General Articles

What Works in Bullying Prevention? Researchers Find Many Questions Still Unanswered

By Kendall Karr, SIECUS Intern
Jaana Juvonen and Sandra Graham, “Bullying in Schools: The Power of Bullies and the Plight of Victims,” Annual Review of Psychology (February 2014).


Bullying is the targeted intimidation or humiliation of a typically weaker or less socially prominent person who is threated, demeaned, or belittled by another. Most bullying research focuses on children and youth in schools. According to the authors of this research review, “Researchers know surprisingly little about the characteristics of schools that promote or protect against bullying by one’s peers.”[1] The researchers consulted dozens of peer-reviewed published studies from the past several years to provide an overview of the different forms of bullying, bully roles, the emotional, physical, and social consequences for victims, and recommendations for best practices in prevention programs.

 Key Findings:

  • Youth identified with ethnic minority groups appear to be at greatest risk of victimization. With fewer same-ethnicity peers, warding off potential bullies is more difficult for these youth. Youth identified with a majority ethnic group, when bullied, also suffer because in their victim role they deviate from their ethnic group’s norm of perceived social power.
  • School characteristics such as size, locale, teacher quality, disciplinary practices, and percentage of ethnic minority students are related only inconsistently to the prevalence of bullying behaviors. The characteristic most related to increased bullying is overall school climate: whether or not most students feel accepted, supported, respected, and treated fairly in their schools.
  • Research remains too limited on the sexuality and race/ethnicity-related variables that influence bullying.


The researchers confirm what many school health professionals and sexuality educators know intuitively: bullying prevention “solutions” are elusive because U.S. schools are uneven in terms of organizational structures, student demographics, and staff buy-in, among many other factors. Additionally, ‘proven’ programs imported from other countries (such as the Olweus program developed in Norway) may not have the intended impact in a U.S. context.

Advocates for more comprehensive sexuality education can use this research review to make the case for further studies of bullying prevention programs, to determine where these programs should fit in relation to ‘sex ed’ – future research could help professionals understand whether ‘whole-school’ or ‘targeted’ approaches to bullying prevention would be most effective in the schools they serve.

[1]  Juvonen J, Graham S (2014). Bullying in schools: the power of bullies and the plight of victims, Annual Review of Psychology, 65: 159-185. Accessed April 29, 2014 at