Combating bullying in schools

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Introduction

Bullying is not new yet a contemporary problem in schools all over the world. Literature dating decades back and a number of longitudinal studies reveal the recalcitrant nature of the problem, preoccupying the research interests of educators over the years. In essence, bullying is a low-level violence in schools but often escalates to high levels with serious injuries to the victims and in some cases involving loss of lives. Normative and anecdotal evidence reveal high prevalence rates in American schools, with Rigby (2017) estimating that around 160,000 teens skip school every day out of fear of being bullied. Other statistics by the same author include an estimated 17% of school going children who are bullied two or three times a month/within the semester putting the actual numbers at a perennial high. Schools have characteristically reacted to the bullying problem by coming up with anti-bullying strategies, policies and frameworks, some of which have considerable success in combating the problem while others still differential in effectiveness. Such measures range from heightened security, playground supervision, authoritative school discipline and novel anti-bullying campaigns within the schools (Gerlinger & Wo, 2016). In some other instances, parents have been involved together with other stakeholders in a bid to build a more comprehensive system of anti-bullying. Despite these efforts, bullying levels still remain high across many high schools and other foundational levels of learning. This paper argues, that first, the conception of bullying in the present age is still narrow and needs adjustment to incorporate all the characteristics and forms of bullying. Additionally, the best measures of engaging the problem include building individual resilience, encouraging positive peer influences and strengthening school based programs.

Conception of Bullying

The definition and characteristics of bullying are an important consideration when analyzing trends and the present size of the problem. Without having a common understanding, it is impossible to distinguish it from other common acts that are rather normal such as teasing and friendly exchanges between students. In the same way, bullying statistics are likely to be largely variable between studies and various countries (Rigby, 2008). This explains why the baseline explanation when it comes to combating bullying in schools remains the components of the problem that guides behavior assessment and measurement designs.

Most studies acknowledge various basic components of bullying that are often used in characterization. First is the presence of aggression, or intention to cause harm, without which the action can be viewed as teasing or even sometimes play. Vivolo-Kantor et al (2014) argues that in many reported cases in schools, parents and teachers are sometimes unable to distinguish normal play with bullying as they mistake accepted play patterns as aggression. They thus rush to make interventions only to realize that the children were just having a good time. Sometimes researchers make the same error in observation studies documenting some acts as cases of bullying erroneously. Thereby, the establishment of aggressive behavior is paramount to the identification of bullying and has been effectively applied in most researches. Another key factor is repetition of the behavior rather than a singular occurrence. In this regard, aggressive or potentially injurious behavior needs to be performed more than once for it to amount to bullying. This distinguishes the act from momentous bust ups and unplanned disagreements. Repetition implies that bullying requires some pre-meditation and deliberate planning (Vivolo-Kantor et al., 2014). More importantly, there is need to have unequal power distribution for a case to be categorized as bullying. This measure of power may be physical, emotional or even psychological. For instance, if two kids of the same age, body size and level of education fight and one overpower the other, the same cannot be termed as a case of bullying. It may be difficult to ascertain psychological or emotional imbalance of power, but is normally easier to spot a physical imbalance. Coincidentally, most bullies exploit physical power imbalances and use the same to intimidate and cause harm to their victims. These are the three omnipresent qualities that precipitate a case of bullying at any level.

In light of the above characteristics, several types of bullying have since been established. The most common is physical bullying where the perpetrators attack their victims by hitting, tripping, pinching them or damaging their property. This form of bullying is identifiable by the presence of physical action or impact (Rigby, 2014). It is also the most common form of bullying advanced in school and relies on the imbalance of physical power between two students. Verbal bullying also exists and mainly involves the use of insults and teasing to the victims which makes them sullen and uncomfortable. Though physical harm is not involved, there can be irreparable psychological harm through verbal bullying with outcomes such as loss of self-esteem. A more subtle yet injurious form of bullying is social (relational) that can proceed oblivious of the victim. This is often conducted with the aim of causing harm to someone’s social reputation or humiliating them. Actions under this category may involve spreading rumors about an individual, negative facial gestures such as contemptuous looks, mimicking another person in an unkind way as well as encouraging the rest to socially exclude them. In the wake of the digital revolution in recent times, cyber bullying has also emerged as a popular form, often involving the use of computers and software to send hurtful messages, abuse others or even irritate them on the internet. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have increased cases of cyber bullying which may sometimes involve death threats (Smith et al 2014). Though such platforms have come up with methods of curbing such acts with the reinforcement of legal frameworks, there are various tools within such platforms that can be used to confer anonymity and hence promote the continuation of such acts. In recent times, homophobic bullying has also increased with students excluded, ridiculed and even physically assaulted because of their sexual orientation. Therefore, the main forms of bullying include physical, verbal, social, cyber and homophobic bullying.

