Children's social lives — and their academic lives go hand in hand, whether or not they have friends, whether they are accepted or rejected by their peers, or whether they are victims or perpetrators of aggression. This means that we cannot fully understand the factors that lead to academic achievement without knowing about the social environment of children in school. For example, children who have few friends, who are actively rejected by the peer group, or who are victims of bullying are unlikely to have the cognitive and emotional resources to be able to do well in school (Juvonen & Graham, 2014).

Bullying can have long-term effects on students' academic achievement. Commonly labeled as peer victimization or peer harassment, school bullying is defined as physical, verbal, or psychological abuse of victims by perpetrators who intend to cause them harm (Olweus, 1993). The critical features that distinguish bullying from simple conflict between peers are: intentions to cause harm, repeated incidences of harm and an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim. Some examples of an imbalance of power are physically stronger youth picking on weaker peers, older students harassing younger students, or numerical majority group members deriding numerical minority members. Hitting, kicking, shoving, name-calling, spreading of rumors, exclusion and intimidating gestures (e.g., eye rolling) by powerful peers are all examples of harassment that is physical, verbal, or psychological in nature. Some definitions of bullying state that the harassment must be repeated over time. However, even a single traumatic incident of peer victimization can be painful and raise fears about continued abuse.

This definition of school bullying does not include more lethal sorts of peer-directed hostilities. Although some widely-publicized school shootings may have been precipitated by a history of peer abuse, they remain rare events (Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012). The focus of this module is on more typical and widespread types of bullying that affect the lives of many children and that have been labeled as a public health concern by the American Medical Association.

Peer harassment
How widespread?

According to national surveys (e.g., Center for Disease Control, 2012; NCES, 2013):

  • 70 percent of middle and high school students have experienced bullying at some point.
  • 20-40 percent report having bullied or been part of bullying during the school year.
  • 27 percent report being harassed for not conforming to sexually stereotypical behavior.
  • 5-15 percent of youth are chronic victims.
  • 7-12 percent are chronic bullies.
How serious?
  • 60 percent of elementary and secondary school students rate bullying as a major problem affecting their lives.
  • Most 5th-12th graders are more concerned about emotional maltreatment and social cruelty from peers than anything else including academic achievement.
  • Some recent school shootings have been traced back to a history of peer abuse.
  • Peer harassment is designated as a Public Health Concern by The American Medical Association.
  • In light of such statistics and growing public concern, it is important that teachers have a better understanding of bullying and what they can do to both prevent it and intervene when it occurs.
Do's and don’ts
Do:
  • Respond to any bullying incident that you witness. Most bullying takes place in "unowned spaces" like hallways, playgrounds and restrooms where adult supervision is minimal (Astor, Meyer, & Behre, 1999). It is important for teachers to be more visible in these places and to respond to all bullying incidents that they witness. A response by a teacher communicates to bullies that their actions are not acceptable and it helps victims feel less powerless about their predicament. The frequent presence of teachers in all areas of the school helps give students a feeling of safety. Teachers should also keep an eye on students who are physically smaller than their peers, or who behave or look different from others, since these variables often serve as risk factors for bullying (Jvonen & Graham, 2014).
  • Use witnessed bullying incidents as "teachable moments." Teachable moments are defined as situations that open the door for conversations with students about difficult topics (CITE?). These may include: why many young people play bystander roles and/or are unwilling to come to the aid of victims, how social ostracism can be a particularly painful form of peer abuse, and why bullies are sometimes popular among their peers. An effective way to send the message that bullying will not be tolerated is to engage students in these difficult dialogues rather than to quickly and harshly punish the perpetrator.
  • Seek outside help when needed. Most teachers do not have the training to deal with students who have serious problems as either perpetrators or victims of bullying. Hence, they should request professional assistance when it is needed either from the principal, a school counselor or the school psychologist. Although bullying in American schools affects the lives of many youth, about 10 percent of students are chronic bullies or victims and they may be at risk for long-term adjustment difficulties (Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003; Nansel et al., 2001).
  • Set an example with your own behavior. Unfortunately, peer bullying also occurs among educators and between educators and students (e.g., Brendgen, Wanner, & Vitaro, 2006). It is critically important that adults in school settings refrain from targeting each other and from targeting students.
Don't:
  • Never ignore a student who reports being victimized by peers. Victims of peer bullying are often reluctant to tell their teachers about their experiences because they fear retaliation. Others who avoid disclosure believe that their teachers do not care or are unwilling to come to their aid. Because so many victims of school bullying "suffer in silence" it is important that teachers follow up on every reported incident.
  • Do not rely too heavily on a zero tolerance approach to disciplining bullies. Zero tolerance approaches that advocate suspension or expulsion of school bullies are sometimes preferred because they presumably send a message to the student body that bullying will not be tolerated. However, research suggests that these policies do not always work as intended and can sometimes backfire (APA Task Force on Zero Tolerance, 2008). Before deciding on a discipline strategy, teachers need to give careful thought to the scope of the problem, where change should be targeted, who will be affected by those changes, the fairness of the strategy, and the kinds of messages that are being communicated to students.
  • Do not adopt a "one size fits all" model for intervening in school bullying. Because bullying can take many forms (e.g., psychological vs. physical), it may be temporary or chronic. Because bullies and their victims have different challenges, teachers need to tailor their intervention approaches to the specific needs of each child.
  • Do not let the peer group off the hook. Bullying involves more than perpetrators and victims. Students are often witnesses to bullying incidents and may take on roles of bystanders or reinforcers who encourage bullies (Salimalvalli, 2010). Peers need to learn that there is no such thing as an innocent bystander and how their group behavior can indirectly encourage bullies.
Explanation and evidence

