Press Releases

Bullying: Study Offers Ray of Hope

May 8, 2009

SEATTLE—In the midst of gloomy reports about bullying-related suicides, lawsuits, school attendance problems, and fear is a ray of hope from a research study that reaffirms that careful implementation of a comprehensive bullying prevention program can decrease bullying and young bystanders’ support of it.

The study, “Observed Reductions in School Bullying, Nonbullying Aggression, and Destructive Bystander Behavior: A Longitudinal Evaluation,” published in the May 2009 issue of the Journal of Educational Psychology, found a 31 percent decrease in bullying and victimization in schools that participated in the Steps to Respect program for two years. It also found dramatic decreases in destructive bystander behavior, which can encourage bullying. “The changes observed in destructive bystander behavior were so substantial that the behavior almost disappeared,” the researchers wrote.

The study followed up an earlier study, “Walking the Talk in Bullying Prevention: Teacher Implementation Variables Related to Initial Impact of the Steps to Respect Program,” which detailed findings based on a year of observing students and teachers who used the Steps to Respect program. Findings showed that teachers who taught all the lessons had more socially competent students at the end of the year.

Findings also showed that teachers who “walked the talk” by diligently supporting positive behavior and coaching kids involved in bullying had greater success with the program. In fact, their students showed significantly less aggression, victimization, and encouragement of bullying on the playground than students who received less support. An article about this study was published in the School Psychology Review and selected as “Article of the Year” by the National Association of School Psychologists in 2007.

For the new study, Karin S. Frey, Ph.D., Jennie Snell, Ph.D., and Miriam K. Hirschstein, Ph. D., of the University of Washington and Leihua V. Edstrom, Ph.D., of the Bellevue School District observed 360 students and surveyed 624 students in six Puget Sound area schools. Compared with students in the control group of schools that did not participate in the Steps to Respect program, the researchers found that students in schools that had participated in the program for two years experienced:

•    A 31 percent decline in bullying
•    A 70 percent reduction of destructive bystander behavior
•    A 36 percent decline in nonbullying aggressive behavior

The findings also pointed to the importance of the adult-child partnership that the Steps to Respect program aims to create in schools. “Adults need students to disclose bullying, and children need adults to monitor behavior and provide protection,” the authors said.

“In talking to early adolescents, I’ve been impressed by how much they respect educators who show the kind of sustained ethical leadership we saw in these schools,” Frey said. “Adolescents are hungry for guidance from caring, socially responsible adults. Educators who create inclusive, welcoming school climates are rewarded with less distracted, more academically engaged students,” she added.

About the Steps to Respect program: This bullying prevention program targets students in the upper-elementary school years and includes components to involve the entire school community. It was created in 2000 by Committee for Children, a Seattle nonprofit, which also developed the Second Step program and two other programs for children in preschool through eighth grade. These evidence-based prevention programs reach nine million children in 21 countries and 25,000 schools.