Are School Bullying Prevention Programs Making Bullying Worse

Research shows that kids are learning how to be bullies from programs

Prevention programs are more successful if they involve character lessons, small group settings and mentoring. iStockphoto

As back-to-school season approaches, many school administrators are evaluating their bullying prevention programs including the effectiveness of these programs. However, a recent study suggests that many schools may be using programs that actually are not as effective as they might intend. In fact, some bullying prevention programs may be increasing incidences of bullying among students because they are teaching kids the ins and outs of bullying.

A Closer Look at the Study

The study, released by the University of Texas (UT) in Arlington and published in the Journal of Criminology, found that unintended consequences occur as a direct result of a school’s bullying prevention program. One possible reason for this occurrence is that the bullies who are targeting their peers may have learned how to bully by watching videos and presentations on bullying.

For instance, videos often show examples of bullying and how to respond if you are being bullied. As a result, kids are learning new ways to bully. This practice is especially prevalent through videos that highlight the pitfalls of bullying on social media or bullying using texting. Some videos may even inadvertently teach kids how to cyberbully others without leaving a trace of evidence.

According to Seokjin Jeong, an assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at UT Arlington and lead author of the study, students are exposed to what a bully is and they know what to say or do when questioned by parents and teachers.

This fact is alarming because most people expect bullying prevention programs to deter bullying, he says.

Meanwhile, the study, which used data from an earlier national study on the well-being of adolescents, also found that schools without anti-bullying programs reported fewer incidences of bullying.

However, this is not to say that bullying prevention programs are not needed. What it means is that the future direction of the programs need to be more in-depth and sophisticated.

How to Apply the Research

Instead of showing kids what bullying is and how to respond, bullying prevention programs should focus on more character-related aspects of bullying prevention such as empathy, kindness, gratitude and emotional intelligence. Successful bullying prevention programs should also empower bystanders and encourage students to positively impact school climate.

They also need to better identify the bully-victim dynamics in order to develop appropriate prevention strategies. And they should contain consistent discipline strategies for bullies as well as rewards and recognition for students who are making a positive impact on the school environment. Other elements of successful bullying prevention program, include a year-long, school-wide program that incorporates character lessons, mentoring and small group lessons.

Other Findings

UT Arlington researchers also found that older students were less likely to be victims of bullying than younger students. Additionally, the most serious issues involving bullying tend to occur among middle school students, specifically those in sixth, seventh and eighth grades.

What’s more, boys were more likely than girls to be victims of physical bullying while girls were more likely to be victims of emotional bullying. Meanwhile, a lack of support and involvement by parents and teachers increased the risk of bullying. And, notably, researchers found that neither race nor ethnicity was a factor in whether students were bullied.

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