Despite the above broadness and comprehensiveness of the understanding of bullying, most studies, school policies and anti-bullying strategies have proven short of an accurate or holistic conception of the problem. The content analysis of anti-bullying policies and strategies in the US by Smith et al (2014) revealed that there was lack of mention of cyber and homophobic bullying. This trend can be clearly sighted in other studies such as Gerlinger & Wo (2016) whose scope only covered physical, verbal and relational bullying. It was apparent that there was little understanding or interest in cyber and homophobic bullying which are currently on the rise. Unfortunately, even in the concentration in the three common domains, it was apparent that some school policies and studies did not establish to core components of bullying in collecting and measuring their data. Aggression, imbalance of power and repetition were not identified as prerequisites to identifying a regular case of bullying (Vivolo-Kantor et al., 2014). This led to inconsistency of data and made it difficult to compare statistics and findings between studies and even different countries. The same study also identified most anti-bullying strategies as lacking in definition of bullying, a fundamental flaw that made the implementation inconsistent. Therefore, there is need to incorporate holistic conceptions of bullying that recognize all the characteristics and forms of the vice for the purposes of coming up with effective school policies and achieving data consistency in research.

Building Individual Resilience

Building resilience in children is important as a sustainable anti-bullying strategy. Many at times the reaction to cases of bullying is characterized by the search for quick solutions that do not offer cushioning in the long term. Interventions that are reactive in that manner are often short-lived, barely surviving once the media or public attention is gone. However, dealing with the bullying problem requires sustainable solutions such as building resilience in children which enables them to stand up to bullies in any environment (Rigby, 2008). In most instances, the acts of bullying occur when the children are unsupervised and hence unable to receive any assistance from third parties. This means that resilience is fundamental and can help to reduce adverse effects as the child is able to respond and brush off bullies on their own. This strategy is important when dealing with emerging forms of the vice such as cyber-bullying, which often occurs on platforms such as social media where the child is on their own. Such cases may go unreported to the platforms, parents, teachers or any other party given that sometimes children are on such platforms against advice and the law. While they may not be able to get any help at that instance, bullying is capable of causing massive physical and psychological damage to the victims including suicide. Recent cases of mass shootings in the US have also been linked to severe bullying on the perpetrators of such crimes, which largely went unnoticed (Rigby, 2017). Desperate, broken and lacking in resilience, such victims end up shooting many innocent victims in retribution and in some cases killing themselves as well. This precipitates the need to build individual resilience among students, as a majority of cases of bullying may go unnoticed.

There are various strategies that can be used by parents and teachers in building the resilience of the children. One of the strategies is based on the school climate theory suggested by Gerlinger & Wo (2016). Creating a positive school climate where all students have a sense of safety may help students become resilient towards bullying. Elsewhere, there is need to encourage pro-social behavior between students which not only minimizes the possibility of bullying or offers assurances of support when faced with such a situation. Thereby, a good school climate develops the resilience of students towards bullies and ensures that they have a variety of personal responses in the absence of external assistance. Another common strategy for building resilience among children is the creation of a suitable home environment that makes them feel safe and builds their self-esteem. In this case, children need to be guarded against witnessing cases of domestic violence any general conditions that may give them a poor state of mind (Rigby, 2014). Alternatively, they should witness love and a sense of belonging to the extent that they develop good self-esteem that will allow them to be confident before bullies and stand up to them. Children must be confident of getting social support from their parents too in a manner that prevents them from being devastated by cases of bullying in school. Therefore, building resilience is a twofold process that involves efforts at school and home, together ensuring that the child can stand on their own and cushion themselves from undesirable acts of bullies. This strategy holds the key to the future given its empowerment to stand against forms of bullying that may go unreported such as cyber and homophobic bullying.

