Abstract: Development and Pilot Evaluation of Bullydown: A Text Messaging-Based Bullying Prevention Program for Middle School Students (Society for Prevention Research 27th Annual Meeting)

180 Development and Pilot Evaluation of Bullydown: A Text Messaging-Based Bullying Prevention Program for Middle School Students

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Seacliff D (Hyatt Regency San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Dorothy Espelage, PhD, Professor, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Michele Ybarra, PhD, CEO, Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR), San Clemente, CA
Tonya L. Prescott, BS, Clinical Research Coordinator, Center for Innovative Public Health Research (CiPHR), San Clemente, CA
Alberto Valido, BS, Projects Coordinator, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL
Bullying is a significant public health issue among middle school-aged youth (National Academies of Science, 2016). Given the limited impact of existing school-based interventions and the time associated with implementing them, technology should be leveraged to minimize the burden on classroom time/resources. Cell phone text messaging technology can potentially overcome existing challenges. BullyDown, a text messaging social-emotional learning (SEL) program, addresses this critical need by providing a potentially scalable program that could be quickly and cost-effectively disseminated to middle schools across the country.

Development of BullyDown implemented five activities over a 12-month period: (1) national focus groups (n=37 youth) to gather acceptability of program components; (2) development of content; (3) a national Content Advisory Team (n=9 youth) to confirm content tone; and (4) an internal team test of software functionality followed by a beta test (n=22 youth) to confirm the enrollment protocol and the feasibility and acceptability of the program.

Focus group findings suggested that youth: (a) defined bullying differently than school personnel; (b) targets of bullies were diverse; (c) intervening to help victims is challenging; and (d) prevention efforts at their school were limited to posters and assemblies. Youth also reported a wide range of coping and emotion regulation strategies in relation to bullying. Guided by SEL and social cognitive theory, these focus group findings (along with the extant bully research) informed the development of BullyDown, the 7-week program for middle school youth which covered the following topics: communication, problem-solving, respect for diversity, identifying bullying, attitudes toward bullying, bystander intervention, coping with stress, empathy, perspective-taking, anger, and impulsivity.

Feedback from the Content Advisory Team suggests a preference for 2-4 brief text messages per day. Beta test findings suggest that BullyDown is both feasible and acceptable. According to the SEL model, interactivity increases participant engagement, and new behaviors need to be practiced in order to be integrated into one’s behavioral script. As such, BullyDown includes several features aimed at engaging youth and also encouraging them to practice the skills being discussed in the content. Principal among these is the “Text Buddy” feature, which pairs intervention participants and encourages them to discuss with each other what they are learning in the program. A pilot evaluation is planned for Spring 2019 in order to further evaluate the program. However, text messaging appears to be a feasible and acceptable delivery method for bullying prevention programming delivered to middle school students.