The Roles of School Climate and Peers in Bullying

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Sutherland, Alexandra
Bullying , Victimization , School climate , Program evaluation
Bullying is a serious and common problem in Canadian schools. Despite three decades of comprehensive research on this complex behavioural problem, much remains to be understood. The general purpose of the current studies was to comprehensively examine bullying from an ecological perspective and the roles that school climate and peer processes play in the development of this behaviour, in order to elucidate mechanisms for intervention. The first study was a multilevel analysis of the relative importance of individual and school characteristics in bullying in Canadian schools. In a second study, we examined the experiences of peers who witnessed bullying incidents in order to investigate whether there were factors that predicted a decrease in witness behaviour. Finally, we conducted an evaluation of a peer-mediated bullying prevention program using a pre/post controlled study design. We assessed the impact of this program on behaviour, socioemotional skills, and school climate. Overall, our findings were consistent with the view that bullying is a problem of destructive relationships that needs to be addressed from this perspective. We found that relationships among peers and adults at school contributed to the overall climate of a school, and an overall climate of peer connectedness was associated with less bullying. Provictim attitudes and emotional supportiveness predicted change in bystander behaviour, although the nature of these changes differed for boys and girls. Finally, we did not find evidence of an effect of the prevention program on bullying behaviour or school climate, and we discuss the lack of findings with regard to program implementation and future program evaluations. This research has implications for understanding the influence of peers and peer group processes on the development of bullying. It is our hope that these studies will contribute important information to the bullying literature to expand our knowledge of the ways in which school climate and peers affect and are affected by bullying and victimization. In turn, this information may help to inform intervention efforts and encourage future program evaluation research and research examining the mechanisms by which we might mobilize peers to behave in ways that could help to stop bullying and victimization.
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