Scientists find ‘potential breakthrough’ to stop bullying in schools

Scientists find ‘potential breakthrough’ to stop bullying in schools

A new way of tackling bullying trialed among students in South Korea could be a potential game-changer in creating an “anti-bullying climate” in schools, scientists say.

Bullying, or peer victimisation, is a worldwide crisis across schools that can devastate victims, likely leading to depression, anxiety, and self-harm.

Researchers have attempted to tackle bullying previously by focusing on ways to change individual students’ behavior.

However, educational psychologists, including those from Korea University, say such past interventions have been “largely unsuccessful”.

The latest study, published recently in the journal American Psychology, trialed a new way of tackling bullying that lays focus on teachers creating an “anti-bullying climate” in classrooms.

Psychologists equipped teachers with professional development experience to establish a highly supportive classroom climate.

They attempted to enable with this method the emergence of pro-victim student bystanders during bullying episodes in classrooms.

In the new study, scientists attempted to create a social environment that encourages more students to defend victims.

Researchers looked at a group of 24 experienced, full-time physical education teachers in Seoul, including 15 men and nine women teachers who taught adolescent students.

The study assessed two classes taught by each teacher, totaling to 1,178 students across 48 classes.

Over a semester spanning 18 weeks, the teachers were sorted into two groups – one that had no intervention, and another taught the new approach to prevent bullying called “autonomy-supportive teaching.”

In this new approach, teachers cultivated a classroom environment for students emphasising caring, egalitarian values, minimising hierarchy, conflict, and competition.

The students reported their perceived teacher autonomy support, classmates’ autonomy support, adoption of the defender role, and the bullying they experienced at the beginning, middle, and end of an 18-week semester.

Researchers found that the new method led to the emergence of pro-victim peer bystanders and “sharply reduced victimisation”.

“Unlike largely unsuccessful past interventions that focused mainly on individual students, our randomized control trial intervention substantially reduced bullying and victimization,” scientists wrote in the study.

They say focusing on individual students is likely to be ineffective, without first changing the social climate in classrooms that reinforces bullying.

“In the classrooms of these teachers, bystanders supported the victims because the classroom climate supported the bystanders,” researchers added.