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Bullying and cyberbullying: what works?

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The National Day of Action Against Bullying and Violence on March 16 is both a good and bad thing, good in the sense that we continue to look at the issue, bad in that we still have to.

Prof Marilyn Campbell who is an expert in the area says that the issue of bullying is complex and therefore resists any quick fixes. She works at the School of Early Childhood and Inclusive Education at the Queensland University of Technoloy (QUT). She is a leading authority on bullying and cyberbullying, and a member of the Australian Universites Anti-bullying Research Alliance (AUARA).

In her view, knee-jerk reactions to bullying are counter-productive.

“Bullying is a complex social relationship problem which is deeply embedded in our society. It is a community issue with no single, simple, quick-fix solution: if there was we would have found it by now”, she said.

“While it is laudable that the Prime Minister is contributing to the National Day of Action on March 16th, highlighting the issue, the best way to address bullying in schools must take a longer term, multi-tiered approach.

“Programs which work in primary schools are much less effective in secondary schools, whose students need a different approach. In our research on individually counselling students who persistently bully, using motivational interviewing, it took about three months of weekly sessions to effect a change.

“One school in Adelaide has reduced its bullying victimisation from about 18% per annum to 3%, using the P.E.A.C.E program: but it took five years, demonstrating the consistent, concerted effort required.

She emphasises the importance of building on existing programs: “Any approach takes time and effort and should have a strengths-based focus, making use of the invaluable, nationally available resources which are evidence-informed: the Student Wellbeing Hub with its professional module ‘Resilient & Inclusive Classrooms’ and the internationally unique National Safe Schools Framework, providing an overarching anti-bullying wellbeing policy framework for all schools.” 

Dr Lesley-anne Ey is a Lecturer in Child Development, Child Protection and Educational Psychology at the University of South Australia. She has completed research on bullying among young children, and multiple child protection issues.

She says that while there is a shortage of research on bullying among very young children, it has found that “bullying begins in early childhood, and is present in early childhood educational settings,” making early intervention important.

“International and Australian research has found that children under the age of eight years commonly confuse bullying behaviour with developmentally normal conflict and aggression, suggesting a need for education about bullying with this age group,” she said.

“Currently there is a lack of anti-bullying educational resources and programs for young children, with formal education being absent in the Australian curriculum in the junior primary and preschool years.

“Early intervention and education can prevent pre-bullying and bullying behaviour from occurring and such approaches should begin in early childhood. Four metropolitan and rural South Australian schools worked with researchers at the University of South Australia to co-create a 10 lesson anti-bullying program for junior primary children specific to their context.

“The educators said that the program was well received by children and the data showed that this intervention increased children’s explanations of bullying, but more needs to be done to provide children with a greater understanding of bullying overall.”


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