School bullying is associated with a host of adjustment difficulties (see Juvonen & Graham, 2014, Sanders & Phye, 2004). Students who are chronic victims of bullying are often the same children who are rejected by their peers; have low self-esteem; and feel depressed, anxious and lonely. Part of this psychological distress may revolve around how victims think about the reasons for their plight. For example, repeated encounters with peer hostility or even a single isolated, yet especially painful experience, might lead that victim to ask, "Why me?" In the absence of contrary evidence, such an individual might come to blame their predicament on their own shortcomings. Victims often conclude, for example that "I'm someone who deserves to be picked on" (Graham, Bellmore, & Mize, 2006; Graham & Juvonen, 1998). It is as if the victim is saying to himself or herself: "It's something about me; things will always be that way, and there is nothing I can do to change it"). Self-blame can lead to many negative psychological outcomes because individuals who make this attribution tend to feel both helpless and hopeless.

In addition to psychological challenges, some victimized children also have real physical symptoms that lead to frequent visits to the school nurse and absenteeism (Nishina, Juvonen, & Witkow, 2005). It is not difficult to imagine a chronic victim of bullying who becomes so anxious about going to school that she or he tries to avoid it at all costs. Victims of bullying can also develop negative attitudes toward school, which then can lead to poor performance. The academic problems associated with bullying begin as early as kindergarten and extends into the adolescent years (e.g., Schwartz, Gorman, Nakamoto, & Toblin, 2005).

Myths about bullying

Many beliefs about school bullying are not supported by current research. These are among the most common myths that even some teachers have been known to endorse:

Bullies are rejected by their peers and have no friends.

Many people believe that everybody dislikes the class bully. But in truth, research shows that many bullies have high status in the classroom and lots of friends (e.g., Rodkin, Farmer, Pearl, & Van Acker, 2000). Particularly during the middle school years, some bullies are actually popular among classmates who perceive them as "cool" (Juvonen et al., 2003). Many classmates admire their toughness and may even try to imitate them.

Bullies have low self-esteem.

Just as it has been incorrectly assumed that bullies are rejected by peers and have no friends, there is a general belief that such youths have low self-esteem. That myth has its roots in the widely accepted view that people who bully others must act that way because they think poorly of themselves. Some readers may remember the self-esteem movement of the 1980s when many people argued that raising self-esteem was the key to improving the outcomes of children with academic and social problems (Baumeister, 1996). But, there is little evidence that bullies suffer from low self-esteem. To the contrary, many studies report that bullies perceive themselves in a positive light, perhaps sometimes displaying inflated self-views (Juvonen et al., 2003; Zariski & Coie, 1996). Therefore, just focusing on self-esteem enhancement will probably not improve the outcomes of youths who pick on others.

