• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Monday 31st October, 2011

Anti-bullying failures: the gap between knowledge and practice

Anti-bullying initiatives have come a long way from the days of “sticks and stone may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” Nevertheless, a significant gap still exists between what is known to effectively address bullying and what is delivered in schools. As a consequence, bullying remains a persistent problem. Since the 1980’s there has been a substantial increase in bullying research, which finds that in the long term, bullying costs both victim and bully. Victims of bullying do less well in school, lose self-esteem, and can become depressed. On the other hand, those who bully other children are at greater risk of engaging in criminality later in life. In a recent article, Susan Carter, of Dowling College, New York, says that the knowledge of how to identify children who bully and how to change bullying behavior has not always resulted in changes in practice. Her useful overview of the bullying research points to promising interventions – when administrators, teachers, parents, nurses and mental health providers are trained and proactive in using them.Understanding and identifying bullies. Tackling bullying starts with an understanding of children who bully. “Bullies are manipulative and enjoy the power… have little anxiety, little insecurity… derive entertainment from it… feel little remorse and empathy,” says Carter. She highlights the value of peer nomination, in which pupils put forward the name of bullies in their school. She argues this proves more effective than attempting to identify bullies via self-reports, since those who engage in bullying tend to justify their own aggression and downplay the harmful effects on victims. The case for quality staff training. Carter argues that the main reason for schools’ failing to successfully tackle bullying is staff’s limited knowledge of how to deal with such behavior. If bullying is to be effectively addressed, teachers and school nurses need to be given the training necessary to deliver effective programs or (at the very least) to make the appropriate referrals to child and adolescent mental health services.Peer mediation or not? Carter highlights the dangers of using peer mediation. She argues that it can provide opportunity for the bully to exert further control and dominance over the victim. However, this suggestion is contrary to a review of other anti-bullying programs which found those initiatives focusing on peer mediation and mentoring were associated with a reduction in bullying behaviors. [See: Bullying: Must it always be Olweus?The keys: opportunity and consequence. Opportunity and consequence are the keys to effectively tackling bullying, according to this report. This is a two-pronged approach, whereby opportunities for bullying are minimized and the rewards for bullying are reduced. These measures are necessary if the problem is to be effectively tackled. Carter also suggests that those who exhibit chronic bullying patterns may require additional support through psychiatric evaluations and one-to-one therapeutic interventions.Proven and promising programs. There is just one anti-bullying program – the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program – categorized as a “model” program by the Blueprints for Violence Prevention. That is, there is just one program that has been found repeatedly, using the highest standards of evidence, to reduce bullying. Nevertheless, Carter also points to examples of innovations – such as peer nominations and quality staff training and support – which offer promising approaches to reducing the damaging and enduring phenomena of bullying. References:Carter, Susan. 2011. “Bullies and Power: A Look at the Research.” Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing 34(2): 97-102. Ma, Xin, Len L. Stewin, and Deveda L. Mah. 2001. “Bullying in school: nature, effects and remedies.” Research Papers in Education 16(3): 247-270.

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