The Times Educational Supplement
Friday, September 1, 2006
Too many students think bullying is normal, and tackling this misconception could hold the key to reducing it, according to researchers, writes Stephen Phillips.
Wesley Perkins, a sociology professor at New York state’s Hobart and William Smith Colleges, is pioneering the application of “social norms” research to the age-old school problem.
His work suggests pupils grossly overestimate the prevalence of bullying. A survey in New Jersey showed most believed the “majority” engaged in bullying – yet only 15 to 20 per cent had actually bullied. As students are swayed more by perceived peer group norms than adult admonitions, he suggests, informing students that bullying is actually an aberration could act as a deterrent and cut bullying by up to 20 per cent.
Next month, several New Jersey schools will try out Professor Perkins’ approach, hosting campaigns, via posters and screensavers, to inform students about behavioural norms.