Bullying is still prevalent throughout the educational system, both in the real and in the cyber world. Many programs have tried and failed to prevent or at least reduce bullying, but a new study found that one program seems to be working very well – a program that focuses on by-standers instead of bullies.

Image by TheCuriousGnome

Over 7,000 students in 77 elementary schools in Finland, this particular program fared especially well, improving the mental health of students who were bullied the most, improving their self esteem and reducing depression. The program, called KiVa focuses on increasing the empathy of by-standers through role-playing games. It also uses computer simulations to make children think how they would react if they would see someone being bullied.

Jaana Juvonen, lead author of the study and professor of psychology at UCLA said that this worked out much better than other approaches.

“Our findings are the first to show that the most tormented children — those facing bullying several times a week — can be helped by teaching bystanders to be more supportive,” Juvonen said.

Previous studies about bullying have found that:

  • People on social media are often unsupportive of cyberbullying victims who have shared highly personal feelings.
  • Bullies are considered the “cool” kids in school.
  • Nearly 3 in 4 teenagers say they were bullied online at least once during a 12-month period.
  • Nearly half of the sixth graders at two Los Angeles-area schools said they were bullied by classmates during a five-day period.
 All these together indicate one thing: bullying isn’t simply a bully-victim relationship, but the situation can be made much better or much worse by the other people in the environment. Bullies being considered “cool” and not dissuaded by any of their peers not only doesn’t help, but actually makes things worse. Programs like KiVa can go a long way towards fixing that.

“Our analysis shows that KiVa improves students’ perceptions of the school environment, especially among those who are bullied. For sixth-graders, it also improves their mental health, which is a big issue,” said Juvonen, who has conducted research on bullying for more than 20 years. “Typically we think individuals with mental health needs must be addressed individually. The beauty here is that this school-wide program is very effective for the children who most need support.”


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