Society for Social Work and Research

Sixteenth Annual Conference Research That Makes A Difference: Advancing Practice and Shaping Public Policy
11-15 January 2012 I Grand Hyatt Washington I Washington, DC

15952 Why Adolescents Fail to Report Incidents of Bullying At School

Sunday, January 15, 2012: 11:15 AM
McPherson Square (Grand Hyatt Washington)
* noted as presenting author
Ellen W. deLara, PhD, Associate Professor, School of Social Work, Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY
Background and Purpose: Bullying among students is a recalcitrant problem in U.S. schools (Devine & Lawson, 2004; Espelage & Swearer, 2004; Nansel, et al., 2001). A complex form of aggression, bullying needs to be taken seriously and cannot be considered harmless (Astor, 1995; Mishna & Alaggia, 2005). Students who are bullied are more likely than non-bullied students to report, in surveys, feelings of sadness, hopelessness, loneliness, insomnia and suicidal ideation (Fleming & Jacobsen, 2009). Children who identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender are particularly targeted (Fineran, 2002; Mishna, 2009). The preponderance of research on bullying tends to neither include the perceptions of students nor provide understanding about their reluctance to rely on adults for intervention. Some research has found that many students do not tell adults about bullying they experience or witness despite repeated efforts on the part of adults (deLara, 2008; Garbarino & deLara, 2003). In order to construct useful interventions, social workers need to understand this phenomenon. The purpose of this study was to explore, in depth, the perspectives of adolescents on their reasons for not reporting incidents or seeking help with bullying.

Method: Adolescents from 2 suburban and 2 rural secondary schools were interviewed for this qualitative study. In-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with 32 female and 25 male students ages 13-18 years. The participants were predominately Caucasian. Thematic analyses were conducted with the transcripts using the qualitative analysis software NiVivo. Grounded theory (Strauss & Corbin, 1998) was utilized for data analysis and for detection of patterns in the data. Member checks and triangulation were employed to substantiate credibility, authenticity, and coherence of the data (Greene, 1999; Guba & Lincoln, 1989).

Results: The analyses yielded descriptive information about why adolescents fail to confide in adults about bullying they witness or receive at school. Reasons included: (a) the ubiquitous nature of bullying, (b) a sense of helplessness, (c) concerns over inappropriate adult action, (d) shame, (e) previous failure of adults to intervene, (f) sense of self-reliance, and (g) a different definition of bullying than adults utilize. Students also described a form of parental omniscience- feeling that parents and other adults “should just know.” Further, students offered solutions to the problem.

Conclusions and Implications: This study provides valuable information for school social workers dealing with issues of bullying in their schools. The findings demonstrate the complex nature of attempting to interrupt bullying when students find it difficult to confide in adults about this phenomenon. The study also offers ideas from adolescents themselves for consideration by social workers in effective intervention strategies. For school social workers, the study emphasizes the need for close monitoring of the environment, but also indicates that new interventions may be provided based on understanding adolescent reasoning and on direct categorical input from students. The results of the research advance practice for school social workers who engage students in solving this complex problem. The study demonstrates that further research is needed, from the students' perspectives, to interrupt bullying and its associated negative outcomes.