Bully for You! The (In)effectiveness of Anti-Bullying Programs




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Bullying is no longer seen as a rite of passage during childhood or adolescence. It is recognized as a serious mental health risk that can lead to anxiety, depression, confusion, low self-esteem, and even suicide for the victim.

The definition of bullying varies, whether it is defined by parents, students, teachers, psychiatrists, or lawmakers, but, what it really boils down to is suffering negative consequences – physical, mental, or emotional – because of the repeated actions of another person.

Anti-bullying campaigns became the cause célèbre a few years ago, and Hollywood types rushed to publish multimedia messages to “stop the bullying.” While schools were busy patting themselves on the back for implementing programs and lawmakers were drafting bills that redefined bullying and how to address it, kids still hurt other kids.

Bullying has not stopped – approximately 1.5 million school-aged children self-report as victims of bullying by peers – and a new study found that students who attend schools with anti-bullying programs in place were actually more likely to be victims of bullying than students at schools without such programs. How is that for a low blow?

The study, which was led by researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington and published in the Journal of Criminology, examined surveys of more than 7000 school-aged children from nearly 200 schools around the United States. Overall, they reported that the most pervasive bullying occurred in high school, but significant bullying took place during the middle school years, as well. Boys were more likely than girls to be victims of physical bullying, but girls were more likely to be victims of emotional bullying.

Though race and ethnicity were not factors related to bullying or victimization, environmental, cultural, and social factors did play a role. Parental support had a protective role against bullying, while a lack of parental support predicted bullying victimization. Similarly, peer support reduced the likelihood of bullying victimization, but negative peer relationships and a lack of social support were associated with increased bullying.

Another protective effect against bullying came from security measures implemented at schools. Surveillance programs that included video cameras, bag and locker searches, metal detectors, and uniformed officers have been shown to reduce the incidence of bullying. Also, teacher awareness and support of anti-bullying programs at the school reduced the risk of bullying.

The most surprising result, though, was the finding that students who attended schools that implemented anti-bullying programs were more likely to be victims of bullying. The authors suppose that bullies at such schools have essentially learned what not to do and what not to say in order to not get caught.

The bullying is still happening, but it may not look like the bullying identified in the anti-bullying program. Anti-bullying programs do nothing to take away the power of the bully.

Bullying is a relationship problem, and strategies that are better equipped to identify why students bully and to understand the dynamics of the bully-victim relationship will likely lead to more useful and effective anti-bullying strategies. Some anti-bullying programs have had success in reducing the occurrence of victimization, but factors like age, type and severity of bullying, culture and family, and comprehensiveness and durability of the program influence the success.

References

Bauer NS, Lozano P, & Rivara FP (2007). The effectiveness of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in public middle schools: a controlled trial. The Journal of adolescent health : official publication of the Society for Adolescent Medicine, 40 (3), 266-74 PMID: 17321428

Carter S (2012). The bully at school: an interdisciplinary approach. Issues in comprehensive pediatric nursing, 35 (3-4), 153-62 PMID: 23140411

Carter S (2011). Bullies and power: a look at the research. Issues in comprehensive pediatric nursing, 34 (2), 97-102 PMID: 21568626

Fekkes M, Pijpers FI, & Verloove-Vanhorick SP (2006). Effects of antibullying school program on bullying and health complaints. Archives of pediatrics & adolescent medicine, 160 (6), 638-44 PMID: 16754827

Jeong, S. and B. H. Lee (2013). A Multilevel Examination of Peer Victimization and Bullying Preventions in Schools. Journal of Criminology Article ID 735397. DOI: 10.1155/2013/735397

Raynor S, & Wylie A (2012). Presentation and management of school bullying and the impact of anti-bullying strategies for pupils: a self-report survey in London schools. Public health, 126 (9), 782-9 PMID: 22819671

Rigby, K. and P. Slee (2008). Interventions to reduce bullying. Int J Adolesc Med Health 20(2): 165-83. 18714554

Smith PK, Ananiadou K, & Cowie H (2003). Interventions to reduce school bullying. Canadian journal of psychiatry. Revue canadienne de psychiatrie, 48 (9), 591-9 PMID: 14631879

Stevens V, De Bourdeaudhuij I, & Van Oost P (2000). Bullying in Flemish schools: an evaluation of anti-bullying intervention in primary and secondary schools. The British journal of educational psychology, 70 ( Pt 2), 195-210 PMID: 10900778

Image via CREATISTA / Shutterstock.

  • Debbra W

    Bullying goes on at all times and nearly everywhere. Kids bully kids. Adults bully adults and kids. We need a change of heart in the population of people everywhere. Lovingkindness is the new word. Children an adults everywhere need to feel that tenderness which comes from lovingkindness delivered by family, friends, teachers, supervisors, managers, co-workers, …

  • http://www.psy-ed.com Anna Kaminsky

    It is interesting that schools with bullying programs are more likely to see children being bullied. In my own experience reading over some of these programs and students reactions to them, I can see how they might be ineffective – seen as a “joke” by the bullies and not offering concrete options for students being bullied. I would think the change to bullying needs to start both in the home and also as a mental health issue – what is it about the children that bully that causes them to engage in the behavior, and what will get them to stop. Reporting bullying is a start, but likely not the answer.

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD

Jennifer Gibson, PharmD, is a practicing clinical pharmacist and medical writer/editor with experience in researching and preparing scientific publications, developing public relations materials, creating educational resources and presentations, and editing technical manuscripts. She is the owner of Excalibur Scientific, LLC.
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