May 3, 2007 / 9:58 PM / 12 years ago

Most primary school children report being bullied

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Nearly 90 percent of third- to sixth-graders experience some degree of victimization by bullies, and 59 percent admit to bullying others, a new study by Californian researchers shows.

“It certainly doesn’t mean that 90 percent of the kids are victimized to the extent that they are going to have serious consequences,” Dr. Thomas P. Tarshis of the Bay Area Children’s Association in Cupertino, the lead author, told Reuters Health.

But the results do underscore the importance of finding effective ways to prevent bullying and victimization among children, which can indeed have serious mental health consequences for some kids, he added.

While more than 300 interventions have been developed to fight bullying, Tarshis pointed out, just 6 have been scientifically proven to be effective, and none have shown effectiveness in more than one setting.

Evaluation of intervention programs has been hampered by the fact that there are no scientifically proven tools for measuring victimization and bullying among school children. “All the tools that we were using to measure bullying and victimization had never had the right sort of statistical analysis to see if the tools are actually good measures,” Tarshis explained.

To address this problem, Tarshis and his colleague Dr. Lynne C. Huffman of Stanford University School of Medicine developed a 22-item questionnaire at the third-grade reading level that children could complete on their own. In the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, they report the response to questionnaire by 270 third- to sixth-graders in three different schools.

The quiz, which took less than 5 minutes for students to complete, includes 12 questions addressing victimization and 10 on bullying behavior. Children are asked whether they experience or perform a particular behavior “a lot” “sometimes” or “never.”

Nearly 90 percent of the children answered “sometimes” or “a lot” to at least one of the questions on victimization, while 59 percent reported performing at least one of the bullying behaviors “sometimes” or “a lot.”

On average, students answered affirmatively to nearly seven victimization questions, which “indicates that most students reported fairly high levels of victimization,” the researchers say. The average of affirmative answers to the bullying questions was two.

After using a number of statistical techniques to measure the validity of the questionnaire, Tarshis and Huffman concluded that it was “reliable and valid.”

Anti-bullying interventions that seem to work best are comprehensive, Tarshis noted, meaning they address not only students but teachers, school administrators, yard duty workers and parents. Programs that target kids alone can actually worsen bullying, he pointed out. The key, he added, is to make bullying unacceptable behavior, and to get kids who are typically bystanders — meaning they’re not bullies or victims — to take a stand against bullying.

“Now we really need to develop and test some interventions, make some manuals, and get it out there in the schools,” Tarshis said.

For a copy of the bullying and victimization questionnaire along with scoring information, go to www.bayareachild.org and click on “PIPS Questionnaire.”

SOURCE: Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, April 2007.

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