what they deserve when they are bullied. Public policies can create false divisions between educational outcomes (a school issue), mental health concerns (a community mental health issue), safety and health concerns (public health and social welfare issues), and legal matters (juvenile justice). These divisions compound the problem of attempting to integrate services and are fueled by the feeling of many teachers and administrators that the social and emotional needs of children are not their concerns.