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School-Based Violence Prevention Programs To Reduce Bullying and Aggressive Behaviors
School bullying has received widespread attention in the media in recent years, and Federal and State agencies as well as local school districts are ramping up efforts to counter the behavior. The development and evaluation of interventions designed to reduce bullying have been increasingly reported in the research field. Bullying can have lasting negative effects on the victim, bystander, and perpetrator. Bullying is manifested in different forms including verbal, physical, or social threats that are intended to harm an individual or group. Bullying may also involve an imbalance of power between the perpetrator and the victim that is repetitive in nature. Another form of bullying is a relatively recent phenomenon known as cyberbullying, in which the perpetrator engages in bullying using technology such as the Internet or mobile devices.1
The existing literature on bullying prevention demonstrates that school-based intervention evaluations are not only focusing on bullying but also on associated behaviors such as aggression, violence, victimization, conflict resolution, perpetration behavior, and violent injuries or threats. The purpose of this report is to describe research efforts assessing school-based violence prevention programs designed to reduce bullying and aggressive behaviors, including the availability and quality of school-based interventions, research limitations, and program successes and shortcomings. To meet this objective, an extensive literature search was conducted to identify published systematic reviews on school-based violence prevention programs that focus on or at least include bullying behavior as an outcome.
Search Strategy and Criteria
An extensive search was conducted for systematic reviews published. The search was limited to the online catalog of the U.S. Government’s National Library of Medicine, PubMed to ensure free access to abstracts and, in some cases, full-text articles. Systematic reviews reported in the context of guidelines, consensus statements, or studies were not the target of the search.
The search strategy used in PubMed appears below and consists of several parts:
(“Bullying”[Mesh] OR bully OR bullies OR bullying OR “Aggression”[Mesh] OR “Violence/prevention and control”[Mesh] OR “Violence/psychology”[Mesh] OR “Violence/therapy”[Mesh])
(“Schools”[Mesh] OR school OR schools) AND (“Students”[Mesh] OR “Child”[Mesh] OR “Adolescent”[Mesh])
(“Counseling/methods”[Mesh] OR “Program Evaluation”[Mesh] OR “Therapeutics/methods”[Mesh] OR “prevention and control” [Subheading] OR “rehabilitation” [Subheading] OR “Treatment Outcome”[Mesh] OR “Comparative Effectiveness Research”[Mesh] OR “Outcome Assessment (Health Care)”[Mesh])
(“Humans”[Mesh] AND “English”[lang]) AND ([PDAT]: [PDAT]) AND (meta-analysis[pt] OR systematic[sb])
Each part of the search strategy is described below:
- Topics: “Bullying” was recently added to PubMed’s Medical Subject Headings (MeSH) catalog as a specific type of aggressive behavior. The addition points to the increasing attention bullying behavior is receiving in the literature. However, given the scarcity of reviews focusing solely on this topic, two related but broader MeSH terms were used, “Aggression” and “Violence,” to search for additional reviews that may have included bullying as an outcome but also looked at related behaviors. Bullying keywords were also used.
- Settings and populations: MeSH terms and keywords limiting the search to schools and children and/or adolescents were used to capture school-based antibullying programs rather than programs looking at bullying in the workplace and other environments.
- Efficacy and evaluation: MeSH terms limiting the search to program efficacy were also included.
- Additional limits: Limits were used restricting the search to systematic reviews (with a separate designation for those containing meta-analyses) and articles published in English, focusing on humans.
Our search results yielded a total of eight systematic reviews on school-based violence prevention programs to reduce bullying and aggressive behavior. Of the eight, one was published separately in two journals (Review 1A/B), two were updates of earlier reviews (Review 2 was an update of Review 3; Review 7 was an update of Review 8), and the remaining three were unique systematic reviews (Reviews 4–6). Seven of the eight systematic reviews evaluated the effectiveness of school-based programs for the prevention or reduction of bullying, while one assessed the quality of the studies conducted to evaluate antibullying programs. The number of intervention studies included in each systematic review ranged from 26 to 249. The intervention studies included in the systematic reviews were conducted in the United States and internationally. The study samples included male and female students attending preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school. Studies included students in regular education classes as well as special education classes. The interventions were implemented in schools and were delivered by school personnel, counselors or other mental health professionals, or community members. Four of the systematic reviews (Reviews 1A/B, 5, 7, 8) compared the effectiveness of universal school-based programs (which are delivered in classroom settings to all the students in the classroom) to that of selective/indicated programs (which are provided to students who are specifically selected to receive the intervention because of some risk factor) or compared differing program formats (e.g., method for delivery of the intervention, population receiving the intervention, theoretical approach such as multicomponent program or single-session program). Two of the reviews (Reviews 4, 6) focused on intervention characteristics (e.g., duration, frequency, theory-based), and two (Reviews 2, 3) focused on population characteristics (e.g., age, gender, grade level, at risk). The findings from the systematic reviews suggest that universal school-based violence prevention programs appear to have the most validation with regard to their effectiveness in reducing bullying or bullying-related outcomes. Program elements such as intervention characteristics and population characteristics should be considered in the interpretation of the systematic review findings.