Spelling an end to schoolyard bullying

Flinders University’s Professor Phillip Slee is joining forces with academics from across the globe in a bid to stop schoolyard bullying.

The Professor in Human Development is one of six researchers involved in a major Australian randomised control study which aims to reduce bullying by working with the perpetrators to address their problem behaviours, including schoolyard violence and cyber bullying.

Funded through a $620,000 National Health and Medical Research Council grant, the four-year project will survey 5,700 secondary school students across South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland to identify students who have high, medium and low bullying profiles.

The researchers will then train school staff, including teachers and counsellors, in “motivational interviewing” – a counselling approach which is based around building a relationship with the bully, supporting and motivating them to change their ways.

Professor Slee said the technique would be evaluated pre and post intervention to determine its effectiveness in reducing school bullying and improving the mental health of children who bully others, considering “bullying is strongly associated with poor mental health outcomes”.

“Motivational interviewing is all about increasing a person’s motivation to change,” Professor Slee, based in the School of Education, said.

“The first stage focuses on building a rapport with the bully which can be extremely difficult – for example, bullies often lack empathy because they think the victim deserves it so getting them to open up to a teacher or counsellor isn’t always easy,” he said.

“The second stage of motivational interviewing involves talking to the bully about their behaviour, if they’re aware of it and why they’re doing it, and the final stage introduces the notion of change.

“This can also pose a huge challenge because if the student isn’t motivated to change, particularly if they think their behaviour is normal or useful, they’ll be less likely to modify their actions.

“They might think that if they stop the behaviour they’ll lose power or the acclaim of their peer group –and bullying is about power and control – so it’s a reasonably complex situation.”

Unlike the majority of studies which focus on supporting the victims of bullying, Professor Slee said the project was one of the first in Australia to support and intervene with students who frequently bully others.

“Traditionally, most research has focused on supporting the victim or helping the victim to address the problem but it’s much harder to work with the kids who actually do the bullying.

“Bullies by nature are often very angry and hostile, they are the kids who are the most difficult to deal with, so researchers have tended to focus on the victims rather than the perpetrators but this is one of the few major studies in Australia to deal with the bullies themselves.

“The overall aim is to provide policymakers and practitioners with a framework for developing evidence-based bullying prevention policies and practice in schools.”

The project is being led by Professor Donna Cross from Edith Cowan University, in collaboration with researchers from South Australia, Queensland, Finland and the US.

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3 thoughts on “Spelling an end to schoolyard bullying

  1. I am thrilled a study/intervention such as yours is being undertaken. My experience is that the victim of bullying is often left feeling like they have done something wrong when all the attention and intervention is placed on them. Current consequences for the bully are often not applied nor change the future behaviour of the bully. Congratulations on tackling an issue that so many schools are afraid to deal with and they have little information on how to support students in a meaningful way.

  2. What a great idea, for the first time, someone is trying to cure the cause and not dealing with the consequences. Trying to fix the problem from the start and not dealing with the problem when it became unbearable.

    Bullying, in my opinion, is a sickness. The symptoms of that sickness appear in the kindergarten’s yard. If it is cured from a young age, the person can become a normal human being. But if untreated, it will develop into a walking monster which will do all kind of unhuman legal acts.

    A bully is a miserable, lonely, unhappy and unwanted soul. He will create misery and damage wherever he lands simply because he can’t give what he doesn’t have.

    By Law, if someone kills a human being he gets life sentence in prison which is reasonable. But the unreasonable is, if someone kills a person’s spirit and self-steam, the victim gets life sentence in misery and depression and the offender walks free. It seems to me that the same law contradict itself and we as normal people have to cope with that too.

    I don’t understand why it is legal in that case only, that the society offer training for the victim to cope with his offender’s action but not legal to put that bad soul in prison and stop it from affecting more people. That will clear the society from those bad batches and it will be reasonable because murderers supposed to be treated the same way. Murderers in my opinion are people who kill the body or the soul of another person.

    Our law is not going to change so hopefully your study will give brighter future for our new generation. Good luck

  3. I found it very interesting that Flinders Uni is involved in the research of school yard bullying. A great thing to be involved in but also somewhat ironic in that I have both witnessed and been the victim of bullying at this very same university.
    Perhaps if it happened in the School of Education instead of another department something positive would have happened to resolve the problem rather than leaving one particular person highly traumatised. Fortunately I got through the issue by accepting the bully as extremely immature and the department and higher office holders incapable of ‘rocking the boat’.
    Maybe it is a case of the school yard bully just moving on to another learning institution – do they ever grow out of this behaviour?
    Let’s hope that Prof. Slee and his colleagues can break the cycle before tertiary students also suffer.

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