Article: School Bullying: a Social Justice Issue? How Restorative Approaches May Prevent Future Violence
This article by Callum Jones discusses how restorative approaches by schools could be used to prevent future harm. The author explores how bullying is experienced, how it could be linked to future violent crime, and how school bullying prevention is a social justice issue.
A Societal Problem?
School bullying is a contemporary problem impacting young people worldwide (Jones, 2023). This article aims to understand if restorative approaches within school settings may assist young people and prevent future violent crime in society. This article’s original contribution to the literature is that it aims not to debate the consequences of school bullying concerning violent crime, but to explore ways to prevent it.
Scholars have historically debated the legitimacy of how experiencing school bullying may influence victims to commit violent crime. Lee et al. (2021) found in a study of 1676 young people that experiencing school bullying correlated with violent actions. Yet, Slocum (2010) proposes that there is little knowledge regarding the time of exposure to trauma and how disturbances influence potential consequences, such as violent crime and attachment styles (Moon et al. 2012).
This article is written as a contribution to the academic literature. However, I want to begin by positioning myself as the author, bringing lived experience of the issues. During my adolescence, I was subject to severe bullying within my high school. Due to the trauma this caused me both physically and psychologically, I considered engaging in physical retribution towards my tormentors. I was placed in a Pupil Referral Unit and I did not experience restorative or social justice informed approaches. Now, in a prolonged period of recovery, I am conducting my doctorate with the purpose being to understand if victims of school bullying may engage in future violent behaviours. This article explores whether restorative approaches in schools may assist victims of bullying, to prevent further violent crime.
How School Bullying May Be Experienced
Evidence suggests that school bullying may cause cataclysmic damage to a person following their exposure to it (DeLara, 2016). DeLara (2016) further coins the term ‘Adult Post-Bullying Syndrome’, which is the state of mind that victims may fall into following their bullying experiences in their youth, struggling with emotional and social regulation. Experiencing childhood bullying heightens the risk of psychological and physical health issues in later life and should be seen as a chief public health issue (Armitage, 2021). Yet, Burke (2016) proposes that experiencing bullying may enable victims to demonstrate elements of post-traumatic growth, allowing for life fulfilment following their experiences. It could be that one’s experience of school bullying is individual, and outcomes may vary depending on the person’s circumstances. There is evidence to suggest that school bullying may cause poor outcomes for victims, but this is not indicative of all, with some displaying elements of post-traumatic growth. For example, I would suggest my experience of school bullying holds negative and positive outcomes. Whilst long-term damage was the result, I have since displayed my post-traumatic growth by becoming a counsellor and studying school bullying in my doctorate.
The Potential Link: Experiencing School Bullying and Violent Crime
The article focuses on the potential for future violence amongst victims, because of my personal and academic interest in this, and because it is important to highlight how the impact on victims could lead to future consequences for society. Scholars have historically debated whether experiencing school bullying may influence victims to commit violent crimes. Lee et al. (2021) found in a study of 1,676 young people that experiencing school bullying correlated with future violence. Yet, Slocum (2010) proposes that little is known regarding the time of exposure to trauma and how disturbances influence potential consequences, such as violent crime and attachment styles (Moon et al. 2012).
Guy et al. (2019) further suggest that victims of school bullying (or bully-victims) could resort to violent crime to regulate their psychological trauma due to their spontaneous disposition and struggles in social situations. Guy et al. (2019) found in a study of high school children using the ‘bullying role’ (bully, bully-victim, and victim) that many victims of school bullying used violent crime and actions to rebalance perceived social injustices. The study was conducted using surveys and peer nominations. Zheng (2023) further asserts that school bullying can disrupt the victim and perpetrator’s self-image, temperament, and life fulfilment. These are significant factors in a person resorting to criminality. In particular, physical and psychological aggression could lead to catastrophic crimes. Vanswani (2019) rebuts that this represents all victim’s experiences of school bullying, but acknowledges an elevated risk of violent criminality for victims of school bullying.
The literature identifies several components which may lead to victims of school bullying to later engage in violent crime, such as emotional regulation, social injustice, and life issues. Nevertheless, while experiencing school bullying may generate greater risks, this does not mean that all victims of school bullying will engage in violence. Restorative approaches in schools have the potential to support victims and prevent potential future violent crime.
School Bullying Prevention as a Social Justice Issue
Social justice is the fair and equal treatment of all within society and is achievable by protesting against poor societal practices and pre-existing privileges. Social justice is attainable when there is a fair allocation of opportunities and materials for all members of the social establishment. Whilst it is the moral and ethical obligation for people to encourage social justice, therapists and teachers are at the forefront for young people (Erford & Hays, 2018; Gerwig-Parker et al., 2020). Mierzwinski et al. (2019) further argue that school bullying should be a social justice issue, as bullying is a systematic abuse of power and social positioning (Nelson et al. 2019).
