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 Dr eClinical MedicineA team of researchers in Spain conducted a randomized controlled trial in a cluster 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 social environment.

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

Background

Bullying is rapidly becoming a significant public health concern due to its negative impact on mental health, social consequences, and lifelong health.

It involves repeated and deliberate aggression in which one or more perpetrators inflict physical or psychological harm on one of their peers where there is an imbalance of power on a physical or social scale.

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

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

School-based programs have been considered effective for teaching and preventing bullying because schools provide the best environment and opportunities to develop social and emotional skills and develop relationships with peers.

About the study

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

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

Through a meta-analysis, researchers found that anti-bullying interventions have proven to be cost-effective, with the effects of such interventions lasting up to 144 weeks. These interventions have also proven effective in young adults such as elementary and middle grade students.

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

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

Web-based interventions provide an option to apply these interventions in a larger context, with studies indicating comparable effectiveness to in-person anti-oppression interventions.

For this school-based cluster randomized controlled trial, 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 assess how effective the intervention was on other measures of intervention, such as mental health outcomes, including depressive symptoms, psychopathology, self-esteem, and overall quality of life.

In addition, the researchers also examined the effects of these interventions at baseline on students with special educational needs and other rape victims across subgroups based on primary or secondary academic level and gender. The study also examined whether the effects of the intervention were sustained over a year.

result

The results suggested that school-based anti-bullying interventions that are web-enabled, such as LINKlusive, can potentially reduce bullying among elementary school students but not among middle school students, especially students enrolled with special educational needs.

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

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

The researchers believe that the intervention was only effective in young children and not in middle school students because interventions like LINKlusive are based on the social structure of the classroom.

Therefore, such interventions are potentially effective only among age groups for whom the classroom is the primary setting for a peer group, as opposed to adolescents, where peer groups often form outside of school.

However, the results support the utility and ease of implementation of a web-enabled, cost-effective anti-bullying intervention that can be broadly applicable to elementary school children for targeted education and bullying prevention.

Conclusion

In summary, the study examined the effectiveness of web-enabled anti-bullying interventions in elementary and middle school settings.

Results suggested that because of the importance of classroom structure to peer groups among elementary students, interventions such as LINKlusive can effectively prevent bullying. However, such interventions do not appear to be effective among adolescents in secondary school settings.

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