Being a victim builds character.

Another misconception is that bullying is a normal part of the childhood and adolescence experience, and that surviving peer harassment builds character. In contrast to this view, research findings clearly show that being bullied increases the vulnerabilities of bullied children. For example, we know that children who are passive and socially withdrawn are at a heightened risk of getting bullied and these children become even more withdrawn after incidents of harassment (Schwartz, Dodge, & Coie, 1993).

Many childhood victims of harassment become violent as teens.

The portrayal of bullying victims lashing out in anger at their tormentors in school shooting incidents has been reinforced by the media over the past few years. However, most victims of bullying are more likely to suffer in silence than to retaliate. As indicated above, many victims experience psychological adjustment problems like depression and low self-esteem that encourage them to turn their anger inward rather than outward (Juvonen & Graham, 2014).

Bullying involves only perpetrators and victims.

Many parents, teachers and students view bullying as a problem that is limited to bullies and victims. Yet, bullying involves more than the bully-victim dyad (Salmivalli, 2010). Studies based on playground observations found that in 75 percent of bullying incidents, at least four other peers were present as witnesses, bystanders, assistants to bullies, reinforcers, or defenders of victims (O'Connel, Pepler, & Craig, 1999). Assistants to bullies take part in ridiculing or intimidating a schoolmate. Reinforcers, in turn, encourage the bully by showing signs of approval (e.g., smiling when someone is bullied). In contrast to the pro-bully participants, those who defend victims are rare. One observation study found that in more than 50 percent of observed incidents of bullying, peers reinforced bullies by passively watching. In only about 25 percent of the incidents did witnesses support the victim by directly intervening, distracting or discouraging the bully (O'Connel et al., 1999). Bystanders often ignore the bullying incident because they are either afraid that they might be next or they blame the victim fro his or her plight and feel no moral obligation to intervene (Pozzoli & Gini, 2010).

Understanding facts versus myths about bullies and victims is important for intervention. The problems of victims and bullies are not the same. Victims of harassment need interventions that help them develop more positive self-views and learn not to blame themselves for their experiences with harassment (Graham et al., 2006). Bullies need to acquire strategies that help them control their anger and their tendency to blame other people for their problems. And peers need to learn that bullying is a whole school problem for which everyone is responsible.

What can be done about bullying and its negative effects?

There are many intervention strategies to combat and deal with bullying in schools. Some interventions come in the form of whole school programs, others focus on classroom curricula, and still others target at-risk individuals (typically bullies). Certain programs focus on skill building (e.g., fostering pro-social skills, conflict-mediation strategies), whereas others rely on the punishment of undesirable behavior (e.g., zero tolerance policies). Data on program effectiveness are limited at this time; especially limited are evaluation studies that compare different approaches (Hyman, Kay, Yabori, Weber, Mahon, & Cohen, 2006; Samples, 2004; Smith, Pepler, & Rigby, 2004).

Profiles of early adolescents

Differences between victims, bullies and bully-victims

What is it like to be a victim of peer harassment during early adolescence? What is it like to be a bully? Are there some youths who have characteristics of both victims and bullies? Researchers have been studying the similarities and differences between middle school students who have reputations as victims, bullies, or both bullies and victims (Graham, Bellmore, & Mize, 2006; Juvonen, Graham, & Schuster, 2003). Table 1 shows the differences found among victims, bullies, bully-victims, and a well-adjusted group on psychological, social and academic adjustment.

Table 1. Psychological profiles of early adolescents
  Victim Bully Bully-Victim Socially Adjusted
Psychological adjustment
Depression High Low High Low
Social anxiety High Low High  —
Loneliness High Low High Low
Self-esteem Low High Low High
Attributions
Self blame High Low High  —
Perceptions of school climate
Unsafe High Low High Low
Unfair Low High High Low
Social adjustment
Disliked High Low High Low
Cool Low High  —  —
Academic achievement
GPA Low Low Low High
School engagement Low Low Low High

Note: adapted from Juvonen, Graham, & Nishina (2003) and Graham, Bellmore, & Mize (2006).