Encouraging Positive Peer Influences

Although most anti-bullying strategies focus on what teachers and parents can do to resolve the problem, in many cases, the answer lies within the student faculties. Peers with strong influences have been known to reduce bullying by at least 30% (Bauman, Rigby, & Hoppa, 2008). This suggests that a more sustainable solution to the perennial bullying problem may be secured by ensuring there are positive peer influences among children. Students often known as social referents or social influencers have the capacity of spreading anti-bullying messages more effectively and gaining the understanding of fellow students involved in bullying activities. Schools with a severe bullying problem are required to study such possibilities rather than carrying out unilateral staff and parent-based programs that do not involve the students. The social standing and respect commanded by social referents make them a formidable force in fighting bullying besides their insider knowledge of the character and background of colleagues.

Another way to visualize positive peer influences is the presence of bystanders in almost all cases of bullying. Apart from cyber bullying and other forms that may proceed privately, majority of other forms normally occur in the presence of bystanders who witness the humiliation of the victims. Sometimes, the presence of such a crowd or small group of fellow students is the motivating factor behind perpetrators especially when the intention is to cause humiliation or attack the social standing of the victim. Thereby, positive peer influences come in handy in this instance, more so if the bystanders include social referents (Lund et al., 2012). More commonly, bystanders fail to intervene in cases of bullying whether they hold higher power than the perpetrators or not. This is unfortunate given that their interventions according to most studies can reduce the prevalence of bullying by 20%. Bystanders are a special force that is borne out of positive peer influences with the ability of drastically mitigating bullying behaviors. They are often at the points of intervention and in many cases can stop bullying with the least effort. Appearing disinterested, rebuking the bully, standing up to them and even sanctioning their actions are all capable of stopping them in the act (Burger et al., 2015). Such interventions should be encouraged as they also assist in stopping bullying in the absence of teachers and parents.

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School Based Programs

Programs designed and executed by schools are also useful in dealing with bullying and have proven to be effective over time. Such programs may involve the teachers alone or bring together teachers, parents and other stakeholders in the process. Ttofi & Farrington (2011) found such programs to reduce bullying by 20-23% and victimization from 17-20%. They range from a number of policies and interventions to structured frameworks of engagement. Common characteristics of effective programs in this regard have been found to be improved playground supervision, firm disciplinary measures and the involvement of parents. However, there is need to strengthen such programs in terms of their conception and scope, given that a majority of them are often poorly structured. For instance, Vivolo-Kantor et al. (2014) found a majority of school based policies lacking in the definition of bullying or in the core components of the vice. This suggests that the schools involved did not capture the right cases of bullying or at least all of them in the process which may be ineffective in the long run. Lund et al (2012) also found most school based counselors and psychologists inadequately trained and unaware of evidence-based approaches of dealing with bullying. This indicates the need for proper structuring and strengthening of school based programs.

School based approaches are more effective than security measures either instituted internally or externally. In most cases, bullying cases inspire either reactive school based approaches or external security measures. Gerlinger & Wo (2016) found school based measures such as authoritative school discipline more effective in the management of bullying cases than security measures. It is therefore imperative that schools analyzed their existing programs and strengthened them instead of resorting to external interventions when confronted with cases of bullying. Burger et al (2015) indicated that teacher experience and gender were mediators to teacher interventions which are part of school based programs. They also suggested the presence of prior training and anti-bullying strategies in schools as influences, which highlights the need for proper structuring and conception of anti-bullying programs. With such adjustments, there is high possibility of such programs singlehandedly dealing with the problem of bullying more than security measures or any other non-school based intervention. It must be noted that such programs call for parent and other stakeholder cooperation, without which they may not be successful. Thereby, the aforementioned facets of positive peer influences and building resilience in children may be incorporated in such programs as core components. Either way, the school plays an important role in anti-bullying interventions and should be harnessed appropriately towards that purpose.

