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Bullying in Schools: A National Problem, Research Paper Example

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Research Paper

 

Abstract

The issue of bullying in schools has been the subject of increasing scrutiny in recent years. As the potential negative consequences of bullying become more clear, a range of studies and research have been conducted in an effort to better understand the issue of bullying and to determine what forms of anti-bullying interventions may prove most successful. This paper examines a sampling of research into the issue of school bullying with an emphasis on studies that explore the subject from a number of different perspectives. The evidence and information gleaned from these clearly demonstrates that bullying among older students (adolescent and post-adolescent) is rooted in a complex system of social dynamics; intervention programs aimed at alleviating bullying in schools must avoid simplistic approaches and be designed to engage and involve students in order to be most effective. The implications of the research indicate that future research into the issue of school bullying should extend beyond the bully/victim dyad and focus on the broader social contexts in which bullying occurs.

Introduction

The issue of school bullying has received significant scrutiny in recent years. As the evidence continues to mount about the prevalence and seriousness of bullying it becomes increasingly clear that bullying can have devastating effects in victims, and bullying has been linked to drug abuse, suicide, and violence among those affected by bullying. As mounting evidence demonstrates the negative consequences of bullying in schools, educators and administrators are increasingly seeking ways to develop intervention programs to rein in the problem of school bullying. Research into school bullying tackles the related issues from a number of angles; it is not only important to understand the potential consequences of bullying for the victims, it is also important to understand the social, cultural, and psychological factors that contribute to and cause bullying. This paper examines a number of research studies related to bullying, with the specific aim of sampling a cross-section of the available literature that explores the issue from a variety of different perspectives. It concludes with a discussion about school-based interventions and anti-bullying campaigns and offers some suggestions about possible avenues for further research. While the available literature related to the issue of school bullying examines the problem from a number of different angles, the consistent theme that emerges from a meta-analysis of this information is that current approaches to intervention have not been successful in making a significant reduction in the prevalence of bullying in schools.

Review of Literature

This section will provide an overview of a number of different research studies that all fit into the broad subject heading of school bullying. These studies have been chosen based on several criteria: the first is that they provide empirical evidence to support their conclusions; second, they examine the issue from a number of different perspectives. Among them are studies that examine the issue of bullying with a narrow focus on the bully/victim dynamic; examinations of bullying at different age levels and among different social groups; comparisons between and among different approaches to intervention; findings related to the consequences of bullying for victims; and studies that examine the factors that contribute to the individual development of bullying tendencies. In taking this broad overview, it is the intent of the author to provide readers with a basic understanding of the core issues related to bullying and to provide evidence and support for conclusions and suggestions about areas of further inquiry and comments about what forms of interventions have demonstrated significant positive outcomes.

 

Guerra, Williamson, and Sadek (2012): Youth perspectives on bullying in Adolescence.

The researchers introduce their study with a discussion of earlier examinations of the issue of bullying, and assert that many such studies have failed to adequately address the differences in bullying between younger elementary-age students and older adolescents. Further, Guerra et al claim that the preponderance of research into the issue of bullying too much emphasis on the relationship between bully and victim and too little on the broader social context in which bullying takes place.

Using semi-structured interviews the researchers worked with a number of focus groups divided into elementary-level students and middle- and high-school students. They conclude that the individual and social dynamics of bullying are significantly different between the two age groups. Younger students asked about bullying tend to explain it and discuss it in terms of behavior, such as aggression or cowardice, while older student tend to discuss bullying in terms of social dynamics. For adolescent respondents, bullying is closely associated with jealousy, sexual overtones, and interpersonal relationships. As the dynamics of social interaction become increasingly complex for older students, so too do the reasons given by respondents to explain and describe bullying.

Thornberg, Rosenqvist, and Johansson (2012): Older teenagers’ explanations of bullying.

This study focused on adolescent students in middle and high school. Using questionnaires and structured interviews, the researchers asked respondents to describe and explain why some students bully others. The majority of respondents provided “individualistic” explanations for bullying, ascribing the causes of bullying to specific arguments and interpersonal conflicts. A minority of respondents expressed the belief that bullying was explained by personality type or inherent behavioral tendencies among bullies.