Notice in the first column that early adolescents with reputations as victims share many psychological and social adjustment problems. Compared to the normative group, victims are more depressed, anxious, lonely, and they report low self-esteem. Research shows that victims have a tendency to blame themselves for their experiences with harassment; they are more likely to believe that "it is something about me, things will always be that way, and there is nothing I can do to change it." Self-blame and its accompanying negative demeanor make it more difficult for victims to cope with challenging social experiences (Graham & Juvonen, 1998). As might be expected in light of their other self-perceived vulnerabilities, victims perceive their schools as unsafe. Yet, victims do not perceive the school rules as unfair in the sense that they do not feel mistreated by teachers or administrators.

What about bullies? Compared to victims and the well-adjusted "normal" group, bullies appear to have healthy mental lives. They are no more depressed, anxious, or lonely than the well-adjusted group and they have high self-esteem. These findings are at odds with the widely held belief in our society that people who aggress against others must act that way because they think poorly of themselves. But in fact, there is very little indication in the research literature that aggressive youths suffer from low self-esteem (Juvonen & Graham, 2014). Also, bullies are least likely to blame themselves for any conflicts they have with their peers. That finding is consistent with the large body of literature in developmental psychology which reports that it is common for aggressive youths to blame the hostile intentions of others for their difficulties with peers rather than blame their own characteristics or behaviors (Dodge, Coie, & Lynam, 2006). And consistent with this low self-blame, bullies are more likely to believe that the school environment is safe, but teachers and administrators treat them unfairly.

Another noteworthy finding reported in Table 1 is that bullies, compared to victims, enjoy high social status. This may help to explain their positive self-views. Bullies are often perceived as especially "cool," where coolness captures both popularity and possession of traits that are admired by early adolescents. As early adolescents exercise their need for autonomy and independence, it seems that bullies enjoy popularity as their better-adjusted peers attempt to imitate their anti-social tendencies.

In the third column you will see the profiles for youths with reputations as both victims and bullies. Are they more similar to victims, to bullies, or to a distinct subgroup with its own unique characteristics?

In comparing columns 1 and 3, it seems that bully-victims are somewhat unique and they exhibit the worst characteristics of both categories. They report psychological maladjustment as high as that of victims, yet they do not enjoy any of the social benefits of bullies because their peers overwhelmingly reject them. In some cases, bully-victims turn inward and feel bad about themselves; in other cases, they turn outward and aggress against perpetrators. But with few friends, bully-victims have little social support to help them ward off potential retaliation. Like victims, bully-victims feel unsafe at school; but like bullies, they judge the school rules as unfair.

This suggests that bully-victims suffer from multiple risks. They also do more poorly in school than any of the other groups.

Considering all of the adjustment outcomes examined here, bully-victims may be the most troubled and vulnerable of the behavioral subgroups (Unnever, 2005).

Intervention strategies

School-wide interventions

A school-wide approach targets all students, their parents and adults within the school, including administrators, teachers and staff. Such programs operate under the assumption that bullying is a systemic social problem and that finding a solution is the collective responsibility of everyone in the school. Systemic prevention requires changing the culture of the whole school rather than (in addition to) focusing on the behavior of individuals or groups actually involved in bullying incidents. This approach requires increased awareness of the nature of the problem, heightened monitoring, and systematic and consistent responses to incidents of bullying. For example, students are asked to create their own rules about bullying and they are provided with information about strategies for dealing with bullying and opportunities for classroom discussions about their experiences. Teachers and school staff receive training that includes strategies for preventing problems associated with bullying.