Conclusion

Evidently, bullying is not a new problem but holds relevance in the present day as a form of low-level violence in schools with the ability of causing extensive harm and fatalities. As argued herein, the current conception of bullying in school policies and most studies is inconclusive, either missing on its core facets or some of the emergent forms such as cyber bullying. This implies that combating the problem going forward will require a more comprehensive and exhaustive understanding, both in terms of form and content. Elsewhere, building individual resilience and encouraging positive peer influences can help deal with the problem more effectively especially in the emerging forms such as cyber bullying where victims find themselves on their own with no assistance from parents and teachers. Nevertheless, school based programs remain essential towards the cause, and should be strengthened accordingly to improve on their effectiveness. They have higher efficiency and success rates in combating bullying than external interventions like security and hence should be thus given priority when reacting to increased cases of bullying.

Annotated Bibliography

Rigby, K. (2008). Children and bullying: How parents and educators can reduce bullying at school. Blackwell Publishing.

The book addresses the question of bullying in schools, noting the heightened prevalence in recent times with almost a case reported daily. Bullying is a form of low level violence in schools which if not combated often escalates to a higher level of violence in some instances with fatalities. Despite this open fact, the author notes that the reaction has always been inappropriate, with teachers and parents seeking quick fixes to the problem. Normally, they often end up approaching the challenge with insufficient background or evidence and in most cases are unable to offer sustainable solutions. The author draws their argument from a wealth of literature on the nature of bullying and various strategies that can be employed into fruition. Their findings suggest that empowering children to stand up to bullies and positive peer influences can lay a crucial role in resolving the recalcitrant bullying problem. They also propose the structuring of anti-bullying programs in schools drawing on the support of multiple stakeholders. This source is useful as it contextualizes the bullying problem and proposes salient strategies of combating it which are the subject of the research paper.

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Bauman, S., Rigby, K., & Hoppa, K. (2008). US teachers’ and school counsellors’ strategies for handling school bullying incidents. Educational Psychology28(7), 837-856.

The article highlights the results of a survey on US teachers and Counselors on the strategies used to combat bullying incidents in the school environment. The study population was sampled into a final group of 735 participants, who were asked to select the strategies they would use in a hypothetical bullying incident. The survey was carried out online with each of the participants required to detail their preferred strategy between Ignoring the incident, Working with the bully, Working with the victim, Enlisting other adults, and Disciplining the bully. The study was qualitative, employing descriptive variables such as means, percentages and standard deviation to analyze the data. Four important factors emerged as influencers on the mean scores of various candidates including gender, previous anti-bullying training, presence of anti-bullying programs and policies. The findings included a difference between counselors and teachers in 4 out of the 5 scores. The study precipitated the importance of anti-bullying policies, programs and trainings at the professional level. The article contributes on the strategies of combating bullying in schools.

Ttofi, M. M., & Farrington, D. P. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: A systematic and meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology7(1), 27-56.

The article presented a systematic review and a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of school based anti-bullying programs. It included all studies that had examined the effectiveness of anti-bullying programs including an intervention and a control group. Reports included in the analysis were both published an unpublished.  Since the study was qualitative hence employing secondary sources, 35 journals were searched with articles published between 1983 and 2009 selected from various academic databases. An evaluation of 44 programs indicated that school-based anti-bullying strategies were generally effective, with bullying decreased by 20-23% and victimization similarly cut by 17-20%. The characteristics of effective programs were identified as improved playground supervision, firm disciplinary measures and parent meetings. This article presents strong, longitudinal evidence in support of school based strategies and more so those that are inclusive in their stakeholder approach in combating bullying in schools.

Smith, P. K., Smith, C., Osborn, R., & Samara, M. (2008). A content analysis of school anti‐bullying policies: progress and limitations. Educational Psychology in Practice24(1), 1-12.