Bacchini, Esposito, and Affuso (2009): Social experience and school bullying

This study divides subjects into four basic types or subgroups: “pure bullies,” “pure victims,” “bullies/victims,” and “not involved.” The goal of this study was to determine the extent to which exposure to violence, sexual abuse, or bullying in individual respondents’ family and neighborhood life was connected to these four subtypes. The researchers found strong correlations between exposure to violence, sexual abuse, or bullying with both “pure victims” and pure bullies,” and concluded that the tendency to become either a victim of bullying or a bullying is significantly affected by social and family contexts.

Strøm, Thoresen, Wentzel-Larsen, and Dyb, G. (2013): Violence, bullying and academic                      achievement: A study of 15-year-old adolescents and their school environment

The goal of this study was to examine possible connections between being the victim of bullying and academic achievement. The researchers used both questionnaires and semi-structured interviews with respondents and made comparisons to the short- and long-term academic achievement of these respondents. This approach allowed researchers to look for and make note of downward or upward trends in academic achievement of respondents, and to compare this information with self-reported victimization by bullies. The study found significant correlations between being a victim of bullying and poor academic achievement. These findings and conclusions were further supported by evidence that a significant number of self-reported bullying victims showed a downward trend in academic achievement that aligned with the timing of bullying. The researchers were concerned with drawing distinctions between those respondents whose academic achievement may have already been poor before becoming victims of bullying, and those whose academic achievement records demonstrated significant changes concomitant with being victims of bullying.

The primary explanation for drawing such distinctions was to separate those respondents who may have already been poor students before being bullied –and who may even have been targeted, at least in part, because of their academic status- from those whose academic achievement appeared to be directly affected by bullying. The researchers also found that schools with higher levels of bullying had a greater percentage of students with poor academic records than did as compared to schools with lower reported levels of bullying. The researchers concluded that there is a solid link between being the victim of bullying and the potential to demonstrate lower academic performance as a consequence of bullying.

Glew, Fan, Katon, and Rivara (2008): Bullying and School Safety

To quote the researchers who authored this report, the purpose of this study was “to identify an association between involvement in bullying and problems in school.” The “problems” identified by the study included emotional disturbances, behavioral issues, and poor academic performance. Using a questionnaire and a study of academic records, the researchers found links between victims of bullying and a number of emotional, behavioral, and academic issues. Similarly, respondents who self-identified as bullies also reported a statistically significant number of emotional issues, such as often feeling “sad” or “angry.” Some connection between bullies and poor academic performance was found in the study, though the link between bullies and poor academic performance was not as significant as that between victims and poor academic performance.

Elgar, Craig, Boyce, Morgan, and Vella-Zarb (2009): Income Inequality and School                     Bullying: Multilevel Study of Adolescents in 37 Countries

This study cast a wide net as it looked for connections between socioeconomic status of students and self-identification as victims or bullies. According to the researchers, this study “used economic data from the 2006 United Nations Development Program Human Development Report and survey data from the 2005/2006 Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study which included 66,910 11-year-olds in 37 countries.” The study concluded that a link exists between lower socioeconomic status and the prevalence of being the victim of bullying. The researchers asserted that, based on their findings, the social consequences of lower economic status made it more likely that these individuals would become targets of bullying.

Cooper (2011). Bullying Linked to Lower High School GPAs –Especially Among                        Hispanics

Cooper used a combination of statistical and demographic data to look for differences in the consequences of bullying-related behaviors among a number of Latino high school students. The information related to academic performance of Latino students who reported being bullied was compared to similar information related to white students. While Cooper acknowledges that the consequences of bullying are significant for many victims of bullying, she notes that they can be “especially detrimental for subsets of certain racial and ethnic groups.” Cooper concludes that the issue of bullying is strongly influenced by a number of social and cultural factors, and that students who are potentially disadvantaged for reasons related to ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and other factors may be even more susceptible to the negative consequences of bullying than tare those who more closely with median demographic, social, and cultural statistics.

Moon, Hwang, and McCluskey (2011): Causes of School Bullying: Empirical Test of a                General Theory of Crime, Differential Association Theory, and General Strain Theory

The researchers who conducted this study assert that the majority of studies and research into the issue of bullying tend to utilize frameworks that are generally similar. They describe a number of approaches to studying the issue of bullying, such as examinations of socioeconomic status, age, groups, or academic performance and their potential relationship to bullying, and claim that these approaches may not fully explain the range of factors that determine what drives bullying behavior. To counter what they see as a shortcoming in the extant body of available literature, Moon et al view bullying the lens of a well-known theory of criminal behavior known as General Strain Theory. The researchers conclude, however, that their study found limited evidence to support the applicability of strain theory as a potential predictor of bullying behavior.

