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