Bullying Prevention Research
To prevent and stop bullying, we must first understand it. In the instantaneous electronic world of youth culture, bullying is like a virus or other diseases that have proven difficult to eradicate: spreading rapidly, constantly mutating, virtually impossible to quarantine.
Given this complexity, how should we respond to it? Research and practice show us that a single pill or vaccine will not work. We need multiple coordinated strategies: school policy and practice; staff attitudes, skills, and their interactions with students; students; parents & families. Learn more about Our Approach
To learn more about the problem of bullying and other forms of mistreatment, see The Challenges Today
Amidst all this change, what's constant?
- Bullying is a people problem. We cannot legislate compassion or punish students into being kind, and we cannot stop bullying with rules and policies alone.
- Adults cannot solve this problem alone. Youth are critical to solution. Why? Because they see, hear, and know things that adults don't, and they can intervene in ways adults can't.
So, the challenge becomes waking up courage of youth to stand up and speak up to bullying and other forms of mistreatment and violence. What follows is a summary of what works.
Role of Bystanders
"Bullying affects everyone involved, including bystanders, who often play a key role in either supporting or stopping bullying."
Ronald G. Slaby. Knowing the Facts: The Role of The Bystander in Preventing Bullying. Health in Action. May/June 2005. Vol 3, Number 4. 2005 page 6. American School Health Association. Read the article.
The Bystander Effect: Why some children intervene and others don't
In our work with more than 50,000 youth, we have identified a handful of common reasons that students don't speak up or take action when they witness mistreatment:
- they fear retaliation
- they don't know what to do or say
- they are afraid of making the situation worse
- they are worried about losing social status, being labeled a "snitch" or being ridiculed for stopping what peers perceive as entertainment or acceptable behavior
- they doubt that adults will believe them or that adults will handle the situation effectively
This article reports on a study that probed the question of why students do or don't intervene when they see a peer in distress, and explores theories of bystander behavior and decision-making. The article shows how intervention is inhibited by the conformity fostered in school settings, and by the moral dilemmas created by social constructions of right and wrong that are created and maintained in the school setting. The author concludes that moral education cannot be confined to theoretical decision-making exercises in the classroom; it must involve emotions, promote empathy, and be conducted in real-life settings so that students see its applicability and integrate the lessons into their everyday lives.
Why common strategies typically fail, and the essential ingredient in ones that work. Read more.
The Code of Silence
This study asked students how likely they'd be to report a fellow student's plans to "do something dangerous" at school. Findings support the importance of fostering a caring climate built upon positive relationships between students and staff.
Amy K. Syvertsen, and others. Code of Silence: Students' Perceptions of School Climate and Willingness to Intervene in a Peer's Dangerous Plan. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2009. Vol. 101, No.1. 219-232. American Psychological Association. Read the article here.
This practice of establishing and enforcing strict and mandatory penalties for even minor infractions has been popular among educational leaders seeking to show their constituents (staff, students, parents and the community at large) that they are serious about creating a safe learning environment. However, emerging research shows that zero-tolerance policies have little positive effect, and may actually decrease safety.
R. J. Skiba, Zero Tolerance, Zero Evidence: An Analysis of School Disciplinary Practice (Bloomington: Indiana Educational Policy Center, 2000), 16-17. Read the article here.
Preventing Violence: the Importance of School Climate
The U.S. Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education studied 37 school shootings involving 41 attackers over a 26-year period, with the aim of helping schools understand how to better identify students who might pose a threat (i.e. be likely to mount an attack upon the school). Their conclusion: even though these attacks were rarely impulsive acts, there is no useful or accurate "profile" that can be used to identify school shooters beforehand. However, most attackers were bullied; they also said and did things prior to the attack that indicated a need for help, and even involved other students in - or informed them of - their plans. For these reasons, a school is better served by creating a climate free of bullying, and where students feel valued, included and connected to their school, and thus more comfortable to report to adults information about potentially dangerous situations. "School climate affected whether bystanders came forward with information related to the threats... Bystanders who came forward with information commented that they were influenced by positive relations with one or more adults, teachers, or staff, and/or a feeling within the school that the information would be taken seriously and addressed appropriately."
R. Fein and others, Threat Assessment in Schools: A Guide to Managing Threatening Situations and to Creating Safe School Climates (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 2004). http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_guide.pdf
B. Vossekuil and others, Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and U.S. Secret Service, and National Threat Assessment Center, 2002). http://www.ustreas.gov/usss/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf
W. Pollack and others, Prior Knowledge of Potential School-Based Violence: Information Students Learn May Prevent a Targeted Attack (Washington, D.C.:U.S. Department of Education, Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program and U.S. Secret Service, and National Threat Assessment Center, 2008). http://www.secretservice.gov/ntac/bystander_study.pdf
Research Supports Safe School Ambassadors® program
The Safe School Ambassadors® program is built on a solid foundation of research, including the work of four pioneers in the field of bullying prevention: Dr. Wendy Craig, Dr. Ron Slaby, Dr. Dan Olweus and Dr. Dorothy Espelage. Their research shows that other students witness 85% of bullying incidents, and that these bystanders hold the key to stopping bullying and violence. But most of the time, they don't intervene or tell adults. Why? Because they fear retaliation or being the next target. They don't know what to say or do and fear they'll make it worse. And they figure adults won't believe them or won't actually solve the problem. But when peers DO intervene, the bullying stops in 57% of situations. See what else the research shows.