Georgiou and Stavrinides (2013): Parenting at home and bullying at school

 

This study set out to explore the possible connections between bullying behavior, bully victimization, and parental behavior. The researchers begin by noting that they drew a distinction between parenting styles –such as authoritarian or permissive- and a specific set of behavioral constructs they proposed for their study. The researchers further note that a significant number of studies have been conducted that look for connections between parenting styles and bully/victim behaviors, and that the purpose of this study was not to duplicate or overlap with such efforts. Instead, the researchers “introduce three, relatively new parameters of bullying and victimization; namely, parent–child conflict, parental monitoring and child disclosure.” Their research did find significant connections between “parenting at home and bullying at school,” most notably in terms of parent-child conflict. According to the researchers, their findings were somewhat surprising, in that parent-child conflict proved to be a statistically-significant determinant of both bullying behavior and bullying victimization. The researchers also claimed that their findings showed little relationship between parental monitoring and either bullying or victimization, which they say contradicts a number of earlier studies.

Bibou-Nakou, Tsiantis, Assimopoulos, and Giannakopoulou (2012): School factors                      related to bullying: a qualitative study of early adolescent students

This study was based on a series of surveys and interviews conducted with 90 secondary school students. The goal of the researchers was to gain insight into how adolescent students perceived the issue of bullying, and the ways in which they see bullying as a school-related issue. The researchers determined that a significant number of participants in this study see bullying as a school-related issue, both in terms of how they perceive and construct the reasons and causes of bullying, and in terms of how many of them believe that school-based interventions are a necessary and useful approach to alleviating bullying. The discussions demonstrated that the participants had strong opinions about the social dynamics of their schools, and how these dynamics were interwoven with the issue of bullying. A number of specific school-related constructs were common in the discourse among the participants, such as academic achievement and the relationships between teachers and students. Many of the participants reported that they believed the social environment in their schools contributed to or supported expressions of bullying behavior.

Collins, McAleavy, and Adamson, G. (2009). Bullying in schools: a Northern Ireland study

As demonstrated by this and other studies conducted in nations around the world, bullying is a universal phenomenon. Many of the same factors and issues that underpin this research are common to studies conducted in the U.S. and elsewhere. This study looked at a range of students of different age groups in primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland. The researchers claim that, unlike the rest of Ireland and the Great Britain, there is a dearth of studies on bullying that are specific to schools in Northern Ireland. The basic premise of this study was simply to amass statistical data related to self-reported incidences of bullying and of victimization among respondents.

According to the data amassed by the researchers, 40% of primary school students and 30% of secondary school students report having been the victim of bullying. Along with those who report having been the victims of bullying, 25% of primary school students and 28% of secondary school students reported that they have engaged in bullying behaviors. The researchers note that these numbers are similar to those seen in the rest of Ireland and in Great Britain, and that they form the “evidentiary basis” to demonstrate the need for developing interventions and other anti-bullying programs.

Houbre, B., Tarquinio, C., & Lanfranchi, J. (2010). Expression of self-concept and adjustment against repeated aggressions: the case of a longitudinal study on school      bullying

This study take an approach to the issue of bullying that diverges from many of the more common frameworks. The researchers focus primarily on students who have self-reported or otherwise been identified as victims of repeated bullying. Utilizing a combination of questionnaires and semi-structured interviews researchers attempted to make determinations about how bullying victims expressed their self-concepts and how they developed adjustment strategies after repeated victimization. The study demonstrated that victims of repeated acts of aggression, violence, and other bullying demonstrated weaker or poorer self-concepts that the students in the control group.

The researchers also looked at the number of subjects who utilized “avoidance strategies” as a response to bullying as compared to the number who used “approach” strategies. The former group was larger. These respondents adjusted to bullying by avoiding individuals or situations associated with past bullying. The smaller group adjusted to bullying by talking to or fighting back against bullies, or seeking out situations that allowed them to safely confront bullies or potential bullies. The group that used approach strategies reported greater success in lessening or eliminating incidences of bullying than those who utilized avoidance strategies.

Discussion

The previous sampling of research literature relevant to the issue of bullying offers a composite portrait of a significant social problem for many students. This sampling provides insight into a small cross-section of the many ways in which bullying can be discussed and researched. The public discourse about bullying has grown significantly in recent years, and often includes discussions about the connections between bullying victimization and negative consequences. While the research that is discussed in the context of this paper does not focus to a great extent on those consequences, it does clearly demonstrate that a large number of students have reported being victimized by bullies.

