What Limits the Effectiveness of Antibullying Programs? A Thematic Analysis of the Perspective of Students

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Objective: We used qualitative methods to explore the views of students regarding design and implementation factors limiting the effectiveness of the antibullying programs. Method: Using a purposeful strategy, we recruited 97 Grades 5 to 8 students from 12 demographically stratified schools. Interviewers conducted thirteen 45-min focus groups. Audio recordings were transcribed and coded thematically. Results: Three higher order themes emerged. First, students felt that antibullying presentations, posters, and activities sometimes failed to engage students. Antibullying communications that were boring, repetitive, negatively worded, or delivered by presenters lacking credibility were of limited value. Second, students felt that ineffective monitoring and consequences undermined antibullying programs. Students thought teachers failed to detect many bullying episodes, did not respond quickly enough when bullying was reported, adopted ineffective consequences, and failed to sustain helpful programs. Teachers who responded unfairly, were influenced by reputational biases, or dealt with students disrespectfully compromised antibullying interventions. Third, some students disengaged and pushed back by failing to attend to presentations, denying their involvement in bullying, discrediting programs and speakers, disrupting antibullying activities, and defiantly victimizing peers. Conclusions: Poor design and implementation may limit the outcome of antibullying programs. Pushback from a small group of students may have a negative influence on the responses of a wider group of peers. A negative response from students may reduce the commitment of the educators who implement antibullying initiatives. From the perspective of students, schools need to develop more engaging presentations, improve monitoring and supervision, develop more effective responses to bullying, and deal with students in an unbiased and respectful way.

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