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Friday, October 4, 2013

Bad news for preventing bullying?

It’s no surprise that some children experience more bullying than others. For example, minority children, be they in the minority due to ethnicity, color, sexual or gender identity or general interests, suffer from more bullying than children who fit into the majority of those groups. What you probably didn’t suspect is that anti-bullying programs can make the matter worse. So says a new study by Seokjin Jeong of the University of Texas and Byung Hyun Lee from Michigan State University.

The researchers used data from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children (HBSC) 2005-2006 U.S. Study. 7,000 students from 195 schools answered detailed questionnaires about their bullying experiences, if any, their ethnicity and other factors. Data was also collected on how many practices their schools implemented to keep students safe (amount of supervision, metal detectors, bag checks, etc). 

Much to everyone’s surprise, bullying-prevention programs correlated with an increase in victimization. Jeong offers one possible explanation:
The schools with interventions say, 'You shouldn't do this,' or 'you shouldn't do that.' But through the programs, the students become highly exposed to what a bully is and they know what to do or say when questioned by parents or teachers.
Age, gender and parental involvement also correlated with levels of bullying, but race did not.

I’m not sure I’m buying it. For one thing, the scientists used a very simplistic rubric for each category. For example, each child was assigned either a 1 (ever victimized, either physically or verbally) or 0 (never victimized). Ethnicity was ranked as 1 (white) or 0 (non-white) and sex as 1 (male) or 0 (female). Not a lot of nuance in those categories. That may be why race did not seem to affect levels of bullying. After all, it’s not hard to imagine that not every non-white ethnicity is equal in terms of victimization. Yet, all minorities were lumped together in this study. Also, other studies have shown that anti-bullying programs, especially ones that target gang violence, are effective in reducing school violence.

One thing we do know is that there’s still a lot of bullying going on in schools. It's a good thing to do studies to find out which tactics are more or less effective, but I think we're far from reaching a consensus on this issue.

Seokjin Jeong, & Byung Hyun Lee (2013). A Multilevel Examination of Peer Victimization and Bullying Preventions in Schools Journal of Criminology DOI: 10.1155/2013/735397.

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