How and to what extent can bullying be reduced in schools
Bullying is a serious problem all over the world and evidence suggest it is getting worse and even going cyber as the world enters the digital and social networking era (Banerjee et al 2011). Studies of more than 5000 Canadian school children aged between 5 and 14 showed that 38 percent reported cases of being bullied at least once or twice during the course of their school term (O’Connell et al 1999). In the UK, 46 percent of children say they have been bullied at some point at school with another 66 percent claiming to have seen others being bullied (Simpson 2010).
What is bullying?
Some literature asserts bullying is simply the systematic abuse of power (Smith and Elliott 2010; Smith and Elliott 2011) while others say it is negative action (physical or verbal) with hostile intent repeated over time and involving a power differential where one person with power victimises another who cannot defend themselves (O’Connell et al 1999). In many cases where bullying occurs, there is always an imbalance in strength between the bully and the victim, what Olweus (1993) termed as a asymmetric power relationship. Simpson (2010) further added that situations where social power is used negatively to victimize because of perceived ‘difference’ can also be termed as bullying.
Smith and Elliott (2010: 2011) offer examples of bullying which can be in any form such hitting other people (physical), teasing and abuse of other people (verbal), excluding other people socially or telling peers not to play with someone (social exclusion), and harm through mobile phone or the internet or what Banerjee (2011) refers to as cyber bullying. Picture below shows the most common types of bullying reported in the UK and verbal bullying like calling people bad names is the worst.
Picture 1: Bullying in UK schools
1.0 Actions to reduce bullying effectively
While a curriculum uses teaching in the class to educate students and tell them not to bully other people, cooperative groups rally students together in workshops where they mix people who bully with other victims so that they learn to socialise and not fight other people. It is like ‘circle time’ which brings students together and asks them to sit in circles and talk openly about bullying. Many schools say circle time is “particularly effective after lunchtime or as an issue is bubbling - prevents incidents on the playground” (Smith and Elliott 2011 p24). The only problem is schools have noted that cooperative groups and circle time need lot of time which they often don’t have sometimes.
1.3 The Individual Level Measures
At the individual level, Olweus (1993) declares schools can use some measures to stop bullying especially when it has happened and they need to reduce it once and for all. One such method is to talk with the person who is bullying and their victim, warning the bully that such behaviour will not be tolerated in school. This can also be supplemented with asking parents of the children to intervene and warn them that bullying from children will lead to action. This is what Smith and Elliott (2011) calls ‘direct sanctions’ which can involve direct action like warnings, removal of school privileges such as playtime, picking rubbish as punishment, detention and if all else fails, outright eviction from school. The message is to send a clear warning that bullying will not be tolerated at any cost.
O’Connell et al (1999) adds that bullying occurs in many schools and it is not reduced because “bullies are seldom punished for their aggressive behaviour: peers and teachers were observed intervening in only 11% and 4% of episodes, respectively”. If people think they can bully others and get away with it, it will consequently encourage peopl to become bullies but if they believe the consequences are very serious, with known examples of bully being expelled from school, no one will resort to bully behaviour, fearing the consequences (O’Connell et al 1999; Olweus 1993; Smith and Elliott 2010; Smith and Elliott 2011; Simpson 2010).
While this method can help reduce bullying, only 62 percent of schools in the UK admit direct sanctions help in reducing bullying and it is mostly used in secondary schools in incidences of physical/racial/homophobic bullying. This is why Simpson (2010) argues it is vitally important to involve parents in the process. Individual level measures can also involve talking to parents and giving them resources such as anti-bullying training. Simpson (2010) says that talking and providing training to parents is often very effective, more than other methods like just warning students because parents act as role models for their children. This is not surprising given the fact that many of the underlying causes of bullying are primarily because children have relationships with parents that are “characterised by poor communication and the threat of violence” (ibid: p15).
2.0 The Advent of Cyber Bullying and How to Stop it
The last form of bullying that is reported to be on the increase as mobile technology becomes prevalent is cyber bullying. Banerjee et al (2011) defines it as any form of bullying that involves mobile phones and the internet. One way to deal with this form of bullying is to have cyber mentor schemes where those that are experiencing this type of bullying can be supported and helped. This is done online through websites where incidences of such bullying e.g. Facebook posts of homophobic abuse, are recorded and the bully followed for punishment. This method is unfortunately not very effective at reducing cyber bullying because it’s more of a support job than a proactive preventative measure.
There is no single magic bullet measure that one can claim is able to stop bullying completely out of everyday life as well as in school environments. What has been found to work is a combination of methodologies.
Much of the literature argues that the extent to which bullying can be reduced in schools depends on how many approaches are used (multidimensional approach), how much involvement of various people (teachers, parents and children) well as the focus and duration of any such programmes. In other words, just using one method will not be very effective in stopping or reducing bullying nor will just involving children while neglecting their parents from any approach used.
Banerjee, R, Tolmie, A., & Boyle, J (2011) Educational psychology: Problems and interventions In G. Davey (Ed.), Introduction to applied psychology (pp. 363-384). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley.
O’Connell, P, Pepler, D., & Craig, W (1999) Peer involvement in bullying: Insights and challenges for intervention., Journal of Adolescence, 22, pp. 437-452.
Smith, P. K., & Elliott, J (2011) Social problems in schools In A. Slater & G. Bremner (Eds.), An introduction to developmental psychology (pp. 649-680). Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley.
Thompson, F & Smith, P. K. (2011) The use and effectiveness of Anti-bullying Strategies in schools, DFE Research Report RR098. London: Department for Education.
Thompson, F & Smith, P. K (2010) Bullying in Schools, Wiley
Simpson Rob (2010) Reducing bullying amongst the worst affected, Wiley
Olweus, D. (1993) Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do, Oxford University Press
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