Bullying: Understanding Attitudes toward Bullying and Perceptions of School Social Climate

By , and — Bullying Special Edition Contributor
Updated on Feb 11, 2009

Main Questions

What are students’ attitudes toward bullying? Do those attitudes differ when students are involved in bullying? If students are involved in bullying, do they have different perceptions of school climate compared to those students not involved in bullying? Lastly, are students’ attitudes toward bullying related to their perception of school climate?


Bullying has increasingly been recognized as a problem of national and international concern and the increased media attention on school violence (e.g., Columbine and Jonesboro shootings), has brought a spotlight to the phenomenon of bullying and victimization within schools. The increased focus on bullying has also contributed to our understanding of how bullying looks today.

  • The old definition of bullying has expanded beyond physical aggression and the old adage of boys will be boys to include such behaviors as relational aggression, verbal harassment, and cyberbullying.
  • Research continues to explore factors that might serve to create environments conducive to bullying and the factors that help to eradicate this ever-evolving problem (1).

According to the United States National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, “school climate” has become a variable that is increasingly being evaluated in the wake of the focus on school violence and safety in schools (2). Research that has examined school climate at the classroom level has found that classroom characteristics, such as student-teacher relationships and peer cooperation, play an important role in mediating peer aggression (3). A common theme in understanding school climate within the context of bullying relates to social interactions, which include peer interactions and student-teacher interactions within the school environment.

  • It is important to note that when we examine school climate, we are actually measuring the student’s perception of school climate, which can be influenced by current or past experiences that occurred within that environment.

Another variable that warrants further exploration is student attitudes toward bullying.

  • Studies have generally shown that, students who reported more positive attitudes about aggression were more likely to engage in aggressive behavior, such as bullying (4, 5).
  • Generally speaking, if students report higher levels of pro-bullying attitudes, it is possible that they perceive a school environment that is supportive of bullying.

We explored student attitudes towards bullying and student perceptions of school social climate in an effort to obtain information that would lead to a better understanding of the bullying phenomenon and factors that promote a healthy learning environment and deter anti-social behavior. To this end, we asked 347 students in grades six through nine (ranging from ages 11 to 15), from three different Midwestern schools to complete surveys about bullying and school climate. The students were participants in a longitudinal study about bullying.

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