Analysis of this research also demonstrates that bullying among children and adolescents is strongly related to school environments, and that the social constructs and hierarchies in schools are significant determinants of bullying and victimization and of a number of negative consequences associated with bullying. The links between bullying victimization and poor academic achievement, for example, demonstrate that poor achievement is not a statistically significant causal factor or predicate of bullying behavior, but is a statistically significant negative consequence of bullying.

Both the qualitative and quantitative data amassed in these studies shows that bullying is fomented by a complex set of social constructs, and examining it only in the context of the bully/victim dyad is insufficient in terms of fully understanding what causes bullying or how it can be prevented or discouraged. While younger students perceive both bullying and victimization in basic behavioral and emotional terms –for example, that bullies are simply “mean”- the perceptions of bullying and victimization among older students are steeped in complex social structures and dynamics.

Research into bullying intervention that considers the perceptions of adolescents has shown that such interventions must account for these social dynamics and structures (Guerra, Williamson and Sadek, 2012). Adolescent respondents have reported that class lectures and school assemblies on the issue of bullying are often seen as being ineffective (Guerra et al). One way that information about bullying can be presented in a useful manner is to offer it in the context of participatory activities that are entertaining, fun, and engaging (Guerra et al). Such approaches may allow students to develop a broader understanding of the social constructs that frame bullying behavior and offer greater insight into how others view or respond to bullying.

Future Research

The practical implications of any research into the issue of bullying are primarily related to the development of effective intervention strategies. A review and examination of the extant research literature related to bullying demonstrates that much of this research is focused on quantitative analyses of the prevalence of bullying and victimization, and on qualitative analyses of respondents’ perceptions about the issue. What is lacking in the available body of research into bullying are studies that explore adolescents’ perceptions about intervention strategies. It is clear that bullying in schools is a significant problem; as such, effective strategies and solutions to the problem of bullying are likely to work best when presented in the context of school environments. In order to develop effective intervention strategies for bullying in schools, it will be necessary to further explore the perceptions and ideas about such interventions held by those who are most affected by bullying.

References

Bacchini, D., Esposito, G., & Affuso, G. (2009). Social experience and school bullying.Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology, 19(1), 17-32.

Bibou-Nakou, I., Tsiantis, J., Assimopoulos, H., & Giannakopoulou, D. (2012). School factors related to bullying: a qualitative study of early adolescent students. Social Psychology of Education, 15(2), 125-145.

Collins, K., McAleavy, G., & Adamson, G. (2009). Bullying in schools: a Northern Ireland study. Educational Research, 46(1), 55-72.

Cooper, M. A. (2011). New Study Links Bullying to Lower High School GPAs – Especially Among Hispanics. The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, 22(3), 28-29.

Elgar, F. J., Craig, W., Boyce, W., Morgan, A., & Vella-Zarb, R. (2009). Journal of Adolescent Health. Income Inequality and School Bullying: Multilevel Study of Adolescents in 37 Countries, 45(4), 351–359.

Georgiou,, S. N., & Stavrinides, P. (2013). Parenting at home and bullying at school. Social Psychology of Education, 16(2), 165-179.

Glew, G. M., Fan, M., Katon, W., & Rivara, F. P. (2008). Bullying and School Safety. The Journal of Pediatrics, 152(1), 123-128.

Guerra, N. G., Williamson, A. A., & Sadek, S. (2012). Youth perspectives on bullying in Adolescence. The Prevention Researcher, 19(3), 14.

Houbre, B., Tarquinio, C., & Lanfranchi, J. (2010). Expression of self-concept and adjustment against repeated aggressions: the case of a longitudinal study on school bullying. European Journal of Psychology of Education, 25(1), 105-123.

Moon, B., Hwang, H., & McCluskey, J. D. (2011). Causes of School Bullying: Empirical Test of a General Theory of Crime, Differential Association Theory, and General Strain Theory.Crime & Delinquency, 57(6), 849-877.

Strøm, I. F., Thoresen, S., Wentzel-Larsen, T., & Dyb, G. (2013). Violence, bullying and academic achievement: A study of 15-year-old adolescents and their school environment.Child Abuse & Neglect, 37(4), 243-251.

Thornberg, R., Rosenqvist, R., & Johansson, P. (2012). Older teenagers’ explanations of bullying. Child & Youth Care Forum, 41(4), 327-342.

 

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