Three school-aged children dressed in uniforms.

Photo courtesy of Jen Crothers at Flickr Creative Commons.

Increased instances of school bullying and violence have parents and administrators frantically searching for a solution. One proposed solution, school uniforms, is becoming quite popular.

While school uniforms have traditionally been associated with private schools, they’re becoming more common in public schools. In fact, during the 2013-2014 school year, one in five public schools had mandatory uniforms. That’s up from one in eight in 2003-2004.

The problem is, although uniforms sound nice in theory, they don’t actually decrease violence, bullying, or peer pressure. In fact, some would argue that it actually makes these problems worse.

Take this 2007 peer-reviewed study, for example. Researchers found that school uniforms actually increased the average number of physical altercations by 14% per year in the most troubled schools. A similar study conducted in 1999 by Texas Southern University found that disciplinary actions rose by about 12% shortly after uniforms were mandated.

But none of that is surprising when you really stop to think about it. Children, like adults, value their independence and freedom. When those things are stripped away from them, they start to rebel.

Clothing is a way for human beings to express themselves. That kind of self-expression is something that we ought to be encouraging in our children. Uniforms, on the other hand, encourage the exact opposite; they encourage conformity.

Statistics further show that students who are required to wear a uniform often suffer from low self-image. Experts believe it’s due to the fact that students can’t select the colors, shapes, and styles that flatter them the most. Indeed, a 2003 study from Arizona State University confirms that students from schools without a uniform policy reported higher levels of self-image.

But the most important reason that uniforms are completely ineffective is that they don’t fix the actual problem. A bully isn’t going to suddenly stop being a bully just because there’s now a uniform policy in place. Aggressive, violent children aren’t going to stop being hostile just because they have to wear certain clothing. And peer pressure? That’s always going to be an issue whether there’s a uniform or not.

Let’s not punish all the good kids due to the actions of a select few. Bullying, violence, and peer pressure need to be fixed through tougher disciplinary action, not clothing.