The tragic news of suicides related to bullying among high school students has been increasing over the last few years. Research evidence shows a correlation between suicide ideation and bullying among young adults. Research evidence demonstrates that youths who experience bullying are more likely to ideate, attempt, and commit suicide (CDC, n.d.). A variety of other factors, such as underlying mental health conditions, increase predisposition to suicide. Therefore, it is imperative that relevant authorities and stakeholders – parents, students, school management boards, mental health providers, communities, and the federal government – develop and implement prevention strategies against bullying. A media campaign can help create awareness and persuade the masses about the negative implications of bullying. Underpinning the campaign on persuasive theories will demonstrate the most effective ways of appealing to students’ attitudes and behaviors to reduce bullying and related suicide incidents.
The Media Campaign: Raising Awareness
A media campaign is one way of creating awareness about bullying and its relation to the high suicide rates among high school students. Although it is largely preventable, suicide remains the single highest cause of death among youths aged between 10 and 24 years in the United States (Limbana et al., 2020). Therefore, there is a need to combat the increasing trends to prevent developing a culture where youths resort to suicide when facing challenges such as bullying. Suicidal thoughts among the bullied young adults range between 11.6% and 14.7%, while the attempts are lower at 5.4% – to 6.8% (Limbana et al., 2020). One of the factors contributing to the high suicide ideation among the youths is the loss of worth after bullying. Individual differences between victims and perpetrators further compound the complex relationship between bullying and suicide (Limbana et al., 2020). Perpetrators in positions of power can abuse status to bully their juniors, leading to suicide.
Identifying the right target group for the media campaign is also essential in enhancing its effectiveness. Suicidality is high among victims with underlying conditions such as low self-esteem, depression, loneliness, and helplessness (Limbart et al., 2020). Therefore, customizing the campaign and aiming it at particular groups that are more predisposed to suicide ideation and attempts is crucial in improving the program’s efficiency. School counselors, parents, and mental health experts who offer their services to such students can provide pertinent information regarding the mental health status of the high school students.
High school students are at a developmental stage that increases their risks to mental health problems, which predispose them to suicidality. According to Limbana et al. (2020), teenagers are more susceptible to suicide ideation and attempts because of exposure to intense stress during their transition period. However, teenagers’ impressionable minds are also beneficial for developing and implementing coping measures against bullying.
Programs that intend to change teenagers’ behaviors and attitudes towards bullying are vital for both the victims and perpetrators. The programs can target the perpetrators’ minds to change their bullying behaviors, ending the adverse practice. The awareness campaign can also target the victims to empower them with knowledge and skills about responding to bullying. Incorporating persuasion theories is also vital in improving the media campaign’s effectiveness in achieving its objectives.
The primary role of persuasion is to alter a person’s attitude and behavior by convincing them about the beneficial outcomes of the changed behavior. Miller and Levine (2019) agree that persuasion is a crucial aspect of human and mass communication because it enhances social influence by “reinforcing cognitions, affective states, or overt behaviors of another person.” Therefore, persuasion comprises intentional communication acts that do not involve coercion. Beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors are inextricable concepts that influence persuasion. Attitude refers to a person’s evaluative tendencies, while belief involves an occurrence’s assessment based on the “true or false” outcome. Behavior encompasses all observable actions that individuals exhibit due to their beliefs and attitudes towards particular environmental features. The persuasion theory emphasizes altering beliefs and attitudes to achieve changed behavior. Various persuasion theories apply to the media campaign aimed at reducing bullying incidents and suicide rates.
The first category of persuasion theories intends to change the perpetrator’s behavior and the victim’s response. The behavioristic learning theory of persuasion explains the aspect of behavioral change in addressing issues like suicide and bullying. The theory assumes that classical, operant and vicarious conditioning leads to persuasion (Miller & Levine, 2019). The theory asserts that conditioned and unconditioned stimulus leads to desired behavioral changes. For example, classical conditioning leads to responses based on previous stimulations. Human beings can learn behaviors from classical conditioning by constantly repeating the stimulants until the desired outcome is achieved.
