In the final session of the workshop, the members of the planning committee discussed themes from the workshop sessions and individual presentations as well as promising areas for future research and policy action. Their comments are summarized here not as the conclusions of the workshop but as an overview of the issues discussed.
BULLYING AND VICTIMIZATION AND THE TARGETS OF BULLYING
Perspectives on bullying and the approaches taken to prevent and respond to it can differ from place to place because of competing priorities, issues related to accountability, and differences in the implementation of policies and programs, as Catherine Bradshaw observed. A uniform definition of bullying has recently been developed, but that definition has not necessarily been incorporated at the local level, she added. Bradshaw also mentioned that bullying prevention is often imposed as an unfunded mandate. “Until we are able to dedicate the funding and set this issue of bullying prevention as a priority, we are not going to get a lot of traction,” she said.
Many presentations had emphasized the importance of context, Bradshaw observed, including such contextual factors as cultural differences, dating relationships, urban-versus-rural settings, cyberbullying, and families, to name just a few. Developmental factors are also important, given that the types of effective interventions will vary across the lifecourse, Bradshaw said. Another theme that came up repeatedly over the course of
the 2 days was the importance of connectedness, whether that takes the form of a relationship with a peer or an adult who can act as a buffer to bullying. Researchers need a better way of operationalizing and incorporating such contextual factors into their studies, Bradshaw said. “Rarely are we able to walk away with a good statistical model that maps on to what people actually are seeing in real life.”
Bradshaw also brought up the issue of diversity, whether ethnic, cultural, physical, or sexual. As noted in Chapter 1, this issue was intended to be integrated in presentations throughout the workshop rather than being addressed in a single session, because it is a major consideration in bullying prevention.
Several planning committee members commented on the neurobiological underpinnings of responses to bullying that researchers are starting to uncover, as presented by Vaillancourt (see Chapter 2). These biological studies help to explain the idea of allostatic load, Bradshaw said, in which prior experiences with stress and trauma make it more challenging for someone to rebound from additional stress. Megan Moreno also pointed to the power of the demonstrated biological changes to motivate an intervention platform with parents and teachers.
There is still no solid base of evidence for many of the bullying prevention interventions being implemented in schools, Denise Gottfredson pointed out. Randomized controlled trials are difficult to conduct in schools, but some results from school-based studies have been very positive. School policies sometimes diminish the significance of bullying, she added, which makes bullying issues harder to address. Also, high-profile media events tend to dominate the public’s and administrators’ attention, which can result in resources being diverted into school security measures and zero-tolerance policies, even though homicides in schools are actually very rare, she noted.
Gottfredson and several other planning committee members called attention to the importance of school climate in bullying prevention. For example, the student-to-teacher ratio can have an effect on bullying, as can the role of other stakeholders in the school setting and the norms held by students and adults for that school. Presentations by Dodge and Faris highlighted that how schools are engineered and organized can have an influence on peer interactions and aggressive peer behaviors. Anti-bullying campaigns, role modeling, peer relationships, and positive approaches all can make a big difference by shaping school climates, Gottfredson said. Presentations by Bradshaw and Juvonen pointed to examples from the research of how to develop a climate of inclusion and support. In addition,
Moreno called attention to the fact that the young people who spoke at the workshop (see Chapter 11) identified the school climate as a contributing factor to whether bullying takes place. For example, student panelists Farkas and Shaw suggested that school climate can have a major impact on how students experience or intervene in bullying behavior. Finally, several presenters noted that even one friend or supporter, whether a peer or teacher, can make a difference to a victimized young person.
Gottfredson suggested that a working group could identify the most promising components of a multi-component approach to bullying prevention in schools. Important components of such an approach could be involving more people in the school community, especially high-status students, as part of the solution; starting with the adults in schools to clarify norms about bullying; promoting meaningful connections among individuals within schools; and reorganizing the way students are grouped for instruction. Todres also emphasized the need to focus on structural issues, especially contextual factors, and on the importance of incentives for schools.
Todres emphasized that parents and other caregivers are essential partners in successful interventions. However, the rates of bullying reported by parents are less than the rates their children report. Parents also think that their children will tell them if they are being bullied, whereas children report that they are less likely to report bullying than their parents believe. Finally, children report more social and health impacts than parents perceive. “That suggests an area of need both for research and for further interventions,” Todres said.
Families can serve as sources of risk, protection factors, or managers of contextual risk, Todres continued. Nurturing parenting skills, fostering stable family relationships, ensuring appropriate supervision of children, encouraging parental involvement in school, and connecting families with neighborhoods and social supports all can increase the ability of parents to deal with bullying, he said.
