Perceptions of middle school youth about school bullying

Research Project: BullyDown

Ybarra ML, Espelage DL, Valido A, Hong JS, Prescott TL. Perceptions of middle school youth about school bullying. J Adolesc. 2019 Aug;75:175-187. doi: 10.1016/j.adolescence.2018.10.008. Epub 2018 Nov 7.


Introduction: Bullying prevention remains a major focus for schools yet prevention programs have yielded limited efficacy. This suggests that efforts to make the programs more salient for youth may result in greater reductions in bullying behavior.

Methods: To inform the development of a text messaging-based bullying prevention program for middle school youth, we conducted two online, asynchronous focus groups with 37 youth in grades 6-8. Youth were recruited across the United States using an online panel. Topics and questions were posted twice-daily across three days; youth responded when convenient.

Results: Findings suggested: (a) When asked, many youth provided definitions of bullying that were simliar to the CDC’s definition (e.g., differential power). At times, these did not align with their school’s definition, however. (b) Youth said those who were ‘different’, quiet, or unpopular were more likely to be targeted by bullies; (c) Central tenants of bullying prevention programs (e.g., help-seeking, bystander interventions) did not always resonate with youth (e.g., becuase they could be hurt by the bully) although youth did share a range of strategies to manage anger; and (d) Many youth reported that bullying prevention efforts at their school were limited to posters and assemblies.

Conclusions: Asking students about their perspectives of the main tenants of bully prevention programs provides opportunities to craft prevention program content that better speaks to the experiences and concerns that youth have when trying to navigate these difficult situations. Focus groups are also useful in identifying the ways in which youth talk about bullying and other types of peer aggression to guide the ‘voice’ of the program.

PubMed ID: 30413279

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