Study identifies strategies for dealing with bullying

A new study shows the percentage of young people reporting physical bullying has dropped, from 22 percent to 15 percent. Another study shows effective strategies to counter bullying.

Larry Magid
Larry Magid is a technology journalist and an Internet safety advocate. He's been writing and speaking about Internet safety since he wrote Internet safety guide "Child Safety on the Information Highway" in 1994. He is co-director of ConnectSafely.org, founder of SafeKids.com and SafeTeens.com, and a board member of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. Larry's technology analysis and commentary can be heard on CBS News and CBS affiliates, and read on CBSNews.com. He also writes a personal-tech column for the San Jose Mercury News. You can e-mail Larry.
Larry Magid
4 min read

Two studies released this week shed some light on the issue of bullying and, by implication, cyberbullying. One found that bullying is actually on the decline while the other determined that talking with an adult or a friend was most likely to "make things better."

Both of these studies were about physical bullying, but there is a very strong link between bullying in the "real world" and cyberbullying. Though there are cases of teens using the Internet or cell phones to harass or bully people they've never met, most cyberbullying cases involve kids who know each from the real world, typically from school. In a 2008 study of middle schoolers conducted by Sameer Hinduja and Justin Patchin, 82 percent said that the person who bullied them is either from their school (26.5 percent), a friend (21.1 percent), an ex-friend (20 percent) or an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend (14.1 percent).

Other studies have shown a strong correlation between cyberbullying and physical bullying which is why two just-released studies on physical bullying are relevant to online bullying as well.

David Finkelhor led study on childhood abuse and violence. Crimes Against Children Research Center

Bullying on the decline
In a study (PDF) released Thursday in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, authors David Finkelhor, Heather Turner, Richard Ormrod, and Sherry Hamby found that the percentage of youth (2-17) reporting physical bullying in the past year went down from 22 percent to 15 percent between 2003 and 2008. The study also found that the percentage reporting a sexual assault decreased from 3.3 percent to 2 percent. Finkelhor, who lead the study, pointed out that declines in bullying and sexual assault, were problems that have been aggressively targeted by school programs and other prevention efforts in recent years. "This suggests that some of the decline may be the fruits of those programs," he said.

Although the study didn't address the issue of cyberbullying education, Internet-related bullying has been a major focus of discussion over the past few years which causes me to speculate that the educational efforts around cyberbullying may have played a role in the decline of overall bullying.

Evaluating strategies to deal with bullies
Another study (PDF), conducted by Stan Davis and Charisse Nixon of the Youth Voice Project, interviewed nearly 12,000 kids in fifth through 12th grades at 25 schools in 12 states to find out the effectiveness of different student strategies in trying to counteract or stop bullying. The study also looked at levels of trauma by a variety of factors including race and ethnicity, and gender as well as the focus on mean comments and other bullying behavior.

"Our study asked large numbers of students around the United States which actions they used and which actions made things better or worse," said study co-author Stan Davis in an e-mail interview. "We asked them which actions by adults at school made things better or worse for them."

Looks and body shape are major focuses for bullies. Youth Voice Research Project

When asked about the "focus" of the bullying, "looks" were a factor in 55 percent of the reported incidences. "Body shape" was a factor in 37 percent of the cases followed by race (16 percent), sexual orientation (14 percent), family income (13 percent), religion (12 percent), and disability (8 percent).

Talking helps
The authors looked at which student strategies "made things better" and found that talking to an adult at home or at school were each effective 34 percent of the time. "Made a joke about it" worked 33 percent of the time and telling a friend was effective in 32 percent of the cases.

But those same strategies sometimes had negative effects. Telling an adult at home made things worse 18 percent of the time compared to 29 percent for telling an adult at school, 27 percent for "made a joke" but only 18 percent for telling a friend. Students who "hit them or fought back" had positive results 31 percent of the time but things got worse in 49 percent of cases. Telling the person to stop made things better in 14 percent of the cases but made things worse 41 percent of the time. "Pretended it didn't bother me was effective only 12 percent of the time and made things worse 33 percent of the time. Likewise "did nothing" was only effective in 14 percent of cases and made things worse in 40 percent of cases.

The researchers also rated student perception of response of educators and found that "listened to me" was the most effective followed by "gave me advice" and "checked in with me afterwards to see if the behavior stopped." The least effective strategies for educators were "told me to stop tattling" and "ignored what was going on." Telling students to act differently was also ineffective as was "told me to solve the problem myself."

Peers can help
The study also looked at the effect of action by peers. In terms of making things better, the most effective peer strategies were "spent time with me" (54 percent), "talked to me" (51 percent), "helped me get away," (49 percent) and "called me" (47 percent). The least effective peer responses were "blamed me," "ignored it," and "made fun of me."

Bullying.org has resources for preventing and dealing with bullying. ConnectSafely.org, a nonprofit Internet safety organization I help run, has Tips to Help Stop Cyberbulling.