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Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research, and Interventions

Richter, Sharon D.O.; Howard, Barbara M.D.

Journal of Developmental & Behavioral Pediatrics: October 2003 - Volume 24 - Issue 5 - p 382-383

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics

Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland

Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research, and Interventions edited by Robert A Geffner, Marti Loring, and Corrina Young. Binghamton, NY, The Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press, 2001, 200 pp, $27.95 (softcover).

Bullying is a worldwide phenomenon that is rapidly gaining attention as a problem facing America's youth. This book highlights the research in this area that has been done in the United States. The book is divided into three sections according to these topics: theoretical perspectives on bullying, clinical research on the dynamics of bullying, and interventions and prevention.

The four articles in the first section present a theoretical framework for bullying. The first article presents bullying from an ecological systems framework and maintains that, to better understand and help eradicate bullying behavior, it must be seen in the larger context. The authors assert that (1) bullying is defined as a collection of behaviors, (2) internalizing disorders contribute to bullying and victimization, (3) families must be active participants in antibullying preventions, (4) interventions must include disrupting peer support for bullying, (5) teachers and supervising adults must alter their reactions towards bullying, and (6) higher levels of administration in the schools must direct policy changes toward an antibullying goal. The second theoretical perspective defines bullying as a tripartite belief model. Research demonstrates that bullies maintain an internal environment that is supportive, encouraging, and justifying of bullying behavior. The implication for treatment based on this model is that intervention must be designed towards challenging the bullies’ beliefs, helping them develop empathy skills, and altering the environment so that their beliefs are not reinforced. The third article presents interviews with middle school students whose views support most of the existing research on bullying and victimization in defining the behaviors in which bullies engage. The last perspective documents the role of bullying and dominance in heterosexual relations and sexual harassment during adolescence. It maintains that sexual harassment of members of the opposite sex may be one form of heterosexual relationship. The first two articles are clearly written reviews of the theory of bullying that present an excellent framework from which to view this problem.

The second section of the book focuses on clinical research about the dynamics of bullying behavior. The first article describes a study using three indices of bully and victim behavior to describe discrepancies between peer- and self-derived behavioral descriptions. Peer nominations, self-report data, and perceived peer perspective data collected on children showed that, whereas victims accurately perceived how their classmates rated them and agreed with their perception, bullies had a lack of acceptance of peer feedback. The next study examined internalizing disorders along the spectrum of bully-victim behavior. Bully victims and bullies were found to be more likely to be depressed than victims and children without status. Bully victims and victims were more likely to experience anxious symptoms than bullies and children with no status. In the third article of this section, the association between bullying behavior and peer dynamics during adolescence was examined. This study found that bullies had friends and were not socially rejected, pointing out that bullying behavior is a way for some children to achieve social status and, in some cases, popularity. In this section of the book, specific measures of bullying behavior are discussed as tools for assessment.

The final section deals with interventions and prevention. The first article uses peer intervention to decrease bullying. Middle school students were questioned, and it was found that, in the early grades, they felt angry towards bullies, whereas, in the later grades, they were indifferent towards bullying and less sympathetic to victims. The next article looks at an actual program implemented in elementary schools to decrease bullying. The Centers for Disease Control's “Expect Respect Elementary School Project” was a 3-year project that provided staff training, classroom education, and parent education to promote an antibullying environment. After 1 year of the intervention, it was found that students were able to identify harassment, knew how school policy could protect them from harassment, and demonstrated a willingness to intervene on behalf of another student being victimized. The final article presents self-efficacy training for the prevention of bullying in schools for teachers. “Bullybusting: A Psychoeducational Program for Helping Bullies and Their Victims” describes how this program increases teachers’ knowledge and use of bullying intervention skills and increases their sense of efficacy in working with students to prevent bullying. What is clear after reading this section is that there is much more research to be done on this topic.

The underlying themes through all the articles are that bullying is a common and serious problem facing children worldwide, with a prevalence of 10% of children experiencing extreme bullying, and up to 75% experiencing some form of bullying. It is clear that many factors contribute to this problem other than just the bully and victim, and more research is needed to understand how to best treat this social phenomenon. This book is composed of well-written articles for the professional in psychology or pediatrics interested in psychological theory about bullying and the latest research done in the United States. There are no critiques of the articles themselves in the book, however. Specific mental health disorders related to bullying and victimization are only noted in one article. The editors note that research done in other parts of the world is excluded from this text. Although much seminal research has been done in Europe on this topic, it is not always able to be extrapolated to bullying in the United States. This is because the existing standardized curriculums in other parts of the world are used as the basis for implementing plans to decrease bullying. With this limitation in mind, this book does an excellent job of presenting theory, clinical research, and intervention sections with perspectives from elementary school and middle school. The different approaches and large age range presented in the articles gives a broad perspective on the problem. For the clinician or researcher interested in bullying, this book will give a greater understanding of the factors involved and inspiration to design interventions to combat this problem.

© 2003 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.