Contrary to popular belief, school anti-bullying programs don’t work. In fact, they may make the problem worse, at least according to one recent study.
Two researchers, Seokjin Jeong, a criminology professor at UT Arlington, and Byung Hyun Lee, a doctoral student in crimonology at Michigan State University, studied the problem of bullying by analyzing data from a study called the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children 2005-2006 (HBSC).
The HBSC is a study which has been completed every four years since 1985 under the auspices of the World Health Organization (WHO).
The sample for this particular study included 7,001 children between the ages of 12 to 18. Students in the study represented 195 schools.
The research team found that older children were less likely to become victims of bullying than the younger ones. Students in sixth, seventh and eighth grades were most often affected by bullying. And, the most widespread bullying occurred at the high school level.
Boys were more likely than girls to be bullied, the authors said, but girls were more likely to be victimized emotionally.
They also found that if parents and teachers were less involved, the risk for bullying went up.
Race and ethnicity, however, did not seem to play any role in whether students were victimized.
What may seem counterintuitive, however, is the fact that the team found that anti-bullying programs seemed to make the problem worse. Those students who attended schools with the programs were actually more likely to become victims.
As for why this might occur, the study authors believe that it may be because children “learned the language” from anti-bullying campaigns. The programs tell students what they should and shouldn’t do, they said, and children become exposed to what a bully is and what they should do if they are questioned about their activities by adults.
Jeong and Lee say that future prevention strategies will need to be more sophisticated, focusing on the victim-bully dynamic and treating it as a relationship problem.
Bullying has received quite a lot of media attention in recent years due to several high-profile cases in which children have committed suicide after being bullied relentlessly by their peers. The most recent of these occurred this year on September 9 when a 12-year-old girl from Florida named Rebecca Ann Sedwick killed herself by climbing up a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and jumping to her death. Sedwick had been bullied for nearly a year by as many as 15 girls, news reports have said.
Police are taking the case very seriously, arresting two girls in connection with her death. One of the girls, a 14-year-old, made a Facebook post on October 12 stating that she had bullied the girl, but didn’t care. A 12-year-old girl was also arrested. Both girls have been charged with felony aggravated stalking.
But, with this recent tragedy, many are again asking just what the solution is for this problem. If anti-bullying programs don’t work, what is the answer? Can we be smarter about how we implement such programs so that bullying does not become worse?
Written by: Nancy Schimelpfening