And as schools in the U.S. attempt to comply with state mandates that they implement anti-bullying programs, they may be adopting curricula that have little or no impact on reducing bullying behaviors among American children, although the programs may be effective with schoolchildren in other countries.
The report, which appeared in the journal Aggression and Violent Behavior, cited several meta-analyses of anti-bullying programs implemented in the U.S. that were based largely on programs developed in other countries.
The paper was written by Jun Sung Hong, a graduate student in the School of Social Work, and Dorothy Espelage, a professor of educational psychology in the College of Education and an internationally recognized expert on bullying.
Since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., and numerous episodes of school violence and student suicides in recent years that were believed to have been precipitated by bullying, 45 states enacted laws directing school districts to adopt anti-bullying policies, according to a recent report from the U.S. Department of Education.
While it’s encouraging that legislators and educators are taking bullying seriously, the etiology of bullying and victimization is complex and “requires an ecological approach in intervention design and evaluation” that is not reflected in the prevention programs being implemented in U.S. schools, Hong and Espelage wrote.
Some schools are adopting programs that have yet to demonstrate consistent efficacy with American children, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed by researcher Dan Olweus in Norway. A 2004 meta-analysis of 14 school anti-bullying programs based on the Olweus model showed moderate reductions in self-reported victimization and small to negligible effects on perpetration.
While a more recent analysis of 44 anti-bullying interventions, most of which were based on the Olweus program, indicated that the programs reduced bullying and victimization by 17-23 percent – those findings were applicable only to schools outside the U.S.
However, the more elements a program included, the greater the impact it had on reducing bullying.
Interventions need to address environmental factors – in the classroom, the school, the community, the family and society – that foment aggression and victimization, Hong and Espelage wrote.
Studies consistently have shown that exposure to violence in the media, the home and the neighborhood; peer groups that endorse bullying and victimization; and negative school environmental factors such as a lack of adult monitoring all contribute to bullying and victimization.
The programs most likely to be successful in the U.S. would entail interventions at the individual, classroom, school and community levels that addressed behavioral changes and social skills development in victims as well as bullies, and which involved bystanders, teachers and parents as well, the paper indicated.
The multiple ecologies that impact bullying and the risk factors that increase children’s likelihood of being bullied have been studied extensively by researchers in other countries but have not been explored thoroughly in the U.S., Hong said.
“It’s very important for practitioners, researchers and teachers to look at what the culture of bullying is,” Hong said. “Simply taking punitive measures, such as zero-tolerance policies that weed out perpetration and other behavioral problems that could be threats, will probably overlook this culture.”
Teachers, school administrators and parents also need to be aware of the risk factors that have been associated with children’s being victimized or becoming perpetrators. Characteristics that make children different – whether it’s their sexual orientation, religion, socio-economic status, weight, disability status or emotional problems – can elevate their risk of being bullied, studies indicate.
Despite the stereotype of the maladjusted, not-so-bright schoolyard bully, many kids that bully others are intelligent, some of them even gifted, and are socially astute, manipulative and popular with their peers.
“The take-home message of this paper is that it’s important for researchers and practitioners to examine these risk factors and consider them when they’re assessing issues of bullying in school settings,” Hong said. “It’s also important to raise parents’ awareness and foster more school-home collaboration. Oftentimes, parents may not know how to deal with bullying or may overlook the severity of a bullying situation.”