Journal of Experimental Criminology

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 443–462 | Cite as

Bullying prevention programs: the importance of peer intervention, disciplinary methods and age variations

  • Maria M. TtofiEmail author
  • David P. Farrington



The aim of this paper is to respond to the commentary of Peter K. Smith, Christina Salmivalli, and Helen Cowie (Journal of Experimental Criminology, 2012), who raise concerns regarding some of the findings of our systematic review and meta-analyses on the effectiveness of bullying prevention programs. They target three findings in particular: (1) the significant association of ‘Work with Peers’ with greater victimization; (2) the significant association of ‘Disciplinary Methods’ with less bullying perpetration and victimization; and (3) the age variations in effectiveness, suggesting larger effect sizes for older age students.


We provide explicit information and further detailed analyses on the relationship between these features and effect sizes, including heterogeneity tests and results from weighted regression analyses. For one element in particular (work with peers), we present further research findings from evaluations conducted by Smith, Salmivalli, and Cowie (and also findings from other independent researchers) which support our previous findings. New within-program analyses to examine variations in effect sizes with the age of the students are also presented.


Evaluations conducted by Smith, Salmivalli and Cowie (and by other independent researchers) indicate the same research conclusions: although peer support schemes appear effective based on attitudinal surveys, these schemes are not related to actual levels of bullying or victimization and, in fact, are quite often related to an increase in bullying and victimization. Our definition of ‘disciplinary methods’ did not include the zero-tolerance approach or any type of harsh discipline as suggested in the commentary. In all relevant cases, ‘disciplinary methods’ included sanctions within a warm and loving framework, following the Olweus bullying prevention guidelines. While most programs that utilized firm disciplinary methods were inspired by Olweus, the relationship between disciplinary methods and less victimization was not driven by the Olweus program (which was not related to the victimization effect size). Larger effect sizes (i.e. reductions in bullying and victimization) for programs implemented with older students is a robust result also found in a more recent systematic review regarding the effects of anti-bullying programs on bystander intervention. In within-program analyses, most results suggested that effect sizes were greater for younger students, but these results were driven by the less controlled evaluations. The most controlled evaluation (randomized experiment) provided the opposite result.


More research is clearly needed on the effectiveness of bullying prevention programs with students of different ages, and we also recommend randomized experiments to assess the importance of different intervention components.


Bullying prevention Meta-analysis Peer support schemes Disciplinary methods Age variations 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of CriminologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK

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