Evaluations of school-wide interventions have yielded somewhat disappointing findings (e.g., Baldry & Farrington, 2007). Actual bullying behavior often does not decrease very much and in some cases bullying increased, suggesting that the intervention may have backfired. It is evident that staff buy-in is essential to make these school-wide programs work. Research on decision making about program adoption reveals that many teachers and administrators in American schools are reluctant to embrace whole-school interventions because they either believe that there is not enough time and space in the curriculum or that developing anti-bullying attitudes is primarily the responsibility of parents (Cunningham et al., 2009). The best examples of successful school-wide interventions (see Juvonen & Graham, 2014) enjoy broad-based support from school districts, teachers, administrators, parents and students.

Targeted intervention programs

Unlike school-wide approaches that address the needs of everyone, most interventions target the known dysfunctional thoughts and behaviors of those children who aggress against others. One very well documented research finding is that bullies have a tendency to believe that peers are intentionally causing them harm, particularly in ambiguous situations (Dodge et al., 2006; also see Castro et al., 2002 for a meta-analysis). This tendency has been called hostile attributional bias. Imagine, for example, that you are standing in line and unexpectedly receive a push from the person behind you. Although it may be unclear whether the person intended the push or not, bullies are more likely to infer that the push was instigated "on purpose" (i.e., the person is responsible) and to respond with anger and aggression.

Hostile attributional bias may be only one part of a larger set of deficits that interferes with the adaptive social information processing. For example, Crick and Dodge (1994) proposed a five-step social cognitive model that has become very influential in the bullying intervention literature. In that model, the information processing difficulties of bullies begin when they inaccurately interpret social cues associated with interpersonal dilemmas (e.g., the hypothetical push while waiting in line) and continues as they formulate goals accessed from a repertoire of possible behavioral responses (e.g., should I retaliate or just ignore it?), and finally choose a response.

One of the best-known bullying interventions that includes these kinds of social information processing skills is Fast Track (Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group (CPPRG), 2011). Implemented at four sites (Durham, North Carolina, Nashville, Tennessee, Seattle and a rural community in central Pennsylvania), Fast Track identified a sample of 890 high-risk kindergarten children based on parent and teacher reports of conduct problems at home and at school. These children were then randomly assigned to either an intervention group or to a no-treatment control group. Those in the intervention group participated in a yearlong curriculum with weekly meetings that included training in social information processing, social problem solving, emotional understanding, communication and self-control. When it was needed, the social-cognitive component was accompanied by individualized academic tutoring, and there was also a parent-training component. Intervention activities continued to grade 10, but with heavier concentration in the first two years of elementary school and during the transition to middle school. Other examples of targeted approaches for elementary school students are Brainpower (Hudley, 2008) and Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies (PATHS) (Greenberg, Kushche, & Mihalic, 1998).

School-wide bullying prevention and targeted interventions, although complementary, represent different schools of thought and each has advantages and disadvantages. School-wide programs aim to build resiliency in all children and to create a more positive school climate, whereas targeted approaches focus on the underlying causes of bullying behavior in the individual bully. Fidelity and sustainability, two important components of good interventions, are likely to be differentially achieved in the whole-school versus targeted approaches. Fidelity, or the consistency with which all of the components of the intervention are implemented, is easier to both monitor and achieve in targeted approaches because there are fewer adults (trainers) and children to track. With school-wide programs, there are multiple activities at multiple levels involving multiple stakeholders and it is more difficult to monitor treatment fidelity. On the other hand, sustainability may be easier to achieve in the school-wide programs. Systemic changes in peer, classroom, school and community are needed to build the foundation for long-term prevention of bullying. Targeted interventions, typically imported from the outside and implemented by researchers or school staff working with those researchers, usually are too short-lived to achieve that kind of support base.

FAQs
Are there gender differences in the experience of bullying?

Yes and no. The answer to this question emerges in discussions of different types of peer victimization — that is, physical, verbal and psychological. Psychological or relational victimization, usually involves ostracism or attempts to damage the reputation of the victim. Some research suggests that girls are more likely to engage in this relational type of bullying (e.g., Zimmer-Gembeck, Geiger, & Crick, 2005). Because a whole popular culture has emerged around relationally aggressive girls (so-called queen bees, alpha girls, etc. ) and their victims, it is important to put these gender findings in proper perspective. First, in some studies, physical, verbal and relational victimization tend to be correlated, suggesting that the victim of relational bullying is also the victim of physical and verbal bullying (e.g., Bellmore & Cillessen, 2006). Second, if relational bullying is more prevalent in girls than boys (and the results are mixed), then this gender difference is most likely confined to middle childhood and early adolescence (see reviews in Archer & Coyne, 2005; Card et al., 2008). By middle adolescence, relational bullying becomes the norm for both genders as it becomes less socially accepted for individuals to physically attack peers. In surveys of high school students, for example, both boys and girls report that they are more likely to engage in emotionally abusive behavior, such as ridicule and ostracism, than physically abusive behavior (Harris, 2004).

