“Anti-bullying programs have been implemented since the early 1980s and it has become increasingly more effective over the past few decades, however more research needs to be done to evaluate its level of effectiveness per grade level” (Ttofi et al., 2011, pg. 28) Interestingly, evidence has shown that anti-bullying programs have been successful in decreasing incidences of bullying among elementary aged students in comparison to middle and high school students. Theories argue that this could be a consequence of how bullying is exhibited differently in each age group, with younger students bullying consists of physical attacks and among adolescents bullying is more social among peers. (Yeager et al., 2015, pg. 3) The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was the first anti-bullying program that was implemented on a whole school scale and evaluated for its efficacy in improving the bullying climate in schools. (Limber, 2004) This program became the foundation for future anti-bullying programs because of its positive results in the school system, however the actual benefits of this program are still being researched. (Limber, 2004) Even though the number of anti-bullying programs are increasing, there still remains some difficulty in determining exactly how effective these programs are since there are only a few that obtain an in-depth evaluation on their level of effectiveness. (Ryan, 2009)
The purpose of this study is to assess how effective anti-bullying programs are in Barber Middle School from the Cobb County School District and how well these programs decrease instances of bullying. Data will be collected to address the following questions: (1) Do teachers with 3 or more years of experience have a different perception of how often bullying occurs in the school? (2) Are teachers aware of the resources that are available for anti-bullying programs on the county district website? (3) Based on the resources available, do teachers find them to be beneficial towards preventing bullying in their school? A questionnaire will be used to gather information on teachers’ awareness of the bullying prevention resources that are available on the district website and if these resources have been utilized.
Bullying has been the topic of discussion for several years, especially when it pertains to students in school who unfortunately experience bullying first hand on a regular basis. “Bullying is a form of aggression involving the abuse of power in relationships.” (Alsaker, 2014, pg. 1) “It is recognised globally as a complex and serious problem. It can be seen as the abuse of power through unjustified and repeated acts of aggressive behaviour intended to inflict harm” (Roberts, 2014, pg.1) Bullying is not always easy to identify as it can be exhibited in different ways such as covert (also known as hidden bullying) or overt bullying, which in contrast is more visibly recognizable. (Roberts, 2014) Gossiping and spreading hurtful rumors about another student, cyber-bullying or deliberately excluding a student out of activities are all forms of hidden bullying. Excluding peers from participating in social activities has been considered one of the worst forms of bullying. (Roberts, 2014)
Behaviors including activities that can be directly observed such as physical aggression or verbal harassment, are considered forms of overt bullying. Even though overt bullying is easier to see and identify, it still occurs quite often without notice from adults and administrators. (Hinduja et al. 2015) With covert bullying also going unnoticed more often than overt bullying from the perspective of adults, children and adolescents suffer in silence most of the time. Unfortunately, students fear approaching their parents and teachers for help about the bullying as the information may come back to the bully and consequently worsen the victims’ situation. (Roberts, 2014) Another contributing factor to the high incidences of bullying are the behaviors of bystanders and whether or not they take action to intervene. Because having audience encourages bullies to continue their actions, bystanders serve as motivation for the bully to continue harassing the victim. (Padgett, 2013) It is important to understand that bystanders are the most crucial group of bullying influencers, since children and adolescents are so heavily influenced by their peers. If a student stands by and watches bullying, then they are inadvertently contributing to the problem. (Padgett, 2013) “Bystanders also behave or react in certain ways depending on their bystander status which can fall into four different categories: outsiders who did not experience bullying among their peers, defenders who were likely to help the victims in bullying episodes, guilty bystanders who did nothing to help bullied peers but felt guilty about it, or unconcerned bystanders who witnessed peers being bullied without feeling responsible.” (Padgett, 2013, pg. 35) Unfortunately, the majority of bystanders are not considered defenders even though there exists a large portion of students who want to intervene but fail to do so when the opportunity presents itself. (Padgett, 2013)
Unfortunately, with the rapid advancement and availability of technology, bullying is quickly taking a new form. “Cyber aggression involves bullying others using technology as the weapon.” (Aluedse, 2006, pg. 39). Sending hurtful or threatening text messages through cellular phones or via the internet on social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter are all examples of cyber aggression, also referred to as cyber-bullying. (Aluedse, 2006). With students now having access to social media websites on their mobile devices, it creates a more immediate and isolating experience when they are continuously faced with intense harassment. Sadly, many users online create anonymous and fake profiles to prevent their identity from ever being discovered. Cyber-bullying victimization is associated with a host of negative problems similar to those of traditional bullying. Victims of cyber-bullying have lower self-esteem, higher levels of depression, and experience significant life challenges. (Tokunaga, 2010, pg. 277) Tragically, there are many cases of students being bullied both in school and virtually, which then tremendously increases the number of students who feel trapped in the world of bullying no matter where they go.
