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When bullying goes unchecked, the learning environment suffers. It of course affects the victim, who can develop both psychological and physical scars. Bullying also impacts bystanders. They often feel guilt for not helping the victim, or constant fear of being the next target.

It’s a widespread problem. Nearly one out of four students said they were the bullied during the 2013 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Schools tend to rely mainly on adult intervention to eliminate bullying. But new research reported by the National Education Association suggests that educators should enlist the help of influential students when designing their anti-bullying strategy.

Researchers at Princeton University published a study in which they found that “social referents,” influential students who are much more than the stereotypical popular kids, can significantly contribute to the reduction of bullying.

The first step is identifying an effective social referent. Their primary characteristic is the ability to “hold the attention of their peers,” even though he or she may not be the ideal student leader, the NEA says.

The research team asked these influencers to participate in an anti-conflict program in which they learned to assess conflict behavior.

Victims experienced a wide range of attacks—some not so obvious—according to the NCES report. About 14 percent said they were made fun of, called names, or insulted. Bullies started hurtful rumors about 13 percent of their victims, and 6 percent were physically assaulted: pushing, shoving, tripping, or being spit on.

Once selected and trained, the army of influencers led a variety of public campaigns in their school against bullying. NEA said the campaigns included using Twitter hashtags, distributing anti-bullying posters, and giving orange wristbands with the campaign logo to classmates who joined the effort.

These one-year campaigns, conducted at 56 middle schools that comprised more than 24,000 students, resulted in a 30 percent decrease in reported bullying. Moreover, the study found that the schools with the largest team of peer influencers had the biggest declines in reported student conflicts.

The researchers are certain that the strategy would also work at a high school level using different activities and social media strategies.

SOURCE: National Education Association  | PHOTO CREDIT: Getty

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