What works for bullying prevention?

Child Trends has released a new policy brief on preventing bullying and cyberbullying. The report provides information on the current state of bullying research using data from the US Department of Education, journal articles, and existing research by Child Trends, and provides recommendations for addressing and preventing bullying behaviour.

The report notes that while many bullying prevention programmes and strategies are available, evidence of their effectiveness has been mixed, and most have never been rigorously evaluated. Based on the existing research, the report provides the following recommendations:

  • Include cyberbullying as part of a broader approach to bullying prevention. Strategies targeting cyberbullying alone without addressing the broader issue of bullying are unlikely to be effective. Similarly, monitoring pupils’ social media accounts is likely to be an ineffective use of resources without additional efforts to encourage more civil behaviour online and in person.
  • Support the development of evidence-based approaches through dedicated funding for research. Such investments should also examine interventions, such as integrated pupil supports, for pupils who are targeted by bullying or witness it.
  • Discourage approaches that lack evidentiary support, criminalise young people, or remove them from school. Research shows that anti-bullying assemblies, speakers, and campaigns are not effective at preventing bullying, nor are zero-tolerance policies that remove students from school and do not address the underlying causes of bullying behaviour.

Source: Preventing bullying and cyberbullying: research-based policy recommendations for executive and legislative officials in 2017 (Jan 2017), Child Trends

Does the KiVa anti-bullying programme work?

A study in Prevention Science evaluates the effectiveness of the KiVa anti-bullying programme in Italy through a randomised controlled trial of students in grades 4 and 6 (equivalent to Years 5 and 7). The sample involved 2,042 students across 13 schools that were randomly assigned to intervention (KiVa) or control (usual school provision) conditions. The Italian school system is divided into primary school (grades 1–5), middle school (grades 6–8), and secondary school (grades 9–14), so only schools which had both primary and middle schools were included.

KiVa is a research-based anti-bullying programme developed by the University of Turku, Finland. It is a schoolwide intervention that is focused on the bystanders’ reactions to a bullying situation, which assist and reinforce the bully, and aims to change their attitudes and behaviours.

Researchers Annalaura Nocentini and Ersilia Menesini considered different outcomes (bullying, victimisation, pro-bullying attitudes, pro-victim attitudes, empathy toward victims), analyses, and estimates of effectiveness in order to compare the Italian results with those from other countries. Multilevel models showed significant results for KiVa for all outcomes and analyses in grade 4. In grade 6, KiVa also reduced bullying, victimisation, and pro-bullying attitudes, but the effects were smaller as compared to grade 4, although still significant. The results also showed that the odds of being a victim were 1.93 times higher for a control student than for a KiVa student in grade 4. Overall, their findings provide evidence of the effectiveness of the programme in Italy.

Source: KiVa Anti-Bullying Program in Italy: Evidence of Effectiveness in a Randomized Control Trial (2016), Prevention Science, 17(8)

Interventions to improve student behaviour

The Campbell Collaboration has published a policy brief looking at six systematic reviews of school-based interventions with students who demonstrate at-risk behaviour.

It found that school intervention programmes are marginally effective at ensuring that more students attend school, and at curtailing harmful student behaviours.

Students participating in 28 programmes addressing chronic truancy improved their attendance by nearly five days per year, although in most of the programmes student attendance was still below 90%.

A review of 73 violence prevention programmes found that students showed significantly lower levels of aggressive and disruptive behaviour, including a 7% reduction in fighting on school grounds.

Twelve studies of interventions aimed at improving classroom-wide behaviour found that students in the programmes showed less disruptive behaviour than their peers.

The 44 anti-bullying interventions studied in 16 countries showed average decreases of 20-23% in bullying and 17-20% in victimisation.

Evidence from 12 studies of sexual violence prevention programmes found that students had increased awareness of sexual violence and approaches to conflict resolution, but there was no effect on levels of violent behaviour or victimisation.

