Are student ‘influencers’ the solution to school bullying?
School bullying has long been a hot-button issue, but new research finds that the answer may not lie within rules set by adults.
The study was conducted by a group of researchers from Princeton, Rutgers and Yale Universities.
Researchers examined 56 New Jersey middle schools during the 2012-2013 school year.
From there, they used student surveys, social networks and observations to identify the most-influential and social students. Those students were not always the conventional 'most-popular,' but often the most-engaged or connected.
"They are kids who other students are paying attention to," said Hana Shepherd, study co-author and an assistant professor at Rutgers University.
These students were tasked with helping to promote conflict resolution and spread a message of anti-bullying through different activities, campaigns and social media awareness. They also shared many traits, including often having an older sibling, being in a relationship, and living in a nice home.
"The goal was to try and see if we could reduce the amount of peer harassment and conflicts in these schools," Shepherd said. "And get an anti-conflict message out to the rest of the school."
The results were certainly eye-opening.
Schools with the most "social-influencers" saw a 30 percent dip in student conflict incidents.
"Kids are so important to setting the tone for the school and setting the parameters for what's acceptable and not acceptable behavior," Shepherd said.
Anti-bullying campaigns are often driven by adults, so this research discovered a stark contrast in impact when the interventions were student-led by the most social students throughout the school.
Each conflict can often take hours to resolve, so the reduction saved school officials hundreds of hours.
"Our program shows that you don't need to use a blanket treatment to reduce bullying," said Elizabeth Paluck, lead author and Princeton University professor. "You can target specific people in a savvy way in order to spread the message. These people -- the social referents you should target -- get noticed more by their peers. Their behavior serves as a signal to what is normal and desirable in the community. And there are many ways to figure out who those people are and work with them to inspire positive change."