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Elizabeth Englander on Targeting the Behaviors That Feed Bullying

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Notice Gateway Behaviors

At the start of our conversation, Englander cut right to the chase, telling educators that being vigilant about bullying in their schools is the wrong approach to bullying prevention. "The problem is that … the behaviors that an educator actually sees are not necessarily bullying," she said, explaining that a better way to come at the issue is to look for what behaviors children could use to bully one another: "Overwhelmingly, kids no longer use things like physical altercations; they're not beating one another up to get their lunch money. They use psychological ways of expressing contempt. They laugh at somebody, or make fun of them, or roll their eyes to show the person what an idiot they are, or ignore them while they're talking." Englander calls those behaviors and words that express contempt "gateway behaviors."

She warned, however, that gateway behaviors are not exclusive to bullying situations. Kids could exhibit them in a fight or when they are in a foul mood because they didn't get enough sleep. "That's what makes it tricky," Englander acknowledged. "If a student rolls their eyes and laughs with a friend because somebody else gets the answer wrong, I don't know if it's bullying or fighting or anything else."

Yet even without knowing why a student is exhibiting a gateway behavior, Englander noted that the good news for educators is that these contemptuous acts are socially inappropriate in any context: "It doesn't really matter why kids are doing them. As you go through life, you're not supposed to laugh at people, ignore them, or roll your eyes at them."

"Instead of looking for bullying, what we train people to do is to look for gateway behaviors and to respond to them as an inappropriate social behavior. At least some of the time, those behaviors are going to be used to bully. So if you don't ignore them and you clearly make them something that is not OK, you're going to reduce other social problems."

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