Source: Effects of School Based Interventions to Improve Student Behaviour: A Review of Six Campbell Systematic Reviews (2016), The Campbell Collaboration.

Key role for schools in integrating immigrants

A new article in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence has examined the relationship between the percentage of immigrants in schools and peer violence. It found that for both immigrants and non-immigrants, high classmate support was consistently related to a lower risk of bullying victimisation and less physical fighting, regardless of immigrant school composition.

The authors used data from the 2009–2010 World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-aged Children survey (WHO-HBSC) for a total of 51,636 adolescents from 11 countries: the UK, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Netherlands, Spain, and the US.

In terms of being bullied, the analysis showed that immigrant teenagers were at a higher risk of being victimised. A higher percentage of immigrants in schools was not related to being bullied, but higher levels of school support (in particular on the individual level) were related to a lower risk of being bullied (although this was also true for non-immigrants).

The analysis also found a significant, positive relationship between immigrant school composition and bullying perpetration and physical fighting, with stronger associations for immigrants compared to non-immigrant adolescents. However, for both immigrants and non-immigrants, high classmate support was consistently related to less physical fighting regardless of immigrant school composition.
The authors conclude that schools have an important role to play in integrating immigrants into societies. They say that schools need to be aware of the relationship between immigrant school composition and peer violence, and the importance of classmate support in countering negative dynamics. They recommend using intervention programmes that relate to the existence of ethnic groups, and stress positive intergroup relations and classmate support.

Source: The Relationship Between Immigrant School Composition, Classmate Support and Involvement in Physical Fighting and Bullying among Adolescent Immigrants and Non-immigrants in 11 Countries (2016), Journal of Youth and Adolescence.

Getting to the root of bullying

This report from Child Trends summarises factors in early childhood that appear related to later bullying, and what can be done to buffer those factors. The information is based on a review of existing research on the topic. The paper also looks at specific programmes that are designed to address and prevent risk factors for bullying in young children, and summarises the programmes’ evidence of effectiveness.

Key findings were as follows:
  • Research suggests that a child’s relationship with his or her caregivers is absolutely critical to consider when exploring the roots of later involvement in bullying (in some cases, as either victim or bully).
  • Research on the role of non-parental caregivers and settings on later bullying is limited, underscoring a substantial gap in the literature. Nevertheless, the role of peers, neighbourhood characteristics, socio-economic factors, media exposure, and prejudice have all been identified as correlated to bullying.
  • The research literature shows that effective, evidence-based early childhood interventions primarily used a curriculum-based approach with specific strands of content to support the classroom teacher, the child, and the parents/caregivers in addressing aggressive behaviours. Key themes among these approaches included using a mix of educational materials with a tailored interactive approach, and using goal setting and action planning.
Source: Bullies in the Block Area: The Early Childhood Origins of “Mean” Behavior (2015), Child Trends.

Childhood bullying leads to ill health as an adult

The effects of bullying last well into adulthood, according to a study in Psychological Medicine.

The authors used data from the National Child Development Study, which followed more than 17,000 people born in 1958. Parents were asked whether their children had been bullied when they were aged 7 and 11. When these children then reached 45, they were tested for various health markers focusing on obesity and inflammatory processes, such as C-reactive protein (CRP). Raised levels of CRP have been linked to a higher risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

At age 45, study participants who had experienced bullying victimisation had higher levels of inflammation than their non-bullied peers, and women who had been bullied were more likely to be obese. The findings were independent of the effects of correlated childhood risks (such as parental social class and childhood BMI) and key adult risk factors (such as smoking and diet).

Bullying has previously been shown to have an impact on adult mental health. The authors argue that these findings showing an impact on physical health add impetus to the importance of early intervention to stop bullying activity.

Source: Bullying Victimization in Childhood Predicts Inflammation and Obesity at Mid-life: A Five-decade Birth Cohort Study (2015), Psychological Medicine.