Nearly 1 in 4 students will experience it to an unhealthy degree and become victims of bullying. As kids and teens who get bullied are up to 9 times more likely to commit suicide than those who aren't, schools are taking steps to rein in this harmful practice.
A new study published in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology has found the KiVa International program from Finland to be among the most successful against bullying. This is likely due to its unique approach of targeting not the bully nor the victim — but the bystander.
"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," lead author Jaana Juvonen explained in a news release.
The program teaches all children what bullying is and why it's unacceptable. There is instruction from teachers, as well as computer games, posters, and ways for parents to get involved. The students are also given tools for dealing with bullying when they see it happening to other students. Rather than focusing on punishing the bully, as some zero-tolerance programs do, the focus of the program is on showing compassion and support to the one who is being picked on.
Data from over 7000 4th-6th grade students support the effectiveness of KiVa at reducing bullying rates by a factor of two. Not only did schools using KiVa have reduced occurrences of bullying, but kids who had been bullied the most saw significant decreases in depression and increases in self-esteem.
This isn't just stopping new bullying cases from happening; it's also healing the damage that had already been done.
"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," Juvonen continued. "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."
The researchers also mention an unrelated study that analyzed 53 different anti-bullying programs from around the globe, finding KiVa to be the most effective.
Currently, the full program is only available in Finland, though it is slowly being rolled out in other European countries, with similar success. KiVa training for schools is not yet available in the United States, but that could be coming soon.
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