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Addressing Bullying in Schools: Theory and Practice

NCJ Number
Ken Rigby
Date Published
June 2003
6 pages
This paper examines the strengths and weaknesses of five different explanations of school bullying and discusses their impacts on school policies and practices.
Worldwide, school communities are taking action to combat bullying; during the 1990’s Australia joined their ranks. Different school districts have taken different approaches to combating bullying, but few empirical studies have been able to adequately assess the effectiveness of these different approaches. Evaluations of the effectiveness of school-based anti-bullying programs have suffered methodologically due to sampling problems and have produced mixed results. Since the road map of best practices in anti-bullying approaches is fuzzy at best, it is useful to analyze the five leading explanations of bullying and how they each speak to school policies and practices. First, developmental theory asserts that bullying is an outcome of child development. This explanation argues that as children mature they struggle to assert their social dominance; bullying is thus a form of that struggle for dominance. This type of explanation engenders school policies that employ a problem-solving approach to anti-bullying programs. The second explanation attributes bullying to individual differences. Children who bully tend to experience low levels of empathy and high levels of psychoticism, while victims of bullying tend to have low self-esteem and be psychologically introverted. School programs that embrace this approach engage in anger management programs and assertiveness programs. Third, bullying is explained as a sociocultural phenomenon in which bullying is an outcome of segregation into specified social groups with different levels of power. School policies that embrace this view engage in curriculum and programs that reduce discrimination and prejudice. Fourth, bullying is described as a response to group and peer pressures. Bullying is explained within the social context of the school environment and its various social groupings. Anti-bullying programs that embrace this perspective tend to employ programs that work on the development of empathy. Finally, bullying can be explained from a restorative justice perspective. This is similar to the individual differences perspective in that it shows how the individual characteristics of the aggressor and the victim contribute to the bullying problem. Restorative justice responses can be put in place by the school to reduce bullying behavior. These different explanations of bullying have different implications for school policy; each school should consider which works best in their environment. References