Written by Bishop Noble
Adolescent bullying in schools is a complex problem that is coming more and more into public consciousness. As a result, many adults have pressured school officials to increase both the penalties for adolescent bullying in schools, as well as the police presence in schools across the nation (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016). However, will the increased punishment and police presence decrease the bullying epidemic? According to Patchin and Hinduja (2016), students are, in fact, deterred more by their parents and school officials, such as teachers and principals, than they are by a police presence. Deterrence theory and the perceived punishment of students should be considered when looking at the nation’s bullying dilemma.
What is Deterrence Theory, and How Does it Affect Adolescents?
Deterrence theory posits that individuals are rational and will avoid criminal behaviors if the punishments are greater than the perceived benefits (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016). The root of this theory comes from the pleasure/pain principle (i.e., individuals want to maximize their pleasure and minimize their pain; Nagin, 1998). Deterrence theory relates to adolescent bullying because students may weigh the pleasures of engaging in bullying at school against the expected pains associated with the threats of punishment by parents, school officials, or police officers; the decision (whether or not to transgress) is dependent upon the student and his/her relationship with these authority figures (Nagin, 1998). However, adolescents view punishments that are administered by parents or school officials as the least favorable, and these sources of punishment are the best at deterring adolescents from engaging in school bullying behaviors (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016).
How Does Perceived Punishment Influence Students’ Bullying Behaviors?
The punishment that an adolescent perceives as severe largely determines what s/he will do in any given situation: if the perceived punishment is lenient, s/he may opt to engage in bullying behavior; if the perceived punishment is harsh, s/he will likely decide against using bullying behaviors (Jackson, 2002). A study has shown that an increased police presence on campuses or in schools may lead to a distrust of officers and induce more delinquent behavior (Theriot, 2009). The reason behind this distrust may be because the increased police presence fosters an adversarial relationship in which the students see the officers as rivals, and this may lead to increased disorder in schools (Theriot, 2009). Parents and school officials who convey to the students that deviant behavior, such as bullying, will not be tolerated and that the behaviors will be punished seem to play a stronger role in deterring students from bullying behaviors. Additionally, it is noteworthy to mention that punishment by parents and school officials must be supportive and nurturing, as well as punitive, in nature (Hoeve et al., 2009). These elements are important because the child must feel love and support from the individuals s/he loves and looks up to even though s/he is being punished for his/her behavior.
Findings from Patchin and Hinduja’s (2016) Study
Patchin and Hinduja (2016) examined the amount of bullying that students experienced in their schools; bullying at school was experienced by 26.6% of the students, compared to online bullying, which was experienced by 5.8% of the students. They also examined how perceived punishment from different sources would affect deterrence from bullying (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016). The sample included 1,096 students in grades 5-8 attending public schools located in the Northeastern and Midwestern U.S. Results revealed that even informal efforts, such as discussing the problems of bullying, by parents and school officials have the potential for greater impact in deterring students from bullying than the utilization of police officers (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016). Additionally, school punishment appears to have greater impact in deterring school bullying, while parental punishment is more effective in deterring cyberbullying (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016). Punishment by the police for both school bullying and cyberbullying were perceived less often than punishment by parents or schools (Patchin & Hinduja, 2016).
In conclusion, deterrence theory has been shown to have some relevance to students and their perceptions of punishment regarding bullying. The increased police presence in many schools may not be the best way for our nation to decrease bullying behavior within schools. Having parents and school officials become more involved in students’ lives may be the factor that is missing in reducing bullying. It is important that parents, teachers, principals, and counselors all understand how their students’ perceptions operate so that they will be able to reduce this persistent bullying problem that is present across the nation.
Hoeve, M., Dubas, J. S., Eichelsheim, V. I., Van der Laan, P. H., Smeenk, W., & Gerris, J. R. (2009). The relationship between parenting and delinquency: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychology, 37, 749-775.
Jackson, A. (2002). Police-school resource officers’ and students’ perception of the police and offending. Policing: An International Journal of Police Strategies & Management, 25, 631-650.
Nagin, D. S. (1998). Criminal deterrence research at the outset of the Twenty-First Century. Crime and Justice, 23, 1-42.
Patchin, J. W., & Hinduja, S. (2016). Deterring teen bullying: Assessing the impact of perceived Punishment from police, schools, and parents. Youth Violence and Juvenile Justice, 1-18.
Theriot, M. T. (2009). School resource officers and the criminalization of student behavior. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 280-287.
Dr. H. Colleen Sinclair
Social Psychologist, Relationships Researcher,
Ms. Chelsea Ellithorpe
Lab Manager of the Social Relations Collaborative and Blog Editor