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.