Research is being conducted to determine whether traditional school bullying lead to more or less psychological distress in comparison to cyber-bullying. According to one particular research study, bullying victimization was consistently associated with an increased likelihood of psychological distress across all measures from depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation to reports of self-injury and suicide attempts. Furthermore, the relationship between victimization and distress was strongest among students who were victims of both cyber and school victimization, followed by victims of cyber-bullying only and then victims of school bullying only (Schneider, 2012). It is evident that when a child is faced with bullying both at home and in school, this increases the likelihood that they will suffer from psychological distress. Due to the growing instances of bullying in both schools and virtually, it is becoming even more difficult to record how often these harassments are occurring and the severity of them. (Schneider, 2012)
Additional research has shown that cyberbullying may simply be another method by which to bully; for others, it may be a means of retaliating for being bullied at school, although present data suggest that this is not a primary motive. Cyberbullying may also provide a mechanism for saying and doing things to others that one would never say or do in face-to-face interactions. The accessibility and anonymity of cyberbullying allows for the bully to feel even less of an emotional connection to their victims, therefore allowing them to continue bullying online without a sense of guilt. (Kowalski, 2013, pg. 6). A primary reason that instances of cyberbullying continue to increase is due to the lack of awareness this form of bullying has among educators and parents. School counselors play a crucial role in encouraging parents to learn about what their children are doing online and work to better understand the technology they are using. Parents should also monitor the online activities of their children by being involved in these environments. Once parents become more knowledgeable about the various social media websites their children visit, they have an opportunity to at least prepare their child on what actions to take if they are exposed to any inappropriate situations online. (Sabella, 2013, pg. 2708)
Interestingly, research has shown that there are predictive factors for students becoming a victim of bullying. Young children with internalizing problems, such as withdrawal and anxiety-depression, low self-regard and reduced assertiveness, have increased risk of being bullied in childhood. (Arseneault, 2010, pg. 4) The definitive reason why children with these characteristics are more likely to become victims still remains unclear, however it is speculated that these students may not have many (if any) friends to social with and by being more isolated from their peers, they present themselves as a target for the bullies. Along with individual characteristics, research indicates that environmental factors can also increase the likelihood of a child being bullied. Longitudinal studies have identified factors in the home that are associated with increased rates of bullying victimization among children, such as child maltreatment, domestic violence in the home, parental depression and low socioeconomic status. (Arseneault, 2010, pg. 5) Children’s home environment may sometimes have detrimental effects on the child’s overall well-being and as a result, they may manifest and internalize certain negative behaviors and emotions.
Tragically, bullying and cyberbullying can sometimes lead to severe and fatal consequences where the victim or the bully may contemplate or even attempt suicide due to their inability to escape the harassment or peer pressure to continue bullying. As studies have discovered, traditional bullying victims were 1.7 times more likely and traditional bulling offenders were 2.1 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not traditional victims or offenders. Similarly, cyberbullying victims were 1.9 times more likely and cyberbullying offenders were 1.5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those who were not cyberbullying victims or offenders. (Hinduja, 2010, pg. 216) While it has been speculated that adolescents who have suicidal ideations as a result of bullying already have risk factors that would exacerbate their emotional reactions, studies have discovered this not to always be the case. School bullying is a significant risk factor for suicidal ideations and behaviours in adolescents, independently of other suicide risk factors, such as depression, sex, socioeconomic status, and family structure. (Klomek, 2010, pg. 283) Even though, adolescents who experience cyberbullying will have a much greater risk for attempting or completing suicide, cyberbullying cannot be identified as a sole predictor of suicide in adolescents and young adults. However, research has proven that it can increase risk of suicide by amplifying feelings of isolation, instability, and hopelessness for those with preexisting emotional, psychological, or environmental stressors. (Luxton, 2012)
Once data collection begins in February through March 2019, all available teachers from Barber Middle School will be given the bullying survey. This school is located in Cobb County in the city of Acworth with 55% of the student body coming from low-income families. There are roughly 55 teachers and 960 students at Barber Middle School, with the student to teacher ratio being 18:1. White students make up 31% of the student population, Black students are 41% of the population, Hispanic students are 18% of the population and Asian students are 4% of the population. The teachers will be from grades 6th through 8th who teach core academic subjects, including teachers of special education and extracurricular classes. Data from students and parents will not be included in the data collection process.
The questionnaire that will be provided to the teachers was developed based on the research questions proposed for this study. The questions address whether the teachers are aware of the resources for anti-bullying programs on the district’s website in order to implement the strategies recommended to prevent incidences of bullying and the accessibility of these resources. Responses to this questionnaire will provide data on how the teachers perceive the effectiveness of the resources in the school system. The questions are presented in a yes or no format as well as a few open-ended questions to allow the teachers to provide more detailed feedback. The source from which the questions were created from: http://www.cobbk12.org/centraloffice/preventionintervention/bully_prevention_resources.aspx
Once administrative permission from Barber Middle School is granted within the following weeks, approval will be sought through the IRB and the questionnaire will be administered to the teachers at Barber Middle School in February 2019. As the data collection process begins, teachers will each be given a printed copy of the survey in an envelope via their personal mailboxes and no private information will be noted on the envelope or survey aside from the academic grade the teacher is responsible for. Teachers will be encouraged to answer the survey questions as truthfully as possible and will be informed that their identity will remain anonymous. The teachers will be given two weeks to fill out the questionnaire and once completed, the teachers will return the surveys to the office of my supervisor where I will then collect the surveys.
The first research question, “Are teachers aware of the resources that are available for anti-bullying programs on the county district website?” provides insight towards what percentage of the administrative population has knowledge of the resources available, which will then distinguish between teachers who have the opportunity to take advantage of methods to incorporate bullying prevention strategies. The following questions gather information regarding how accessible the resources are to them and if the resources aided in decreasing the occurrence of bullying behaviors. Also, a question about the academic grade taught is included to analyze if there is a correlation between the academic grade and teacher awareness of the resources as well as teacher utilization of the resources.
The sample of teachers for this study will representative of only one middle school, which there are a total of 25 middle schools in the county district. However, as this study is addressing the effectiveness of the anti-bullying policies in Cobb County as a whole, it will provide information of how other teachers and staff may view the county’s resources for anti-bullying programs.
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