The purpose of the above study was to analyze the content of school anti-bullying policies for the sake of identifying strengths and weakness. The authors noted that despite the spread of such programs across schools, preliminary studies indicated that they were largely lacking in content. The study sample included 142 anti-bullying policies, out of which 115 were from primary schools and 27 from secondary schools. Much of the content was centered on improving the school environment while the conceptual of bullying entailed physical, verbal and relational ideas. On the other hand, there was also a frequent mention of contacting parents whenever cases of bullying came up. Nevertheless, some important aspects were missing, including follow up of incidents, records management, peer support and special emphasis on the playground monitoring. Elsewhere, homophobic bullying and cyber bullying was barely mentioned. The article is important in that it highlights how anti-bullying policies and strategies should be structured.

Lund, E. M., Blake, J. J., Ewing, H. K., & Banks, C. S. (2012). School counselors’ and school psychologists’ bullying prevention and intervention strategies: A look into real-world practices. Journal of School Violence11(3), 246-265.

The article highlights the findings of a survey where 560 school based psychologists and counselors were interviewed through the web regarding their anti-bullying strategies, training and interventions. A qualitative research design was adopted throughout with the major emergent themes analyzed to understand the nature of bullying and its mitigates from a real world perspective. The findings suggested that few mental health professionals within the school utilized evidence-based approaches or used them to select anti-bullying programs and policies. However, administrators were identified as the dominant decision makers when it came to selecting anti-bullying programs. Further, the bulk of their training was achieved in-service, implying that it lacked in intensity and rigor. Thereby, there was need for better structuring of training for such professionals in order to improve their effectiveness in service. This article is important in that it precipitates some of the present weaknesses in anti-bullying strategies and interventions.

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Burger, C., Strohmeier, D., Spröber, N., Bauman, S., & Rigby, K. (2015). How teachers respond to school bullying: An examination of self-reported intervention strategy use, moderator effects, and concurrent use of multiple strategies. Teaching and Teacher Education51, 191-202.

The study examined teachers’ strategies and interventions in combating bullying in schools. A survey was carried out pitting a sample of 625 teachers examining their preferred interventions on a five factor model. A hypothetical case of bullying was posed to them and their responses analyzed to identify their potential strategies. The findings indicated that most teachers preferred authority based strategies which were often followed up by non-punitive work with bullies. Elsewhere, the teachers were less likely to work with the victims or ignore the incident entirely, with gender and their teaching experience appearing as moderators to their action. This article is important because it gives insight in the existing anti-bullying strategies used by teachers, hence forming a basis of establishing strengths and weaknesses. It also identifies some of the factors likely to affect the choice of anti-bullying strategies.

Gerlinger, J., & Wo, J. C. (2016). Preventing school bullying: should schools prioritize an authoritative school discipline approach over security measures?. Journal of school violence15(2), 133-157.

The paper above investigated where the priority of schools in anti-bullying responses should be between one of the most common choices; enforcing authoritative school discipline or providing security measures. The authors reckon that schools often react by instituting security measures to prevent violent and serious incidents or an authoritative school discipline on the back of the school climate theory in combating bullying. However, the relative effectiveness of the two was barely focused on in available studies. Using a sample of 12-18 year olds, the two approaches were tested for physical, verbal and relational bullying on a qualitative study. The findings indicated that schools with authoritative discipline had less cases of bullying while security measures had no association with verbal and physical bullying, with only a marginal association with relational bullying. The paper is important as it shows the superiority of school based interventions over external security measures in dealing with bullying.

Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Martell, B. N., Holland, K. M., & Westby, R. (2014). A systematic review and content analysis of bullying and cyber-bullying measurement strategies. Aggression and violent behavior19(4), 423-434.

