Psychology assistant professor David Yeager said bullying prevention programs in schools have no effect on adolescents during their eighth grade and high school years at a lecture Friday.
According to Yeager, these programs are often mandated by the Texas Legislature in response to adolescent suicides. While the prevention programs are generally effective for elementary and early middle school students, Yeager said the programs do nothing for the adolescent age group.
Yeager shared findings from multiple studies he has done surrounding bullying prevention in schools. He said he is interested in how to prevent bullying but is more interested in how to prevent its effects. During his presentation, Yeager said bullies no longer target others by physical means, but by exclusion.
“For ninth graders, these are the kids with the best skills that are the best at bullying — kids who know how to insult you in just the right way, make you feel like you’re nothing in just the right way,” Yeager said.
Nursing assistant professor Karen Johnson said she can see Yeager’s research having major policy implications for addressing bullying.
“It’s a reminder that we as a society often forget that adolescence is a very unique and rapid developmental age,” Johnson said. “We can’t lump adolescents with children or with adults and expect that we’ll get similar outcomes from your prevention efforts.”
In one of his studies, Yeager simulated a game of catch on the computer where the teenage participants thought they were playing a game with two other students. After a few times of being passed the ball, the other two students didn’t throw the participant the ball anymore.
Afterward, the excluded participants shared similar thoughts that they were losers, that their lives would always be like what they experienced in the game or that they were ashamed. Researchers conducting the study also educated participants about how both bullies’ and victims’ personalities and actions change over time.
After a few months, the researchers revisited the students to see if they thought the information they had learned during the study had benefitted them.
“I was surprised that the intervention was found to have lasting effects over time, despite the belief of many of the participants that no change had occurred,” nursing graduate student Rebecca Richardson said.
Richardson, who is specializing in psychiatric and mental health, said she hopes to apply Yeager’s findings in her future practice because the long-term resilience the participants have after going through the exercise can possibly prevent conditions such as clinical depression.