Anti-bullying programs must move beyond the classroom and into the community if there is any chance of reducing bullying, warns a leading US expert.
Professor Dorothy Espelage, one of the world’s leading academics on bullying prevention and intervention, will be a keynote speaker at this week’s biennial National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) Conference, which will be held at Melbourne’s Crown Conference Centre on July 28 and 29.
The conference, an initiative of the Alannah & Madeline Foundation, will focus on theories and practices for bullying solutions.
As a result of her extensive research, Prof Espelage is calling for high school students to be given a “larger voice” in “this problem, which manifests itself throughout society today”. She has conducted research on bullying, homophobic teasing, sexual harassment and dating, and gang violence for the past 23 years and has written 150 peer-reviewed journal articles.
Prof Espelage recently completed a large scale clinical trial on a social-emotional learning prevention program in 36 schools in Illinois (US) to reduce aggression. She also has two other large trials in progress.
“In the US, bullying is currently being emboldened in our political make-up which makes it even harder to address the issue at the school or at home,” Prof Espelage said. “Australia has been very impressive in addressing gender-based harassment and should be proud of what it has achieved.”
Prof Espelage said there was a need for “greater fidelity in our approaches to the issue and greater support is needed for teachers and school-based intervention initiatives, as well as for families at home”.
“We all know that sibling aggression contributes to bullying, so we need programs for the home, for parents to work on,” she said. “We also have to move into the community and think about how we can develop initiatives and utilise social media to address this problem.”
However, Prof Espelage emphasised that bullying solutions would not simply happen overnight.
“Kids need to have skills to be able to cope with situations, such as peer group pressure, homophobia, sexual violence or bullying itself,” she said. Learning these skills takes time and they have to be reinforced in them time and time again. Social emotional learning is just as important as arithmetic.”
Prof Espelage said results from the Illinois trial showed that homophobic teasing was 56 per cent less likely in the intervention schools. There was almost a 39 per cent less likelihood of students endorsing sexual violence.
The program also found that schools where teachers spent more time preparing lessons in social-emotional learning – and had additional financial resources and consulted with other teachers on issues – they achieved greater reductions in all forms of violence and aggression among the students.
Prof Espelage urged everyone in education to continue to “open the black box (the flight recorder)” to identify mechanisms to understand the causes of bullying and its effects.
The Alannah & Madeline Foundation’s CEO Lesley Podesta agreed that reducing bullying was not the sole responsibility of schools and their teachers. Ms Podesta encouraged parents and others directly involved in children’s lives to play a role.
“This is truly a societal issue and needs to be addressed as such,” Ms Podesta said. “From parents, teachers, coaches, friends, siblings and extended family as well as educators, the responsibility lies with all of us.
"We need to break the cycle of violence in society by addressing where it can start - childhood bullying.”
The conference will be co-hosted by NCAB Chair the Hon Alastair Nicholson AO RFD QC and Dr Michael Carr-Gregg.
For more information on presenters and the NCAB Conference agenda go to www.ncab.org.au
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