The authors systematically reviewed bullying and cyber-bullying measurement strategies in schools in a qualitative design. Such measurement strategies were essential in providing figures on prevalence which inform strategy and policy. The purpose was to determine how behaviors were assessed in such cases. The findings indicated that the available measures were inconsistent in terminology and few included the definition of bullying. Further, the few measures that included the definition of bullying did not incorporate the core components of the behavior such as repetition, power imbalance, aggression, and intent to harm. The study concluded that measures used were too inconsistent to the extent that they did not allow comparison of prevalence rates. The study is essential as it illuminates on the conceptual flaws in the understanding of bullying that may limit reliability of studies in literature.

Rigby, K. (2014). How teachers address cases of bullying in schools: a comparison of five reactive approaches. Educational Psychology in Practice30(4), 409-419.

The study compared reactive approaches to bullying cases by teachers in American Schools. The background of the study entailed numerous surveys indicating that children are commonly subjected to bullying and consequently seek help from teachers. As such, teachers often select one of the five approaches commonly available hence the desire of the authors to determine the most likely approach taken. The commonest method identified was the use of sanctions, where the individual identified as a bully was faced with disciplinary sanctions. Other strategies used tended to seek the active participation of students. These included mediation, restorative practice and the shared concern method. In comparing the effectiveness of both methods, it was apparent that the use of direct sanctions was not more effective than the others, and in effect did not offer sustainable solutions. Alternative strategies were therefore necessary in combating bullying more effectively and in the long term. The article is important as it brings to light current practices employed by teachers in dealing with bullying and highlights possible improvements.

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Rigby, K. (2017). School perspectives on bullying and preventative strategies: An exploratory study. Australian Journal of Education, 0004944116685622.

The aim of the study was to highlight school-level efforts to combat bullying. The author notes that despite the wealth of research on anti-bullying activities worldwide, there was little focus on what schools were doing to engage the menace from an institutional perspective. An exploratory research design was employed with 25Australian schools sampled for the study. Both proactive and reactive strategies were investigated, with a focus on their frequency and perceived effectiveness. A number of teacher-directed strategies were identified, which appeared to be consistent with most practices worldwide. Suggestions were made to intensify school-based strategies in a cooperative framework with parents in order to combat bullying. The study is important in that it highlights the importance of school based strategies in combating bullying and the fact that the school should be at the center of all manner of proposed interventions.

Did you like this sample?
  1. Bauman, S., Rigby, K., & Hoppa, K. (2008). US teachers’ and school counsellors’ strategies for handling school bullying incidents. Educational Psychology28(7), 837-856.
  2. Burger, C., Strohmeier, D., Spröber, N., Bauman, S., & Rigby, K. (2015). How teachers respond to school bullying: An examination of self-reported intervention strategy use, moderator effects, and concurrent use of multiple strategies. Teaching and Teacher Education51, 191-202.
  3. Gerlinger, J., & Wo, J. C. (2016). Preventing school bullying: should schools prioritize an authoritative school discipline approach over security measures?. Journal of school violence15(2), 133-157.
  4. Lund, E. M., Blake, J. J., Ewing, H. K., & Banks, C. S. (2012). School counselors’ and school psychologists’ bullying prevention and intervention strategies: A look into real-world practices. Journal of School Violence11(3), 246-265.
  5. Rigby, K. (2008). Children and bullying: How parents and educators can reduce bullying at school. Blackwell Publishing.
  6. Rigby, K. (2014). How teachers address cases of bullying in schools: a comparison of five reactive approaches. Educational Psychology in Practice30(4), 409-419.
  7. Rigby, K. (2017). School perspectives on bullying and preventative strategies: An exploratory study. Australian Journal of Education, 0004944116685622.
  8. Smith, P. K., Smith, C., Osborn, R., & Samara, M. (2008). A content analysis of school anti‐bullying policies: progress and limitations. Educational Psychology in Practice24(1), 1-12.
  9. Ttofi, M. M., & Farrington, D. P. (2011). Effectiveness of school-based programs to reduce bullying: A systematic and meta-analytic review. Journal of Experimental Criminology7(1), 27-56.
  10. Vivolo-Kantor, A. M., Martell, B. N., Holland, K. M., & Westby, R. (2014). A systematic review and content analysis of bullying and cyber-bullying measurement strategies. Aggression and violent behavior19(4), 423-434.

 

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