Are there ethnic differences in the experience of bullying?

No, the question is more complicated than that. There is no persuasive research evidence that ethnicity in and of itself is a risk factor for victimization. A more critical variable is whether one's ethnic group is the numerical majority or minority in a particular school. Because bullying occurs when there is an imbalance of power between perpetrator and victim, being a member of the minority group can lead to more victimization because one's group is less powerful in the numerical sense (e.g., Graham & Juvonen, 2002). It could be that the best situation is an ethnically diverse context where no one group holds the numerical balance of power (Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2006). Shared power may reduce incidents of bullying that, in turn, affect perceptions of vulnerability. Thus, it is not so much ethnicity per se as it is the ethnic composition of classrooms and schools that shape the experience of victimization.

Is it true that "Once a victim, always a victim"?

No. Some findings suggest that victim status is moderately stable across a one-year school period for elementary students (Korchenderfer & Wardrop, 2001). In research with early adolescents, however, only about a third of students who had reputations as victims in the fall of sixth grade maintained that reputation at the end of the school year (Juvonen, Nishina, & Graham, 2000). Although certain personality characteristics (e.g., the tendency to be shy or withdrawn) place children at higher risk for being bullied, a host of changing situational factors (e.g., being a new student in school, being a late maturer) affect the likelihood of a child being bullied or continuing to be bullied. These situational factors explain why there are more temporary than chronic victims of bullying.

Are some students both bullies and victims?

Yes. A growing research literature has described the psychological profile of bully-victims — that is, students who are both perpetrators and targets of peer harassment. These students appear to be overwhelmingly rejected by their peers, while not enjoying any of the social benefits that sometimes accrue to aggressive youth (e.g., Graham, Bellmore, & Mize, 2006; Unnever, 2005). With multiple behavioral and social risks, bully-victims are considered to be more troubled and vulnerable than either bullies or victims.

What is the main reason that students get picked on by their peers?

Although there are many causes of bullying, one meaningful factor that consistently predicts victimization is being different from the larger peer group. Thus, having a physical or mental handicap or being highly gifted in a regular school setting, being a member of an ethnic or linguistic minority group, suffering from obesity, or being gay or lesbian are all risk factors for bullying because individuals who have these characteristics are often perceived to deviate from the normative standards of the larger peer group. A 2011 report on school bullying by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights confirms these characteristics as risk factors. After examining a compendium of school district data, legal briefs and testimony of experts, the commission concluded that "…bullying based on students" identities 3 such as their sex, race, ethnicity or national origin, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity, or religion — can be particularly damaging. Unfortunately these forms of bullying are all too common in American schools" (U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2011, p. 8).

With so many bully-reduction interventions on the market, how can teachers know which one to choose?

