The LGBT Health & Development Program

Targeting bullying at multiple levels

Posted on September 14th, 2012 by Michelle in Research Blog. No Comments

Multiple studies have shown that LGBT students deal with school bullying more than non-LGBT students [1]. This bullying has been shown to lead to increased difficulties over the life span for LGBT individuals [2-5].  Unfortunately, intervention programs have had a limited impact in preventing and reducing bullying behavior in schools [6]. Because of this limited success,  prevention researchers are shifting their focus to understanding bullying behavior from frameworks that take into account the larger social environment [6]. For example, Ecological Systems Theory helps to explain how a problem on the individual student-level (like bullying) is shaped by not only the characteristics of individuals, but also by the contextual systems that individuals reside within. A contextual system can mean anything from families, schools, and peers, to a neighborhood, to culture which may also be influenced by a person’s race, poverty, and citizenship. All of these systems work together and interact to influence behavior on an individual level. See the figure below for a visual of this system.

In order to be effective, bullying interventions need to go beyond only focusing on teaching individual students to change their behaviors. As suggested in a review article by Hong and Espelage (2012), some of the biggest influences on whether a student bullies or not comes from close influences around them (In the Ecological Systems Theory, family and peer groups are in the Microsystem). The article suggests that places for intervention at this ecological level may include:

  • Improving parent-child relationships
  • Changing the culture of peer relationships
  • Reducing parental attitudes around violence
  • Increasing student connectedness to their schools
  • Improving the school climate
  • Changing cultural beliefs around bullying, homophobia, and masculinity

Preventive interventions must address the complexity of how individual behaviors such as bullying are influenced by all the social contextual environments that children are exposed to. Researchers may find more success when they begin to use models such as Ecological Systems Theory.




1.              Education, M.D.o., Massachusetts High School Students and Sexual Orientation Results of the 2009 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, M.D.o. Education, Editor 2009, Massachusetts Department of Education: Malden, MA.

2.              Poteat, V.P. and D.L. Espelage, Predicting psychosocial consequences of homophobic victimization in middle school students. Journal of Early Adolescence, 2007. 27(2): p. 175-191.

3.              Rivers, I. and N. Noret, Well-being among same-sex- and opposite-sex-attracted youth at school. School Psychology Review, 2008. 37(2): p. 174-187.

4.              Birkett, M., D.L. Espelage, and B. Koenig, LGB and Questioning Students in Schools: The Moderating Effects of Homophobic Bullying and School Climate on Negative Outcomes. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 2009. 38(7): p. 989-1000.

5.              Espelage, D.L., et al., Homophobic teasing, psychological outcomes, and sexual orientation among high school students: What influence do parents and schools have? School Psychology Review, 2008. 37(2): p. 202-216.

6.              Hong, J.S. and D.L. Espelage, A review of research on bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 2012. 17(4): p. 311-322.

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