Program Changes Perspectives On Bullying
June 7, 2012

Program Changes Perspectives On Bullying

Connie K. Ho for

Feelings of insecurity, depression, and suicide. These are some of the consequences that come about from bullying and it´s an issue that has garnered national interest among parents and educators. Researchers from the University of Alberta (U of A) found that an educational program focused on eliminating bullying of students who suffer from stuttering has been successful in changing the attitudes of the students in the classroom.

The program, called the Teasing and Bullying Unacceptable Behavior (TAB), involved students who were in third to six grade. It was implemented provincewide and has made bullies, victims, and bystanders recognize that bullying is harmful to others. The results of the program are published in the July issue of Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools.

"Attitudes predict behaviors. If we're going to get behavior to change, a first-level intervention is changing attitudes in the classroom," explained U of A professor Marilyn Langevin, the acting executive director and director of research at the Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research (ISTAR) in the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine, in a prepared statement. "TAB program is one of the building blocks of change."

According to past research, children who stutter are three times more likely to be bullied by their peers at school as compared to students who speak without speech impediments. In the project, Langevin and her colleagues looked at over 600 students who participated in the TAB program to determine its influence in improving perspectives on stuttering. Langevin found that those students who were familiar with someone who stuttered, such as a family member, friend, or peer who had this trait, were more likely to have more positive attitudes towards people who stuttered. Those who weren´t as familiar with stuttering saw the long pauses in speech, the repetitions, and the periodical involuntary movements as strange behavior.

One of the discoveries of the program was that it helped introduce and acclimate students to better understand people who stuttered. These participants showed more positive attitudes towards people who stuttered and were more likely to initiate social interaction. They also had a greater chance of not bending to peer pressure and isolating students who stuttered.

"It's the children who don't know someone who stutters that generally have more negative attitudes toward kids who stutter. We're very pleased to see this group had the highest change scores since they're the group we wanted to target," remarked Langevin in the statement.

After the program, students were surveyed and they expressed that they felt more knowledgeable on appropriate ways to respond to stuttering. Interestingly enough, the children who bullied were most resistant to the TAB program itself, compared with victims and "dually involved" students–those who have bullied but have also been bullied. Those results make sense because kids who bully can lose social status if their peers recognize such behavior is unacceptable, Langevin said.

"It's sort of like getting your hand caught in the cookie jar–who likes that?" commented Langevin on the findings of the study.

With these findings, Langevin believes that there is hope yet for students who act as bullies. Many of the participants expressed regret and demonstrated that they understand that what they did to other students was wrong. Some even vowed to change their behavior.

"There was a subset of children who bully who were saying, 'I didn't realize I was hurting my friend or my sister,' and there was an indication that they were wanting to change," noted Langevin in the statement.

In concluding, Langevin discussed that this change in perceptions of stuttering and bullying will happen gradual. She stated that it will take repeated efforts by members of the community.

"It was the same with drunk driving and smoking cessation–you have to change public perception and attitudes in order to get robust changes that are maintained over a period of time. And you have to keep at it," Langevin expressed in the statement.