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Educational interventions may prevent bullying in teens

Tristan Manalac
03 Jul 2020

Educational interventions appear to be effective in decreasing traditional bullying and cyberbullying among adolescents, according to a recent Singapore meta-analysis.

“Current educational programmes can be improved by engaging parents more by conducting parent–teacher meetings or organizing more sessions for parents to attend together with their children,” researchers said, noting that gaps still exist in the present literature and there is room for future studies to improve upon the current knowledge.

Seventeen eligible articles were included in the meta-analysis. According to the Grades of Recommendation, Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE) approach, data quality was generally poor. Quality for traditional bullying ranged from very low to low, while cyberbullying data were generally of very low quality. [Trauma Violence Abuse 2020;doi:10.1177/1524838020933867]

The studies corresponded to a cumulative of 35,694 adolescents who were exposed to a catalogue of seven interventions designed to disrupt traditional bullying, and five that were targeted at cyberbullying. All programmes were classroom-based, though only eight involved the parents by providing information letters, guides, workshops, manuals, online materials, and conferences.

Ten studies provided continuous data addressing bullying victimization. Discarding one outlier, the researchers found that educational interventions led to a statistically significant but very small reduction in victimization (standardized mean difference [SMD], –0.18, 95 percent confidence interval [CI], –0.26 to –0.10; p<0.001). Heterogeneity of evidence was low.

A similarly small but significant effect was found for the perpetration of bullying. Pooled analysis of nine studies with continuous data showed the efficacy of educational interventions against bullying perpetration (SMD, –0.30, 95 percent CI, –0.44 to –0.15; p<0.0001).

In the same manner, educational interventions were able to significantly but weakly reduce cyberbullying victimization (SMD, –0.13, 95 percent CI, –0.25 to –0.02; p=0.02) and perpetration (SMD, –0.16, 95 percent CI, –0.29 to –0.03; p=0.01) frequencies.

“In the follow-up studies that ranged from 5 weeks to 1.5 years, bullying interventions were shown to reduce traditional bullying perpetration in the long term, but not traditional bullying victimization,” researchers said.

“However, cyberbullying interventions showed a significant but negligible effect for long-term reduction in cyberbullying victimization, but not cyberbullying perpetration,” they added.

These highlight potential problems regarding the sustainability of such intervention programmes. Schools may need to keep their focus on prevention programmes even after the educational interventions have ended, according to researchers.

“Future studies should consider examining the cost-effectiveness and clinical significance of the educational interventions before these programmes can be implemented as standard support for the adolescents,” the researchers said, noting that varying programme duration and intensity may also help refine knowledge on their efficacy.

“Future studies should [also] be conducted in Africa and Asia, as this review found that studies in those regions are lacking. The use of consistent definitions and standardized tools to measure bullying victimization and perpetration in future studies will also be helpful for future reviews to compile more concrete evidence based on more homogenous studies,” they added.

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