Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Adolescents and Their Social Development

Doctoral Research on Bullying, Pt. 1

By DJ Skogsberg, Ed.D.

Introduction / Foreword:

how to stop bullying in schools - research in adolescent developmentIn this, my second blog for the School Improvement Network, I was thrilled to see the opportunity to take bullying, and in my perspective, the culture of a school, head-on. Let me first be clear that the professional experiences I have had with school culture are directly related to middle level schools, which in turn, lead me to conduct doctoral research on improving school culture through the empowerment of students to ensure ownership in their learning environment.

What follows is a portion of that research in support of making positive changes to address bullying through establishing ownership in school by empowering students as active stakeholders.

Finally, it is noted here that while a lot of adolescent behavior can be connected, through research, to actual developmental stages in life, it is no excuse for anyone’s behavior in bullying any other individual.

Adolescents and Their Social Development:

George and Alexander’s extensive research into adolescents and their impending development led to the establishment of moral developmental levels and stages. In their text, The Exemplary Middle School (2003), George, seen as one of the foremost experts on middle schools, and Alexander, known as the “Father of Middle School,” noted that at the middle level. We could see any one of three developmental levels and/or six developmental stages as identified by Kohlberg:
  • Level One: Preconventional
    • Stage One-Punishment and Obedience: literal obedience to avoid punishment
    • Stage Two-Individual Instrumental Purpose and Exchange: serving one’s own or other’s needs for personal benefit
  • Level Two-Conventional
    • Stage Three-Mutual Interpersonal Expectations, Relationships, and Conformity: the desire to please others and conform to perceived norms of right and wrong.
    • Stage Four-Social System and Conscience Maintenance: doing one’s duty to preserve the social order
  • Level Three: Post-Conventional and Principled
    • Stage Five-Prior Rights and Social Contract: commitment to relative social order; rules may be changed if needed
    • Stage Six-Universal Ethical Principles: action determined by conscience, based on self-chosen ethical principles (George & Alexander, 2003, pg. 16-17).
Through their research, George and Alexander ascertained the moral developmental level of middle school students, noting:
  • some will demonstrate a predominance of Stage 1;
  • near age 10, some begin to enter Stage 2;
  • middle school students are typically thought to be in Stage 3; and
  • a very small population of middle school students will move into Stage 4 during their middle school years.
Considering Kohlberg, George, and Alexander, Berndt’s 1979 research on the role of youth development identified specific correlations between adolescents and their developmental changes in conformity to peers and parents. Specifically, adolescents were more apt to conform to peers and peers’ wishes than the wishes of their parents or other adult figures. This corresponded to the Stage 2 service of one’s needs or the needs of others for personal benefit versus the more advanced Stages 3 and 4 approach of conforming to norms of right and wrong, or doing one’s duty to maintain the social good is one of the main reasons why we see a preponderance of bullying at middle level schools. The research indicated that adolescents were more likely to side with peers and peer requests than the requests of the adult figures (parents, guardians, teachers, administrators, etc.). Behaviors researched were categorized into three compartments: neutral, prosocial, and antisocial. Of alarming rate was the growth of adolescents (children in grades 6 through 9) conforming to antisocial behavior. Commensurately, there was nearly an equal level of decline in this negative behavior in later adolescents (grades 10 through 12) (Berndt, 1979). Feldman (1970) identifies the need of adolescents to be “permitted to experiment partially and somewhat leisurely with the obligations and privileges of adulthood… to alleviate such stresses” (Feldman, 1970, p. 2).

A more recent study conducted by Crick and Dodge (1994) examined “global cognitive constructs such as perspective taking, role taking, and referential communication” (pg. 74). Crick and Dodge identified four mental steps that children took prior to participating in social behaviors “(a) encoding of situational cues, (b) representation and interpretation of those cues, (c) mental search for possible responses to the situation, and (d) selection of a response” (1994, pg. 74). Again, research by Bandura and Schunk (1981), through Stanford University, opined that “[b]y making self-satisfaction conditional on a certain level of performance, individuals create self-inducements to persist in their efforts until their performances match internal standards. Both the anticipated satisfactions for matching attainments and the dissatisfactions with insufficient ones provide incentives for self-directed actions” (1981, pg. 586). What is emphasized in Bandura and Schunk’s research is the notion that competence and self-efficacy are developed through self-motivation. This means that students, particularly adolescents, improved their interest in doing what was right as a result of the perceptions held in the direct link to the results. One may then surmise that as adolescents develop, when given the opportunity to personally connect to their own experiences through individual and group ownership, the results of undertakings were improved.

Research by Berndt, et.al (1979), and subsequently by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) indicates that students, when given the opportunity to make a choice in a presented hypothetical scenario, adolescents (referred to as “youngsters” by Steinberg and Silverberg) came to differing conclusions which were dependent on the perception of whom the student was trying to please. In the cases where the same scenarios were presented, students often opted to seek peer approval versus adult approval. When considering peer to peer decisions, adolescents were more likely to choose a result more pleasing to close friends (or best friends) than to another peer with whom the student was acquainted. This information led me to indicate the correlation between the theoretical work conducted by Kohlberg (1981) and George and Alexander (2003), and that of the quantitative research conducted by Berndt (1979), with supplemental study by Steinberg and Silverberg (1986).

This research is supplemented by recent research conducted by the Office of Adolescent Health (2011) as well as a meta analysis by James Burns (2011). Burns notes, “School districts now have to budget for bullying programs. That’s tax dollars that get spent just trying to make sure that people are treated with resepect. Something we should all do freely, without the imposition of consequences” (2011). Consider this when “60% of middle school students say that they have been bullied” (Burns, 2011). With the expansion of this research, the indication is that there is far more verbal bullying (and one of the most difficult to substantiate and address) than physical. In most cases of non-physical bullying, it is the girls whose behavior stands out, as in most cases of girl on girl bullying, it is done covertly and in packs through “emotional violence” (Hardcastle, 2012).

Catalano, et.al. (2004) indicated a distinct difference between bonding to an entity, such as school, versus attaching oneself to a committed social network. Consideration of this research deconstructed the socialization process into four key processes: “1) perceived opportunities for involvement in activities and interactions with others; 2) actual involvement; 3) skill for involvement and interaction, and 4) perceived rewards from involvement and interaction” (2004, pg. 252). This research, again, supported findings by Berndt (1979) and Steinberg and Silverberg (1986) in direct correlation to Kohlberg (1981) and George and Alexander (2003). In 1994, Crick and Dodge focused their study on children’s social adjustment examining perspective taking, role taking, and referential communication. Dodge’s previous research noted that when children were “faced with a social situational cue, [they] engage[d] in four mental steps before enacting competent social behaviors” (Crick & Dodge, 1994, pg. 74). As described in previous studies, when students were afforded the opportunity to make decisions, they did so. As has been discussed, the indication was that decisions made were connected to peer relations versus adult or parental relations. In summary, these theorists and researchers appear to describe an environment built upon a foundation of empowering students by giving them ownership in their learning community.

*****

For more information on bullying prevention and available resources to support your efforts, sign up today for the FREE professional development webinar for educators presented by the School Improvement Network, Bullying: Understanding the Problem, Defining Solutions on May 30th 2012, 3:00pm with Robin Young of the National Crime Prevention Council.

Click here to register for the FREE webinar:http://www.instantpresenter.com/AccountManager/RegEv.aspx?PIID=EA57D783884f

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