The vast majority of youth today are online, along with ever growing populations of adults, Moreno said. These online communities can be both a source of interventions and preventive measures and a place where bullying can occur. Many youth access health information online, especially information about topics that they might find stigmatizing or embarrassing to ask about in public. “This may be a place where youth who have been
bullied would feel more comfortable seeking help or support,” Moreno said.
As in other areas of bullying prevention, little evidence exists demonstrating the efficacy of online bullying intervention. But the knowledge base about school-based interventions in general could guide thinking about how to structure and test an online intervention. Young people themselves can partner with adults in understanding what might and might not work, Moreno suggested.
Other programs and frameworks, such as the Big Brothers and Big Sisters program and Communities That Care, have demonstrated the potential of community-based programs to improve health, Nina Fredland observed. Pediatricians and other health care professionals can make important contributions to bullying prevention efforts while also identifying and providing assistance to students who are suffering from negative health outcomes related to bullying. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics has identified injury prevention, including bullying prevention, as a public health issue. The role of primary health care providers in this area could be even greater if it were possible to share information between providers and key school personnel such as school nurses, social workers, and school psychologists, within the context of confidentiality, Fredland said.
Moreno emphasized the importance of community and stakeholder buy-in. “These are people we should be bringing to the table at every stage of our research projects and not waiting until the implementation stage,” she said. “We could get so much more information about what might work and what theoretical models are resonating with the people who are going to be implementing these and affected by these.”
PEER-LED AND PEER-FOCUSED PROGRAMS
Bullying is a proactive rather than reactive form of aggression, Todres observed, and youth often use it to try to achieve higher status within social groups. This is one reason why it can be counterproductive for interventions to place youth who bully with each other in groups, because these groups can exacerbate rather than reduce bullying. Instead, interventions that support adult involvement, positive relationships, self-regulation, and group management skills are most likely to have positive effects on problem behaviors, Todres said. Preventing the formation of gangs, early intervention, and a peer culture of nonaggression also can prevent bullying, he observed.
LAWS AND PUBLIC POLICIES
Most state legislatures have passed anti-bullying laws over the past 15 years, Todres pointed out. However, these laws vary greatly from state to state and also within states, because many of the laws delegate authority to school boards and schools to establish policies.
Inclusive anti-bullying policies are associated with a reduced risk of peer victimization for all youth, and laws and policies can support training programs, improvements in school culture, and other positive interventions. However, laws and policies also can hinder enforcement, because schools fear that they will be sued by the parents of students accused of bullying, and legislation can run afoul of privacy laws. As in many areas of bullying prevention, more research is needed both on the effectiveness of laws and policies and on their successful implementation, Todres said.
TRANSLATING BULLYING RESEARCH INTO POLICY AND PRACTICE
“All of our good work to develop effective bullying prevention interventions will be for naught if we cannot ensure that they are implemented with reasonable fidelity on the ground and are sustained over a long period of time,” Gottfredson said. Particular characteristics of programs or policies can increase the likelihood that they could be implemented with high fidelity; these characteristics include clear messages, solid technical training, and technical assistance. More challenging but equally important is building a local infrastructure in the community to select evidence-based practices and deliver them with fidelity. Key aspects of this infrastructure are strong leadership, administrative support, and the presence of a program champion at the local level, Gottfredson said. Such an infrastructure also can increase the capacity to monitor implementation and feed that information back to local implementers.
Interventions that address risk factors for a variety of different problem behaviors often receive more local support than more narrowly focused programs, Gottfredson observed. For example, programs to improve school climate by increasing the clarity of norms at the school level and enhancing discipline management can be beneficial across the board and not just for bullying, she said.
The field of bullying prevention can learn from other fields of research and practice, Todres said, and some of the research that was reviewed and discussed drew on work from related topics (e.g., violence and aggression). However, Limber and other presenters were careful to note that while bullying overlaps with these other constructs, it is also distinct in important respects. Consequently, the extent to which this research on related
topics applies to bullying is an open question. Another gap in the research, Gottfredson added, is how to scale up programs effectively and produce benefits in real-world settings. Bradshaw added that researchers need to devote increased attention to the mediators and moderators of bullying and anti-bullying interventions. Partnerships between researchers who are fielding randomized trials and methodologists can yield better and more information about what works under different conditions, she noted.
As Frederick Rivara, chair of the planning committee for the workshop, said during his introductory remarks, he bases his actions and beliefs on the premise that all injuries are preventable. Bullying is not just something that children and adolescents always have done and always will do. Bullying and the consequences of bullying to the victim, the perpetrators, schools, and society can be prevented. “It is up to us to act,” he said.