A synthesis of the findings from research done on bullying during the past 25 years suggests certain behaviors and characteristics that can reduce bullying in school environments.
According to an Inside School Research blog post, UCLA professors Jaana Juvonen and Sandra Graham found that students in racially diverse schools feel safer than students who attend schools largely dominated by a single race: “If you think about bullying, that involves an imbalance of power,” said Juvonen. “If there’s a big, dominant group, the minority will feel [less empowered].”
In an environment where the majority of students are the same, students who appear different are at greater risk for bullying. Differentiating factors include obesity, LBGTQ status, and disabilities. The blog goes on to explain the other characteristics that may increase bullying:
Bullying also thrives when students make transitions to middle school. Here, again, power is to blame as students establish a new pecking order in their new school, which is generally larger and less structured than an elementary school.
“And those who bully others rise to the top,” Juvonen said.
Additionally, formal academic tracking, which often begins in middle school, may breed bullying in that disruptive behavior is more common in low-track classes.
Changes That Make a Difference
According to Juvonen, victims often blame themselves for the situation. She therefore suggests that adults address this issue straightforwardly and encourage victims to stop blaming themselves. Teachers can also improve the situation by reprimanding bullies for their behavior. Doing that may not change bullying behavior, but it suggests to victims that they will be supported. Finally, a classmate that befriends a victim can make all the difference. “It just takes one friend,” Juvonen said. “We don’t know what it is about that friend. It doesn’t seem like they use the friend to talk about their problem. It’s the idea that there’s somebody there for me.”
But Juvonen is quick to point out that there is only so much that parents, teachers, and peers can do. To address the problem there must be policy changes at the administrative level. Notes Juvonen: “The bare minimum that needs to be done at the district level and the school level is to have clear policies about bullying. These policies must be practiced. Far too often, we have grand policies but the follow-through of bullying incidents is not consistent.”
Other promising interventions including targeting children with behavior problems, and creating opportunities for students to become invested in devising ways to protect all students.