Bullying is a major problem in schools across the UK. The purpose of the anti-bullying week, happening from 14th to 18th November 2022, is to bring attention to this issue and discuss the ways by which we raise awareness and help victims of bullying.
The Anti-Bullying Alliance, a coalition of various institutions and individuals hosted by the National Children’s Bureau, has organised various events and activities happening this week. These activities focus on initiating meaningful conversations about bullying, finding concrete means to address this issue, and providing useful tools to help support children and adolescents. For example, the Odd Socks day, which is on Monday 14th November 2022, invites everyone to wear odd socks to celebrate the fact that everyone is unique. The hope is that this small gesture brings attention to the importance of inclusion and acceptance of individual differences.
What is bullying exactly? Many people often confuse bullying with other forms of interpersonal violence, such as victimisation or domestic violence. Therefore, providing a correct definition of bullying is important to identify how and when it happens. Bullying typically occurs between peers (which excludes siblings or romantic relationships). It can happen in person or online (cyberbullying) and can take many forms, including physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual. Bullying is mainly composed of three characteristics (Olweus, 1993). First, it must happen repeatedly over time between the same individuals, meaning that victims of bullying are consistently targeted by the same people (it can be a single individual or a group). Secondly, bullying involves an imbalance of power between bullies and victims. For example, the perpetrators may have a higher social status among their peers or may be physically stronger than their victim. Finally, bullying results from the negative intention to hurt the other person. As a result, victims of bullying often end up feeling down, humiliated, and alone. Whenever violent interactions between children or adolescents meet these three conditions, we can consider that it is bullying.
Why is bullying so concerning? Because research shows that it affects many young individuals and that it can have detrimental consequences on their health. Although prevalence estimates tend to vary across studies, between 10% to 30% of young people may be victims of bullying at school (Chester et al., 2015; Singham et al., 2017; National Center for Education Statistics, 2016). Estimates regarding cyberbullying also tend to fall within this range (Hamm et al., 2015). This means that up to one in three young individuals are affected by some form of bullying, either in person or online. These numbers are especially worrying when considering that bullying is associated with serious mental and physical health problems that often persist over time (Takizawa et al., 2014, 2015). Although this blog focuses to a larger extent on in-person bullying, you can learn more about research on cyberbullying by having a look at this blog in which bullying expert Louise Arseneault shared her thoughts about the subject. You can also check this blog by Alicia Peel about the benefits and drawbacks of online anonymity and its connections with cyberbullying .
Finally, what can we do about it? The good news is that bullying is modifiable so we can put interventions in place to address this problem. Many studies have tested this question empirically. For example, a recent meta-analysis of randomised control trials (which are often considered the gold standard in experimental research) suggests that implementing interventions reduces bullying perpetration and exposure, as well as the negative mental health outcomes often experienced by victims of bullying, like anxiety and depression (Fraguas et al., 2020). This meta-analysis shows that the positive impact of anti-bullying interventions is likely to last over time, with studies showing significant reductions in bullying lasting up to 30 weeks after the intervention ended. Lastly, one interesting finding from this meta-analysis is that anti-bullying interventions involving 140 people have the potential to prevent 1 person from being bullied (if the average rate of bullying is 15%). For cyberbullying interventions this estimate was 167 people. Although these effect sizes may be considered small, they are still encouraging because they mean that universal anti-bullying interventions, offered to entire schools, athletic and cultural groups involving young people have the potential to limit the number of young people exposed to bullying.
This year, the theme for the anti-bullying week is Reach Out. It encourages children, adolescents, parents, friends, teachers, and everyone noticing or experiencing bullying to talk about it with someone they trust. Last year, 80% of primary and secondary schools in England and Wales participated in the anti-bullying week, reaching out to over 7.5 million children and adolescents. Let’s hope that, again, it reaches as many people as possible this year. If you’re interested in learning more about the anti-bullying week and the events taking place this week, you can visit this website.