To stop bullying, get the popular kids on board

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Wristbands can be used to affect positive social change.  Read how New Jersey middle school students utilized wristbands in their social media campaign to combat bullying: 

This story was originally published by Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times on January 6th 2016.

Most efforts to end bullying — the PSAs, assemblies and high-level policy discussions — come from adults.

But what if students had a say?

In 2012, Princeton psychology and public affairs professor Elizabeth Levy Paluck and her fellow researchers decided to test that idea: They gave the students the power to tackle bullying, almost on their own.

And the researchers found that in the schools where more popular students joined a program that asked them to make their school a more positive place, all students were less likely to be disciplined for bullying and other conflicts between students. Their study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Monday.

The researchers note that these influential students do not necessarily meet the definition of “popular” in the ‘80’s-Molly-Ringwald-movie mentality of “cool kids” who are “kind of loved and loathed,” Paluck said. Rather, they might be leaders among different groups of students, such as the head of the theater club or the leader of the band.

“These people stand out to their peers,” Paluck said. “They’re the ones who you look toward when you’re trying to figure out what is going on at the school.”

The influential students also tended to have older siblings, and were more likely to be dating, factors that told researchers that these students might seem more mature than their peers. They were also more likely to be complimented on their house, suggesting that their families might be wealthier.

In 28 of the schools, they asked 20 to 32 random students to participate in what they called the Roots Program. These students attended voluntary meetings during school — lured by the promise of snacks, the power to implement change and the license to miss class once every two weeks — and learned strategies to combat bullying and other forms of conflict in school.

The students in the Roots program learned how to react to conflicts they commonly see in school and model positive behavior around their friends. They received social media strategic training, designed wristbands with anti-bullying slogans, and had orange wristbands to give out when they saw another student addressing conflict in a positive way. They learned how to use hashtag campaigns and memes.

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