Three questions are important to consider. First, how the problem of bullying defined? If the intervener believes that bullying is the collective responsibility of everyone in the school community, then a school-wide approach is called for. However, if one's primary focus is on the needs of chronic bullies and/or victims (the 7-15%), then a more targeted program would be more appropriate. Second, how sustainable is the intervention among staff who may already be overwhelmed with responsibilities? In all cases, interventions with independent evaluation data supporting their effectiveness should be considered. Third, what age group is the intervention targeting? Children undergo major cognitive, emotional, social and biological changes from pre-K through high school, and intervention activities must be sensitive to different needs of various age groups. In addition, with multiethnic student populations, program activities should reflect the life experiences and cultural heritages of the participants.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is peer harassment that takes place online: texting via cell phone, emailing or instant messaging (IM), and posting messages on social networking sites and in chatrooms. It can be either direct (i.e., threats or nasty messages are sent to the target) or indirect (i.e., malicious comments, pictures and private messages are spread much like rumors). Cyberbullying often results in emotional distress much like in-person (offline) bullying (e.g., Nixon, 2014), but it also has distinct features. One unique feature is its speed and spread: degrading messages can quickly reach not only the target, but also a vast number of individuals. Another feature is anonymity. When screen names (that can be easily created and changed) are used to send instant messages or to take part in discussions in chatrooms, the identity of the bully can be easily concealed. Anonymity combined with very limited social controls (i.e., monitoring) makes it easy to send a hostile message or post embarrassing pictures of someone. Youth who report being targets of traditional bullying also report being the targets of cyberbullying (Patchin & Hiduja, 2006), so many students may be at risk for both types of harassment.

When does bullying intervention work?
Developmental differences

Bullying has been documented in children as young as preschool, but tested interventions for very young children are rare (Alsaker & Valkanover, 2001). Research suggests that physical bullying increases throughout childhood and early adolescence, and then begins to level off by middle school (e.g., Nansel et al., 2001). By middle adolescence it becomes less acceptable to engage in physical bullying and more acceptable to employ covert psychological tactics such as social ostracism and spreading rumors (Archer & Coyne, 2005). Most intervention strategies, both school-wide and targeted, have been developed for use with elementary age children and the types of bullying most prevalent during those years.

Puberty, the onset of romantic relationships, and easy access to technology during early and middle adolescence bring new forms of bullying, including cross-gender sexual harassment (Pepler, Connolly, & Henderson, 2001), harassment of gay and lesbian youths (Toomey et al., 2010) and cyberbullying. Because early adolescence is a developmental period of heightened concern about finding one's niche, "fitting in," and peer approval, middle school students who are targets of bullying might be particularly vulnerable to adjustment difficulties (Juvonen & Graham, 2014).

Contextual factors

School contextual factors, (i.e., school and class size, teacher-student ratio, location and distance from home, racial/ethnic composition and organizational structure) change from childhood to adolescence, but very little is known about the effects of these changes on bullying or on its prevention. For example, one might hypothesize that bullying will be more extensive in larger schools where there are more "unowned spaces" with minimal adult supervision; or that students are more likely to be victimized going to and from school when they travel longer distances. It would also be important to know whether small learning communities (e.g., schools within schools) decrease the amount and seriousness of bullying; and whether academic tracking — which limits the mixing of students — affects bullying behavior during non-tracked classes. Contextual variables that increase students' sense of belonging are presumed to result in a more positive school climate, which includes less bullying (Payne & Gottfredson, 2004). But, we do not have enough research about the psychological mechanisms that may or may not explain contextual school effects.

Where can teachers get more information?
Additional resources
  • Stopbullying.gov
    A federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
  • UCLA Center for Mental Health in Schools/School Mental Health Project
    This website provides access to a clearinghouse of resources for enhancing mental health in schools. Resources include: consumer information outlets, national organizations with missions that focus on mental health in schools, relevant government agencies, listservs, electronic journals and newsletters.
For further reading
  • Hyman, I., Kay, B., Tabori, A., Weber, M., Mahon, M., & Cohen, I. (2006). Bullying: Theory, research and interventions. In C. Evertson & C. Weinstein (Eds.), Handbook of classroom management: Research, practice, and contemporary issues (pp. 855-884). Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    This chapter is a comprehensive review of the topic of bullying in schools, with a particularly relevant section on interventions that address school bullying.

  • Juvonen, J., & Graham, S. (2014). Bullying in schools: The power of bullies and the plight of victims. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 159-185.

    This article is an up-to-date review of scientific research on bullying in schools. There is a section that may be most useful to teachers on interventions to reduce bullying.

References

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Center for Disease Control, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (2012). Understanding bullying. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullyingfactsheet2012-a.pdf.

Conduct Problems Prevention Research Group.  (2011).  The effects of the Fast Track preventive intervention on the development of conduct order across childhood. Child Development, 82, 331-345.

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