York researchers are helping to change the way we think about bullying, aggression and violence

Group of happy elementary friends together

Distinguished Research Professor, Debra Pepler is helping to change the way we think about bullying, aggression and violence among children and youth.

Pepler and her colleagues have examined not only what contributes to the development of aggression, but also what contributes to healthy social-emotional development. Pepler has two major research programs on children at risk within peer relationships and within the family. To study aggression and bullying, Pepler developed an innovative methodology to observe children’s interactions, which would normally be hidden from adults. For the past 30 years, she has collaborated with the Child Development Institute on the SNAP® (Stop Now and Plan) program for aggressive children and their families. For the past 20 years, she has been studying the processes of change through Breaking the Cycle, a program for substance using mothers and their young children. She is also Senior Research Advisor for Pine River Institute, a residential program for youth with addiction and mental health problems.

In 2006, Pepler established PREVNet, Promoting Relationships and Eliminating Violence Network, together with Queen's University Professor Wendy Craig, who was Pepler's first PhD student at York University. With funding from the Networks of Centres of Excellence, PREVNET has developed into an interdisciplinary collaboration bringing together 127 researchers and 61 national organizations. PREVNet’s mission is to reduce bullying and violence in children’s lives by promoting healthy relationship. Through PREVNet’s partnership with the Public Health Agency Canada, Pepler and colleagues were able to examine the links between healthy relationships and healthy development. The quality of youths’ relationships with parents, teachers, peers and neighbourhoods was strongly linked to many aspects of their physical, social, emotional, and academic well-being.

With Shelley Cardinal of the Canadian Red Cross, Pepler leads a national research project: Walking the Prevention Circle: Re-Searching Community Capacity Building for Violence Prevention.  They are joined by Susan Dion, a York education professor, and other researchers and partners. Through this project with the Canadian Red Cross, Pepler and colleagues are working in partnerships with First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities to better understand what enables communities to move from a cycle of violence to a circle of healing. The project is funded by the Social Sciences & Humanities Research Council of Canada as a Partnership Grant.

Pepler has been a Senior Adjunct Scientist at the Hospital for Sick Children since 2001. She has co-edited 12 books and written over 220 refereed journal articles, book chapters, and government reports. Most recently, she was awarded a Senior Research Fellowship at UNICEF’s Innocenti Research Centre, Florence. Among her awards are: the Donald O. Hebb Award for Distinguished Contributions to Psychology as a Science from the Canadian Psychological Association (2015), the Pickering Award for Outstanding Contribution to Developmental Psychology in Canada (2015), the TELUS Outstanding Canadian award (program, post-secondary) for fostering cyber-safety through PREVNet (2015), the Humanitarian Award from Queen’s University Alumni Association (2011), the Arts in Academia Award from the University of Waterloo (2009), the Canadian Psychological Association's Award for Distinguished Contributions to Public or Community Service (2008), and the Contribution to Knowledge Award from the Psychology Foundation of Canada (1996).

To learn more about Professor Pepler’s research, please visit her website.