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Bruno: Bullying Is Bad, But Do We Know How To Stop It?

2500644518_da89dba048_nThat bullying is bad is mostly uncontroversial, but precisely how bad - and for whom - has always been a bit difficult to say.

After all, lots of aspects of childhood and adolescence are physically and emotionally stressful, so the marginal impact of bullying may  not always amount to much in practice. And suffering from bullying could conceivably be the sort of thing kids "grow out of" and move on from with no lasting damage.

Researchers, however, are increasingly investigating and quantifying the mental and physical toll that bullying takes on children, and a new study looking at long-term impacts into adulthood is particularly grim.

The authors found that even after accounting for pre-existing hardships, the victims of bullying had worse health outcomes, weaker social relationships, and lower wages as young adults. This was especially true for individuals who were bullied more frequently and for victims who responded by becoming bullies themselves.

As the authors put it, "Being bullied is not a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up but throws a long shadow over affected children’s lives."

Educators, then, are wise to strive to prevent bullying on their campuses. But do we know how to do it?

Another recent study suggests that we do not. It's most talked-about finding was the one trumpeted in the press release: that students at schools with anti-bullying programs in place are more likely to be victims of bullying.

The cynical take on this - that the anti-bullying programs are somehow causing the higher rates of bullying - is not obviously wrong. For example, there is evidence that bullies are at least as socially and emotionally competent as their peers, and it may be that those competencies allow them to leverage the information from anti-bullying programs to accomplish "more effective" bullying.

We should be careful, however, in interpreting the finding that anti-bullying programs are correlated with bullying behavior. As is noted in the study itself - though not in the press release - the study design does not allow for causal inferences.

In other words, anti-bullying programs may not be causing the increased rates of bullying at all. It may just be that schools with higher rates of bullying are more likely to implement anti-bullying programs.

At the same time, the fact that we often do not really know much about the efficacy of our anti-bullying efforts is troubling enough, especially given that the costs of bullying are becoming increasingly clear. - PB (@MrPABruno) (image source)

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Recent events and catastrophes taking place in schools lately warrant greater action to be taken to prevent and stop bullying. This is especially true if additional research is done and it shows that the anti-bullying programs lead to an increase in bullying. Research could be done to determine how much of the occurrence of workplace violence issues in the workplace can be linked back to childhood bullying committed by the perpetrator. There may be earlier warning signs we are overlooking just like there may be other long-term consequences of bullying that can be prevented when bullying is properly addressed.

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