Are web-enabled anti-bullying interventions effective among primary and secondary school students?

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In a recent study published in the journal EClinicalMedicine, a team of researchers from Spain conducted a randomized controlled trial in clusters of primary and secondary schools to evaluate the effectiveness of a web-enabled, multi-component intervention in schools to prevent bullying and improve the school’s social environment.

Study: A web-enabled, school-based intervention for bullying prevention (LINKlusive): a cluster randomised trial. Image Credit: Lopolo/Shutterstock.comStudy: A web-enabled, school-based intervention for bullying prevention (LINKlusive): a cluster randomised trial. Image Credit: Lopolo/Shutterstock.com

Background

Bullying is rapidly becoming a significant public health concern because of its impact on mental health, societal consequences, and negative effects on lifetime health.

It involves repetitive and deliberate aggression involving physical or emotional harm inflicted by one or more perpetrators on one of their peers in situations where there is a power imbalance, either on a physical or social scale.

Bullying has been observed across cultures and countries and is a global problem, largely in schools.

Statistics indicate that one-third of the global population has experienced bullying once in their lifetime, and these numbers are higher in certain populations that are considered especially vulnerable, such as minorities and individuals with disabilities or special educational needs.

School-based programs to educate against and prevent bullying have been considered effective since schools provide the optimal environment and opportunity to build social and emotional skills and develop relationships with peers.

About the study

In the present study, the researchers evaluated the effectiveness of a web-enabled, multi-component, anti-bullying intervention called LINKlusive that combined the training, assessment, and guidance components of the intervention in a web-enabled package.

The tool also contains sociometric evaluations that can guide interventions with a targeted approach and content on respecting diversity.

Through a meta-analysis, the researchers found that anti-bullying interventions have proven to be cost-effective, with the effects of such interventions being sustained for 144 weeks. These interventions have also proven effective among students as young as those in primary and secondary grades.

However, bullying is a complex phenomenon, the management of which would require a systematic and thorough approach involving the active participation of not only the students but also the parents and teachers.

Furthermore, despite the overall cost-effectiveness of in-person anti-bullying interventions, the short-term financial and sustained temporal demands of such interventions limit the application of these interventions in various contexts.

Web-based interventions provide an alternative to applying these interventions in wider contexts, with studies indicating comparable effectiveness to in-person anti-bullying interventions.

For this school-based cluster randomized controlled trial, the researchers hypothesized that a 12-week LINKlusive intervention would significantly reduce bullying.

The primary measured outcome was a reduction in peer-reported bullying, while the secondary objectives of the study were to evaluate how effective the intervention was on other measures of bullying, such as mental health outcomes, including depressive symptoms, psychopathology, self-esteem, and overall quality of life.

Additionally, the researchers also examined the impact of these interventions at baseline on special educational needs students and other victims of bullying across subgroups based on primary or secondary academic stage and sex. The study also examined whether the effects of the intervention were sustained over one year.

Results

The results suggested that school-based anti-bullying interventions that are web-enabled, such as LINKlusive, could potentially reduce bullying among students in primary schools but not among secondary schools, especially those enrolling students with special educational needs.

Among primary school students, the impact of the web-enabled intervention was comparable to those previously reported for other anti-bullying programs implemented in schools.

The intervention was also found to be effective in reducing the incidence of depressive symptoms and improving the overall quality of life in students with baseline exposure to bullying.

The researchers believe that the intervention was effective only among the younger children and not among the secondary school students because interventions such as LINKlusive are based on classroom social structure.

Therefore, such interventions are possibly effective only among age groups for whom the classroom is the fundamental setting for a peer group, unlike adolescents, where peer groups are often formed outside the school.

However, the results supported the utility and ease of application of a web-enabled, cost-effective anti-bullying intervention that could be widely applied to children in primary schools for targeted education against and prevention of bullying.

Conclusions

To summarize, the study examined the efficacy of web-enabled anti-bullying interventions in primary and secondary school settings.

The findings suggested that due to the importance of the classroom structure in peer groups among primary students, interventions such as LINKlusive could effectively prevent bullying. However, such interventions do not seem effective among adolescents in secondary school settings.

Journal reference:
Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Written by

Dr. Chinta Sidharthan

Chinta Sidharthan is a writer based in Bangalore, India. Her academic background is in evolutionary biology and genetics, and she has extensive experience in scientific research, teaching, science writing, and herpetology. Chinta holds a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the Indian Institute of Science and is passionate about science education, writing, animals, wildlife, and conservation. For her doctoral research, she explored the origins and diversification of blindsnakes in India, as a part of which she did extensive fieldwork in the jungles of southern India. She has received the Canadian Governor General’s bronze medal and Bangalore University gold medal for academic excellence and published her research in high-impact journals.

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