The complex nature of bullying

A new study has looked at the pattern of bullying in US high schools.

The researchers used data from the Context of Adolescent Substance Use study, a longitudinal survey that began in 2002 of adolescents at 19 schools. The researchers determined students’ popularity based on their position in the school’s network of friendships. Victimisation was measured using interviews with students.

Only the top 5% of students were not subject to bullying. But the slopes to this peak are steep. The study found that, as students move from the middle of the friendship network towards the top, victimisation increases by 25%. Victims experience psychological distress and social marginalisation, and these adverse effects are magnified by status. For most students, gains in status increase the likelihood of victimisation and the severity of its consequences.

The study shows how widespread bullying activity is within high schools, suggesting that universal programmes to address this activity are likely to be more successful. It also supports calls for more intervention by peer bystanders – if aggression is intended to push one up the social ladder, audience disapproval should be effective in discouraging such behaviour.

You can read more about the research in this press release from the American Sociological Association.

Source: Casualties of Social Combat: School Networks of Peer Victimization and Their Consequences (2014), American Sociological Review, 79(2).

What works for bullying prevention programmes?

A new research brief from Child Trends synthesises findings from experimental evaluations of 17 bullying prevention programmes for children and young people. The authors based the effectiveness of a particular approach on whether or not the programme worked to improve any of five outcome categories: physical and verbal bullying, social and relational bullying, bullying victimisation, attitudes toward bullying, and being a bystander of bullying.

The authors note that the relatively small number of bullying programme evaluations limited their ability to draw generalisations and conclusions; however, they do offer several initial findings from their research, including:

  • Programmes that involve parents were generally found to be effective.
  • Programmes that use a whole-school approach to foster a safe and caring school climate—by training all teachers, administrators, and school counsellors to model and reinforce positive behaviour and anti-bullying messages throughout the school year—were generally found to be effective.
  • Mixed results were found for programmes that included social and emotional learning, such as self-awareness, relationship skills, or responsible decision-making.

For more on reducing problem behaviour, see the classroom management issue of Better: Evidence-based Education.

Source: What Works for Bullying Programs: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions (2013), Child Trends.

Schools and parents influence well-being

A new report commissioned by the Department of Health has sought to identify factors that predict well-being throughout people’s lives. Data about well-being in early childhood was taken from questions asked to seven-year-olds as part of the Millennium Cohort Study. Findings include that children tend to have higher levels of well-being when they have good social relationships with family and friends, do things that they find enjoyable, experience moderation in activities that are potentially harmful to health, and have parents who do not shout or smack them. The authors suggest that this supports the current emphasis on extending the reach of parenting programmes and anti-bullying initiatives. Schools may also have a role to play in promoting positive health behaviours.

Information on teenagers was taken from the “Understanding Society” annual longitudinal survey. The findings suggest that subjective well-being declines steeply with age at this stage of life, with only 8% of 15-year-olds having high well-being compared to 24% of 11-year-olds. Substance use and excessive computer gaming become more common, and both are associated with lower levels of well-being. As with younger children, social relations are influential. A secure environment at school – free from bullying and classroom disruption – was linked to well-being in teenagers, as was feeling supported at home and sharing family meals. The report does not imply causation. For example, it is not possible to tell whether adolescents with low well-being play computer games, or whether playing computer games results in low well-being.

Source: Predicting Wellbeing (2013), NatCen Social Research.

Bullying linked to poor parenting

new article published in Child Abuse & Neglect explores the link between childhood bullying and parenting. It found that both victims and bully/victims (those who bully and are victims of bullying) were more likely to be exposed to negative parenting behaviour, including abuse and neglect. The effects were generally small-to-moderate for victims but moderate for bully/victims. Although parental involvement, support, and high supervision decrease the chances of children being involved in bullying behaviour, for victims, overprotection increased the risk.

A number of possible explanations are given. Some mistreated and abused children may be submissive at home to maintain their safety, or they may learn that they are powerless, have less confidence, and become less able to assert themselves. On the other hand, some mistreated children display heightened levels of aggression, which suggests that they may be more inclined to bully. Most studies did not differentiate cause and effect, so it could be that a bullied child may be difficult and this might lead to poor parenting.

Seventy studies met the inclusion criteria for the meta-analysis, with a final sample of over 200,000 children and young people aged 4–25. The authors’ recommendations include intervention programmes that target children who are exposed to harsh or abusive parenting, and parental training programmes to strengthen supportive involvement and warm and affectionate parenting.

Source: Parenting Behavior and the Risk of Becoming a Victim and a Bully/Victim: A Meta-analysis Study (2013), Child Abuse & Neglect

What works for mentoring programmes?

A new research brief from Child Trends, What Works for Mentoring Programs: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions, examined 19 mentoring programmes to determine how well they meet their intended outcomes and what we can learn from them.

It found that mentoring programmes that target at-risk youth or are community-based (as opposed to school-based) are more frequently effective, as are those lasting a year or more. While mentoring is a good strategy for helping children with education, social skills, and relationships, programmes aimed at behaviour problems, such as reducing teen pregnancy or bullying, were not found to be effective.

Source: What Works for Mentoring Programs: Lessons from Experimental Evaluations of Programs and Interventions (2013), Child Trends.