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The notion that bullying is simply an unpleasant rite of passage through adolescence belies its potential dangers, a recent national study suggests. Both bullies and the boys and girls they pick on are much more likely to get into a fight or carry a weapon to school than other children.
More than 15,600 public and private school students in grades 6 through 10 participated in the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) study – the first large-scale study of bullying among American school children, reported in the April 2003 Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.
Bullying is repeated, aggressive behavior done to hurt someone. Hitting and pushing are two examples of physical bullying. But bullying can also be verbal or psychological, such as when a bully repeatedly taunts another child, or threatens, intimidates or spreads rumors about the child.
Nearly 17 percent of U.S. school children are bullied by other students in school. Early findings of the NICHD study offer a glimpse of bullies, their victims and behaviors:
More is being discovered about the consequences of bullying and the news is troubling. The NICHD study indicates that bullies and their victims are at higher risk of engaging in more aggressive and violent behaviors while they are in school and after school. But it is the bullies – particularly boys – who run the greatest risk of behaving more aggressively or violently.
Such evidence is particularly chilling in light of published reports that suggest bullying may have contributed to the deadly school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, in 1999 and at Santana High School in Santee, CA, two years later. The NICHD study also reports that bullies are more likely to become violent away from school, where there is less adult supervision. More than 70 percent of boys who said they bullied others away from school reported having carried a weapon and nearly 45 percent said they were frequently involved in fights.
Several bullying prevention programs are being tried in the United States, using a variety of methods and reporting varying degrees of success. More rigorous evaluation is needed to determine just how effective many of these programs are, however.
One thoroughly-evaluated, successful intervention is the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which was developed in Norway and is considered a model program by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). In general, the program recruits school staff, students and parents in efforts to:
Successful outcomes have been reported in elementary, middle, and junior high schools that adopted the Olewus program, including sharp declines in reports of bullying, fewer reports of fighting and vandalism, and improved attitudes toward schoolwork and school in general.
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