• By Laura Whybra
  • Posted on Thursday 17th January, 2013

Bullying prevention works, but you have to keep doing it

strong>There are now lots of bullying prevention programs on the market. But do they work? A new systematic review claims that some do, but that ongoing intervention is needed if effects aren’t to fade.The review focuses on efforts to prevent or reduce school violence, which includes behaviors that cause physical and emotional harm – verbal aggression, humiliation, ostracism, physical harm, and destruction of property. An estimated 20-30% of school pupils have been involved in violent episodes.Extended exposure to violence of this kind has been linked with emotional and psychosomatic problems in victims and bullies. As well as low self-esteem, depression and suicidal tendency, it has been associated with anti-social behavior, which in turn leads to financial and social problems, not to mention getting in trouble with the law.It’s a serious and long-term problem. In response, recent years have seen a proliferation of programs aimed at preventing or addressing school violence. These have several common components. Many involve school-wide policies emphasizing the democratic participation of all school members, or seek to improve the classroom atmosphere by improving relationships between pupils, or between pupils and teachers. Other approaches include introducing peer support systems or intervening in the playground or wider school surroundings. Then there are prosocial activities in classroom as part of the curriculum, and specific work with bullies and victims.Evidence neededHowever, the authors of the review, from the University of Murcia, Spain, lament “a notable lack of evaluation of these programs.” In order to address this, they searched for relevant research published from 2000 onwards. Of 299 articles initially detected, 32 met their criteria. The research came from around the world, including Australia, Canada, France, Greece, the UK, and the USA.Studies had to be evaluations of a program to reduce school violence that targeted pupils aged 6-16 directly (not parents or teachers). They also had to meet stringent criteria relating to evaluation method and quality. Twelve of the 32 studies were randomized controlled trials, and five were meta-analyses of such studies. Another 11 involved non-randomized comparison groups. Just four non-experimental studies were included. All studies were rated in terms of quality, with only the best being included in the review.How bullying interventions workThe main conclusion of the review is that “school programmes aimed at reducing violence can produce beneficial effects in the overall social environment of schools.” The most efficient ones adopt a multidisciplinary perspective and focus on improving social and interpersonal skills and modifying attitudes and beliefs. Programs can affect rates of victimization, highlighting the importance of teaching pupils coping strategies and social skills so that they can respond better to bullying.The review was also able to identify the most sensitive variables – in other words, the factors that programs were most often able to change in order to achieve the desired outcomes. These mostly concern attitudes and beliefs about bullying, destructive or intimidating behavior, and the roles of spectators. As the review authors note, “silence or complicity may imply a strong support for the bullies and indirectly favour a violent culture,” so relatively small changes in attitudes (if kept up over time) may change the culture of bullying.Who benefits?Of course, interventions are not necessarily equally effective with everyone. The review found that interventions tend to be more effective among more violent adolescents, possibly because it is hard to reduce already low levels of aggression. Results also tend to be better for boys. The review authors suggest that this could be because of the measurement tools used in studies. These “usually measure aggression and direct bullying, which are more frequent among boys, and they ignore indirect violence based on more subtle behaviour, such as isolating or rumours, which are more prevalent among girls.”Studies that report on age also tend to show better results among older children: “Despite the fact that interventions carried out with younger children produce significant improvement in the acquisition of social skills and increased empathy, no changes are observed in the frequency and severity of bullying and victimization episodes.”Keep up the effortThere is, however, an important rider to these optimistic conclusions. The effects of school violence prevention programs tend to decrease when the intervention is not maintained. In other words, to reduce school violence you need to keep intervening. More research is needed on the long-term effectiveness of programs but in the meantime schools using evidence-based programs should be encouraged to put on reminder sessions or integrate more programs within the curriculum.*********Reference:Jimenez Barbero, J. A., Ruiz Hernandez, J. A., Esteban, B. L., & Garcia, M. P. (2012). Effectiveness of antibullying school programmes: A systematic review by evidence levels. Children and Youth Services Review, doi.10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.04.025

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