Gerwig-Parker et al. (2020) propose that schools can be forerunners in social justice to end the long-lasting impact of school bullying. Achieving the effect utilises frameworks that promote policies and interventions for victims. Yet, Farley et al. (2020) propose that bullying can be challenged by upstanders (those who intervene in school bullying, taken from the KiVa programme); it is often not addressed as a social justice issue. The literature argues that bullying could be a social injustice due to power imbalances and social standing (Menesini & Salmivalli, 2017), with faculty responsible for challenging injustices using outlined anti-bullying frameworks. Upstanders can challenge while bullying; it is arguably rare this addresses imbalance in society. This is important due to the risks of criminalising children from a young age and the impact this can have on them and society.
Using restorative approaches within schools could be viewed as a form of social justice in preventing future violent crimes but allowing victims’ voices to be heard and assisted in academic environments. Winslade (2019) identifies that restorative approaches/justice could be used to mediate social justice disputes purposefully and that specific bullying cases could be involved in these contexts. However, Winslade (2019) argues concern must apply to power dynamics between the parties involved. In certain contexts, restorative approaches could be useful in aiding social justice for school bullying victims, though the context of power requires consideration.
Restorative Approaches: Preventing Future Crime
Restorative approaches in schools may assist victims of bullying before they begin engaging in violent crime in society due to their own experiences of victimhood, which may influence their behaviour. Many criminalised young people are also historical victims, who may be supported by restorative justice approaches (Young et al. 2017). For those working restoratively with young people, a school transition programme could assist school bullying victims during and when leaving school. These programmes support recognising victims, empowering victimhood, and reducing future violence (Arango et al. 2018; Wojcik et al. 2022). Additionally, youth and community workers, and young people may hold different ideas of what bullying is – leading to difficulties in identifying when it is taking place (Hellstrom & Lundberg, 2020). Nevertheless, Waasdorp et al. (2021) argue that when staff receive adequate training, there are links to positive outcomes, particularly with bullying interventions (O’Brennan et al. 2014).
One example of a restorative approach is ‘The Shared Method of Concern’ , which aims to restore relationships between victims and bullies by not villainising the perpetrator, mediation, and contracting (Pikas, 2002). Yet, there is an argument that this model can be lenient on bullies, leaving victims unsatisfied (Rigby, 2005; Rigby, 2011; & Rigby, 2020). There are plausible strengths in restorative approaches in improving relations between bully and victim. However, the shared method of concern arguably favours bullies and is used infrequently by staff, providing more potential power to the perpetrator.
Another example of a restorative approach is the ‘Circle of Friends Method’, which promotes inclusivity of pupils who are not adapting in school, generating support systems, friendships, intimacy, participation, and exchange (Forest et al. 1996). Restorative models such as this could prevent future violent crimes by mending relationships between bully and victim, preventing the person from becoming a bully-victim, and removing the greater risk of future violent crime. Though, there are possible risks that the COFM is not victim-focused enough and may result in feelings of dissatisfaction.
The Circle of Friends Method could be adapted to cyberbullying by creating support groups and producing relevant resources for all parties (Purdy et al. 2021). These groups may have limitations. Hassani et al. (2022) discovered that mediations were mainly used for young men and had inadequate environments that favoured the bully. The ideology of COFM endorses the inclusivity of marginalised students, increasing student morale. The literature suggests that the COFM could be a useful tool for improving peer relations both in person and online in the context of school bullying. However, given their limitations, it is difficult to comprehend whether these methods would prove beneficial in preventing violent crime.
In conclusion, the literature presents that the outcomes of school bullying vary from person to person. Furthermore, whilst violent criminality post-school bullying is once again person-specific, experiencing school bullying arguably heightens the risk of the victim becoming active in violent crime. Restorative approaches, such as bullying intervention and school transition programmes, could be effective in assisting faculty in schools by raising awareness of bullying and ensuring victims gain the ‘justice’ they may require. These approaches arguably have flaws, such as a lack on inclusivity and focusing more on perpetrators rather than victims.
Moreover, the prevention of school bullying has been discussed in a social justice context, with the prevention of school bullying being championed as a potential social justice movement which could prevent future violent crime. Though, this should be considered through the context of power from those involved both in the school bullying and the mediation of it. From my position, this article highlights the need for restorative approaches in school settings and for school bullying to be viewed as a social justice issue. Nevertheless, restorative approaches may require a greater victim-focused lens and inclusive ideology.
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Last Updated: 16 October 2023
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Callum Jones is a doctorate student at the University of Chester, studying on its DProf in Counselling and Psychological Trauma. Callum has is currently employed by both ‘Beacon Counselling’ and ‘The Gaddum Centre.’ A staunch socialist, Callum can often be found on his Podcast ‘The Therapy Files’ with another counselling colleague, discussing contemporary societal issues in and outside of the therapy room.