Bullying can be reduced

January 8, 2024

A systematic review by the Children’s Health Policy Centre found five interventions that reduced at least one form of bullying, albeit with only modest effects for some interventions. Four of these programs were delivered in classrooms and showed success from the early years to adolescence: Youth Matters (elementary schools); Roots of Empathy (elementary and middle schools); Bullies and Dolls (secondary but not middle schools); and Media Heroes (middle and secondary schools). One clinical intervention Integrative Family Therapy — was also effective at reducing bullying by teenage boys.

These findings suggest several implications for practice and policy.

  • Reach children across a range of ages. The effective antibullying interventions we identified can be delivered in elementary, middle and secondary schools. So, programs can start early and be offered across a range of ages, which means they will reach more children to prevent the harms that come with bullying.
  • Invest in reducing all forms of bullying. Most of the programs we reviewed aimed to reduce face-to-face bullying. But one program — the 10-session version of Media Heroes — effectively reduced cyberbullying. Efforts to reduce cyberbullying could be modelled on this successful program and evaluated for effectiveness in BC.
  • Ensure adequate program duration. Two unsuccessful programs stood out for being particularly brief. Both Incremental Theory of Personality Intervention and the four-session version of Media Heroes were delivered over one day. In contrast, the five successful programs ranged in length from three weeks to two school years. So, interventions should mirror these longer durations.
  • Watch for unintended consequences. Bullies and Dolls led to very different outcomes based on the grades students were in. While the program reduced victimization for students in Grades 8 and 9, it increased both victimization and perpetration for students in Grades 6 and 7. So this program caused harm for younger students and should not be used with them. As well, these findings illustrate the importance of always monitoring outcomes to ensure that program benefits outweigh harms. Evaluating programs in BC is particularly important when programs have been developed and tested elsewhere, and when there are no replication randomized controlled trials.
  • Recognize that some children and families can benefit from the help of a mental health practitioner. Schools are excellent venues for reaching large numbers of children with antibullying programs. But some young people may need the support of a practitioner to address bullying and other aggressive behaviours. The clinic-based Integrative Family Therapy may be a helpful option for teenage boys who bully others.

Adults play crucial roles in creating and sustaining the environments that help children flourish and keep them safe. These roles include striving to ensure that homes, schools and communities are free of bullying in all its forms, for all children. For more information, see Vol. 15, No. 4 of the Children’s Mental Health Research Quarterly.