Do Anti-Bullying Programs Produce More Bullies?

A study out of the University of Texas – Arlington concludes that children who attend schools with anti-bullying programs are more likely to be victims of harassment than those who do not. It is likely that these findings will make experts reconsider the efficacy of these kinds of programs in helping to reduce instances of physical and emotional harassment in school hallways and classrooms.

Seokjin Jeong, the study’s chief author, hypothesized that far from using these programs to learn about getting along, bullies are appropriating the language in new and more hurtful attacks. The study is being published in this month’s edition of the Journal of Criminology.

“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,” Jeong said.

The study suggested that future direction should focus on more sophisticated strategies rather than just implementation of bullying prevention programs along with school security measures such as guards, bag and locker searches or metal detectors. Furthermore, given that bullying is a relationship problem, researchers need to better identify the bully-victim dynamics in order to develop prevention policies accordingly, Jeong said.

Head of UT Arlington’s College of Liberal Arts Beth Wright believes that these kinds of studies are vital in improving anti-bullying efforts in schools around the country. According to Science Daily, research in this area provides an “unlimited positive impact.” Positive impact, indeed, but also a setback because it eliminates one of the ways of reducing bullying that many believed was quite effective.

A growing body of research shows that students who are exposed to physical or emotional bullying experience a significantly increased risk of anxiety, depression, confusion, lowered self-esteem and suicide. In addition to school environmental factors, researchers wanted to know what individual-level factors played a key role in students who are bullied by peers in school.

For their study, Jeong and his co-author, Byung Hyun Lee, a doctoral student in criminology at Michigan State University, analyzed data from the Health Behavior in School-Aged Children 2005-2006 U.S. study. The HBSC study has been conducted every four years since 1985 and is sponsored by the World Health Organization. The sample consisted of 7,001 students, ages 12 to 18, from 195 different schools.

Not all of the study’s conclusions were equally controversial. Researchers found that younger students were more likely to fall victim to bullies than older ones, however, the intensity of bullies seems to escalate and reach the highest pitch in high school.