The media campaign will deploy classical positioning of the behavioristic theory of persuasion to appeal to the perpetrators’ beliefs and attitudes about bullying. Bullies may not be fully aware of the implications of their actions on their victims. Therefore, the media campaign will focus on stimulating the perpetrators’ minds with messages about the adverse effects of bullying on the victims. The message regarding the negative effects of bullying will be the conditioned stimulus, while the reduced incidents of bullying will be the conditioned response to the media campaign (Lefrancois, 2019). The media campaign will also incorporate other forms of persuasion to encourage behavioral change. For example, awarding schools that report the lowest bullying rates may encourage the students to shun behaviors like bullying. The stimulus will condition students to behave accordingly to attract the reward.
Social judgment theory is another framework that would benefit the media campaign against bullying and suicide among high school students. The theory presumes that individuals perceive persuasion messages the same way they make decisions about the physical stimulus (Miller & Levine, 2019). Therefore, a person is likely to react in the same way to a persuasive message as they would to a physical stimulus. The theory is based on the aspects of acceptance, rejection, and non-commitment, which will help in identifying messages that the target audience may accept or reject (Ramos Salazar, 2017). Based on this theory, persuading high school students to shun bullying and adopt better behaviors based on a physical stimulant like a reward would have similar outcomes.
Therefore, this theory underpins the importance of introducing positive stimulants like incentives to high schools to avert bullying and reduce the resultant high suicide rates. Other incentives that the media campaign will encourage based on the social judgment theory include providing accessible mental health services to high school students. Students who bully others are also likely to be undergoing challenges in their homes or at school. Therefore, providing mental health services in the context of the school will facilitate the diagnosis of underlying issues that may predispose the perpetrators to vice. Consequently, treating the underlying disorders will reduce incidents of bullying and suicides. However, these theories target the perpetrators’ behaviors, overlooking the victims’ response to the same.
Eliminating bullying is the ultimate solution to suicides emanating from the vice. However, there is no guarantee that bullying will not exist at any time in high schools. Therefore, empowering the vulnerable population with coping skills is important in ensuring that they do not commit suicide as a way of dealing with the harassment. The cognitive response theory of persuasion underpins the significance of empowering the victims with coping skills. According to Miller and Levine (2019), this theory assumes that the audience actively evaluates a message and decides to accept or reject it. This theory will help develop the most appropriate coping skills for the audience. The campaign will encourage telling someone as a coping technique against bullying.
Media campaigns play a crucial role in addressing challenges that people face in contemporary society. Bullying and suicide are some of the challenges that high school students face. Creating awareness about the challenge, educating high school students about the potential challenges, and empowering the victims with essential coping skills are vital strategies in addressing bullying and the subsequent suicides. The campaign aimed at altering perpetrators’ behaviors and empowering the victims with coping skills. The media campaign applied different theories of persuasion to achieve its objectives. Behavioristic learning theories, social judgment theory, and the cognitive theory proved useful in enhancing the social media campaign’s efficiency. Evaluating other theories’ effects on media campaigns’ effectiveness would be essential in determining the best intervention against bullying and suicide among high school learners.
CDC. (n.d.). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Web.
Lefrancois, G. R. (2019). Theories of human learning. Cambridge University Press. Web.
Limbana, T., Khan, F., Eskander, N., Emamy, M., & Jahan, N. (2020). The association of bullying and suicidality: Does it affect the pediatric population? Cureus, 12(8), 1-11. Web.
Miller, M. D., & Levine, T. R. (2019). Persuasion. In An integrated approach to communication theory and research (pp. 261-276). Routledge. Web.
Ramos Salazar, L. (2017). Changing resistant audience attitudes using social judgment theory’s “anchor” point perspectives. Communication Teacher, 31(2), 90-93. Web.