Why are U.S. schools failing to reduce bullying?

"Band-Aid solutions, such as holding one assembly a year that discourages bullying, do not work," said Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology at UCLA.

By Alex Cukan
Why are U.S. schools failing to reduce bullying?
An analysis on school bullying found that K-12 schools' efforts to curtail bullying are often disappointing. President Barack Obama visits a classroom of 4 and 5 year old children at Powell Elementary School in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday, March 4, 2014. UPI/Ron Sachs/Pool | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, April 1 (UPI) -- Schools that conduct limited programs to reduce bullying have had limited success, while more comprehensive programs have had some success but require enormous commitment and school resources. Overall, a new study suggests that efforts to reduce bullying in K-12 schools are not making the grade.

Lead author Jaana Juvonen, a professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, and study co-author Sandra Graham, a UCLA professor of education, thoroughly analyzed more than 140 studies conducted in six countries: the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Finland, Norway, and Sweden.


"Band-Aid solutions, such as holding one assembly a year that discourages bullying, do not work," Juvonen said in a statement. "We are trying to figure out the right balance between comprehensive programs that are costly and require a lot of staff training versus programs that require fewer school resources."

Published in the journal Annual Review of Psychology, the study successfully debunked several common bullying myths. One such misconception involved verbal aggression and exclusion -- bullying tactics more widely attributed to girls than boys. However, the study revealed these tactics are not gender specific.


The study confirmed, however, that frequent targets of bullying remain students who are gay and lesbian, as well as students who are overweight.

"Starting in elementary school, kids with characteristics that make them stand out -- are overweight -- are much more likely to get bullied," Juvonen said. "They are prime targets for bullies because they are more likely to be friendless, and when they have nobody to defend them, the bullying often escalates." Even just one friend could result in less bullying or less severe bullying.

Part of the reason K-12 schools are not able to combat bullying effectively is that anti-bullying programs are judged based upon how substantially they reducing bullying on school campuses. Instead, Juvonen suggested it might better for schools to focus more on the different kinds of bullying.

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"It is important to distinguish between victims of prolonged bullying and those getting called names once or twice," Juvonen said. "Students who experience continual bullying are at risk for much more severe symptoms."


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