The most incisive guide to issues facing the American family today . . . An invaluable resource for anyone wishing to stay on the cutting edge of research on family trends.

-W. Bradford Wilcox
Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Virginia 

October 29, 2019

The Topic: Real Bullying Prevention

The News Story: What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools?

The New Research: The Fatherless Victims of Bullying

 

The News Story: What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying in Schools? 

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and multiple media stories this month have focused on the ill effects of bullying, how to identify bullies, and strategies to cope with such behavior.

In a short article out of Berkeley on ways to prevent bullying in schools, two psychologists from the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence summarized their research. They discovered that “not all approaches to bullying prevention are equally effective,” particularly those that “rely on punishment and zero tolerance.” Instead, the authors recommend two alternative strategies: First, building a positive school climate, or “the ‘felt sense’ of being in a school, which can arise from a greeting, the way a problem is resolved, or how people work together"; second, advancing social and emotional learning, which “involves teaching skills of self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, responsible decision making, and relationships management.”

“In order to be effective,” the authors conclude, “skills should become fully embedded across the curricula and the entire day, in all settings, and implemented by all adults—in other words, infiltrating the ecosystem.But research suggests that the “ecosystem” goes deeper than the school setting, right back to the child’s family structure. And when it comes to bullying, the natural family goes a long way toward protecting kids.

(Source: Diana Divecha, “What Are the Best Ways to Prevent Bullying?”, Greater Good Magazine, UC Berkeley, October 29, 2019.)

 

The New Research: The Fatherless Victims of Bullying

Few problems have captured the attention of school officials in recent years more than that of bullying, including on-line cyberbullying. To combat this problem, these officials typically develop school-based policies. But the findings of a recent British study suggest that the measures most likely to truly protect young people from this problem may include those that foster lasting parental marriages.

Affiliated with a number of institutions—including Cardiff University, King’s College London, and the University of Auckland—the authors of the new study express concern about “bullying and cyberbullying [as] common phenomena in schools” that may “have a significant impact on the health and particularly the mental health of those involved.” Enumerating bullying’s harmful effects, the researchers cite previous studies implicating bullying as a cause of “anxiety problems, depression and self-harm, antisocial behaviour, and suicide or attempted suicide, as well as substance misuse and poor educational outcomes.”

To identify the school and family circumstances most likely to expose adolescents to bullying, particularly cyberbullying, the researchers scrutinize data from 6,667 seventh-grade students enrolled in 40 English schools. 

Not surprisingly, the researchers conclude that students attending schools rated “outstanding” were less likely to experience bullying than those rated merely “good.” Also predictable is the finding that students who came from economically deprived families were particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying.

But economic status is not the only family characteristic significantly affecting whether adolescents will be subjected to bullying. “Independently of deprivation,” the researchers remark, “young people from a single-parent household were more likely to be bullied and cyberbullied compared to those coming from a two-parent household” (emphasis added). Statistical analysis established that, compared to peers from intact families, adolescents from single-parent families are more likely to experience “significant bullying” of any sort (p = 0.009) and cyberbullying in particular (p = 0.03). 

Adolescents from single-parent families face an especially elevated risk of cyberbullying, a risk almost half again that found among peers from intact families (Odds Ratio of 1.44). 

In their concluding remarks, the authors of the new study express the hope that their findings will “pave the way for future research investigating which school factors and processes promote or prevent bullying and inform development of interventions to prevent bullying and cyberbullying in schools.” 

Given the character of their findings, it is deeply unfortunate that these researchers have nothing at all to say about measures that will foster the enduring parental marriages that will shield teens from bullying and all its ill effects.

(Source: Bryce Christensen and Nicole M. King, New ResearchThe Natural Family 31.3 [2017]. Study: Leonardo Bevilacqua et al., “The Role of Family and School-Level Factors in Bullying and Cyberbullying: A Cross-Sectional Study,” BMC Pediatrics 17 [2017]: 160, Web.)