School & District Management

Absolutely Everything Researchers Know About Bullying

By Ross Brenneman — May 03, 2013 3 min read
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The American Educational Research Association released this week a thorough new analysis on the state of bullying research in the United States. The report includes several action items for improvement, aimed at both scholars and schools.

Each part addresses a specific aspect of bullying, with 11 parts in total. Here is a brief summary, item by item.

  1. Researchers do not agree on the definition of bullying. While the “traditional” definition of bullying includes unwanted, aggressive behavior that’s basically about power, AERA believes that definition isn’t adequate (although, it says, most researchers don’t use it, anyway). “Without the components of intentionality, repetition, and power combined in the behavior of the same person, bullying victimization is the same as school victimization.”

  2. Bullying directly or indirectly affects most everyone. The bullied are more likely to be depressed, in poor health, anxious, and academically and socially detached. Bullies are more likely to become criminals or socially maladjusted. However, researchers should distinguish the behaviors they consider to be bullying, since it has a wide arc of severity.
  3. Research needs to better account for bullying of specific populations. The analysis singles out the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, blacks, and children with disabilities as demographics receiving better but still insufficient study. However, Hispanics, immigrants, and Native Americans can also be better studied, and socioeconomic status should be taken into account.
  4. Gender-based bullying is getting worse. Students report an increase in the derogatory use of “gay” (as in, “That’s so gay.”). Teachers are less likely to intervene in harassment related to gender-based bullying (as well as when bullying involves a student’s body size). “Survey items should allow for reporting forms of sexual, homophobic, gender-nonconforming, and transphobic harassment, as well as permit students to self-identify their gender identity and sexual orientation.”
  5. Schools need to better understand the point at which bullying becomes harassment. Harassment carries legal ramifications that bullying frequently does not. At the same time, researchers need to better study the effects of anti-bullying policies. Many states have recently implemented such policies, but data from anti-bullying laws remains suspect.
  6. Improving school climate will help stop bullying. (Of course, stopping bullying will also improve school climate.) Interestingly, though, the association between school climate and graduation rates is just as strong as the association between student poverty and graduation rates. Schools especially benefit from having firm structures in place to address bullying.
  7. Anti-bullying requires help from the entire school. Researchers can better help schools understand how to make all staff comfortable in intervening in bullying situations.
  8. Bullying does not stop with a high school diploma. College campuses have a lot of precarious power imbalances. Balancing the competing needs and demands of tenured professors, tuition-paying students, resident advisers, deans, and staff can be a mess. And there a major deficit of research on bullying in higher education.
  9. Everyone’s favorite word: Evidenced-based. Research depends on schools collecting good and necessary data. So schools: Do that. And even evidence-based programs don’t do much when poorly implemented.
  10. Teacher preparation should involve bullying prevention. Major professional groups that have a stake in education would be in a good position to collaborate on a set of guiding principles that teacher-educators can use to train teachers in anti-bullying techniques.
  11. Research efforts need state and federal help. “There needs to be increased research support from federal funding agencies for longitudinal and experimental studies"—written like a pessimistic afterthought.

The whole thing is 70 pages, although a solid third of that is references and background information.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Rules for Engagement blog.