Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Portrayals of Bullying in Young Adult Literature: Considerations for Schools

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Portrayals of Bullying in Young Adult Literature: Considerations for Schools

Article excerpt

Introduction

For the last several decades, bullying has been noted as a serious problem in schools, and it has been noted that students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community members need to work together to address ways to help victims, bullies, and bystanders develop coping strategies and prevent bullying. Recent surveys (Canadian Council on Learning, 2008) have indicated that up to 40% of students experience bullying while at school. Students in the middle school grades, Grades 6 and 7, experience high rates of bullying (James, 2010) and this may include not only physical aggression or name-calling (most common in the elementary grades) but also social bullying (i.e., purposeful exclusion, gossip, or rumours). Victims of bullying may experience short- and long-term effects such as sleep difficulties, anxiety, depression, or a loss of self-esteem or self-efficacy (Salmivalli, 2010). Their academic performance and satisfaction may also be impacted; in order to avoid the victimization students may purposely miss classes, or students may struggle in class because their memory is impaired due to stress levels (Canadian Council on Learning, 2008). Therefore, bullying can impact all areas of a victim's life--personality, academics, social life, and physical and mental health.

Considering these possible impacts on students, many school boards have developed anti-bullying policies and school-wide initiatives to address the phenomenon. These initiatives come in different formats such as peer-to-peer mentor programs, buddy systems, character education in the curriculum, or arts-based programs (James, 2010; Stadler, Feifel, Rohrmann, Vermeiren, & Poustka, 2010). Bullying initiatives may take a targeted approach (focused on only the victims and bullies) or a whole school approach (focused on all students in the school). Most experts (National Crime Prevention Centre, 2008) agree that a whole school approach is more beneficial for students since the messages and skills learned are universal and consistent.

Although well intentioned, many school-wide anti-bullying initiatives have proven to be only moderately successful in confronting the problem of bullying in schools (Vreeman & Carroll, 2007). In a review of the literature, the authors evaluated 26 studies that discussed school-based interventions and categorized the interventions into five types: curriculum, whole-school interventions, social skills groups, mentoring, and social worker support. The results indicated that (a) four of the 10 curriculum studies showed decreased bullying, (b) seven of the 10 studies evaluating the whole-school approach revealed decreased bullying but with few positive effects for younger children, (c) three of the four social skills training studies showed no clear bullying reduction, and (d) the one mentoring study found decreased bullying for mentored children, and the one study of social worker support found decreased bullying but no effect on the victim. In a similar review of school-based anti-bullying initiatives that involved students across all grades, Swearer, Espelage, Vaillancourt, and Hymel (2010) found that most school-based initiatives "had little impact on reducing bullying behavior" (p. 43). A problem may be that there is little evidence of long-term positive impacts from the initiatives, especially those for middle schools or high schools (Merrell, Guelder, Ross, & Isava, 2008; Safron & Safron, 2008).

There is research, however, to support the use of young adult literature (YAL) with middle and high school students in an effort to help them understand and deal with issues around bullying both in and outside of school (Henkin, 2012; Morris, Taylor, & Wilson, 2000; Pace & Podesta, 1999; Trent & Chisholm, 2012). YAL or YA fiction is typically written for readers between the ages of 12 and 18, features teen protagonists, and often deals with difficult issues facing adolescents. …

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