Buffalo’s neighbors to the North produced a study in 2008 about school-age bullying that showed it has roots in a larger sphere than the schools where it typically takes place. Over a period of seven years, 466 girls and 405 boys from age ten to eighteen were surveyed. The categories included asked about relationships and positive behaviors as well as bullying or victimizing others.
Debra Pepler, the lead author of the study, says that bullying is a relationship problem. She was quoted on Science Daily as saying that “”Interventions must focus on the children who bully, with attention to their aggressive behavior problems, social skills, and social problem-solving skills. A focus on the child alone is not sufficient. Bullying is a relationship problem that requires relationship solutions by focusing on the bullying children’s strained relationships with parents and risky relationships with peers.”
Pepler is Distinguished Research Professor of Psychology at York University in Toronto and Senior Associate Scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children, also in Toronto. The study was also authored by researchers at Queens University in Kingston, ON.
The study showed that children who bully others tend to have conflict in relationships with parents and friends and may not be gauging their behavior by an interior “moral compass.”
About 35 percent of the children studied in the years that span adolescence said they did some moderate bullying, and about 41 percent almost never reported doing so. Although almost 10% said they kept bullying through elementary and high school, over 13% said that although they bullied in elementary school, they stopped by the end of high school.
How to stop bullying by kids? One answer lies in a program that also has its roots in Toronto. Called Roots of Empathy, the program was founded by Mary Gordon, who has received praise from not only the World Health Organization but the Dalai Lama for its innovative, international work.
In this program, bullying prevention is approached by having an infant and parent duo visit the same school classroom over a period of time. School children have an opportunity to observe not only how babies grow and react but also a positive relationship between parent and baby. A key component is that the students are encouraged to develop empathy through reflecting on their own thoughts and feelings as they observe.
The program has reached 325,000 children in what has become an internationally-recognized, successful program. Outside evaluations by have shown that students who experience the Roots of Empathy program show lasting changes in their ability to share, help, and include others, as well as decreased aggression.
The York University/Queens University study can be accessed at Child Development, Vol. 79, Issue 2, Developing Trajectories of Bullying and Associated Factors by Pepler, D, Jiang, D (York University), Craig, W (Queens University), and Connolly, J (York University).
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