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Bullying Prevention: Miguel Villodas on Best Practices

EducationWorld asked a number of authors, college professors and other experts for their take on bullying prevention and whether schools, states and the country are getting it right--or wrong. Below is what Florida International University Professor Miguel T. Villodas shared regarding best practices. See how other experts answered similar questions. Also, don't miss EducationWorld's additional resources that address school-based bullying.

By Miguel T. Villodas, Ph.D.

Dr. Miguel Villodas is an assistant professor in the Center for Children and Families Department of Psychology at Florida International University.

Most states now have some form of anti-bullying law that requires K-12 schools to put in place various policies and practices to prevent and respond to student bullying. Do you think these laws are making a difference? If they aren't currently, could they, or will they?

Recent research has shown that, in general, school-based anti-bullying programs are effective, with estimates of average reductions of 20-23% across international research-based programs (Ttofi & Farrington, 2009). However, there are characteristics of particular programs that have been shown to make programs more impactful.

For example, more intensive programs (i.e., including more intervention components) and programs that include parents, clear and consistent disciplinary methods, and better supervision during unstructured school time (i.e., recess) typically result in greater reductions in bullying.

What are state anti-bullying laws getting right/wrong when it comes to actual evidence-based best practices for preventing and responding to bullying?

The issue may be less about what anti-bullying laws are getting wrong, and more about what they are omitting. Given the research findings that have identified improved impact of programs with specific components, it seems that having some sort of accreditation process for anti-bullying programs, as suggested by Ttofi and Farrington (2009), would ensure that programs are developed based on the most recent empirical support. 

Are there things that K-12 schools have to do to successfully prevent bullying, but that can't be covered or mandated in a law?

State anti-bullying laws are not likely to specify the specific program components that are mandated. However, research shows that the specific components included may determine the impact of the program. As mentioned above, an accreditation process would likely help with this. By establishing clear guidelines that specify the crucial components that should be included in all anti-bullying programs, states could ensure that school anti-bullying programs will meet the minimal criteria necessary to decrease school bullying, while allowing schools the freedom to build their own unique programs by adding additional components. 

Laws aside, what are K-12 schools currently doing right/wrong when it comes to preventing and responding to bullying? What are some common mistakes that schools make?

There are clearly many very high-quality anti-bullying programs that have been developed. However, schools could go wrong by focusing on one specific method and ignoring others, as the research indicates that more intensive, multi-component programs have the greatest impact.

For example, researchers have proposed that mobilizing bystanders, or peers not involved in the conflict as either bullies or victims, could be key to preventing bullying. Indeed, recent research has indicated that bullying intervention programs that target mobilizing bystanders are effective at increasing bystander intervention in conflicts (Poilanin, Espelage & Pigott, 2012).

However, Ttofi and Farrington (2009) found that this focus on bystander intervention alone did not decrease bullying and in fact might have increased bullying across a number of programs. On the other hand, in combination with other components, programs that target bystander intervention may work quite well. Nevertheless, it could be a mistake to focus on only a single program component rather than the combination of evidence-based strategies. 

Cited References

Polanin, J. R., Espelage, D. L., & Pigott, T. D. (2012). A meta-analysis of school-based bulling prevention programs' effects on bystander intervention behavior. School Psychology Review,  41(1), 47-65. 

Ttofi, M. M., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). What works in preventing bullying: Effective elements of anti-bullying programmes. Journal of Aggression, 1, 13–24.


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