No More Bullying!

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:

  • Boys are more likely than girls to be bullies. They are also more likely to be the victims of bullies.
  • Bullying is seen among a wide range of age groups, but the highest occurrence is among children in grades 6 through 8.
  • Among boys the most common bullying behaviors are physical, such as hitting, slapping or pushing.
  • Among girls bullying is more often verbal or psychological, such as spreading rumors about another girl.

Troubling Consequences

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.

  • Fighting in school: Nearly 39 percent of the boys who admitted to bullying others said they frequently got into fights. More than 22 percent of boys who reported being the victims of bullies said they frequently were involved in fights. Only 8 percent of boys who never had bullied anyone frequently got into fights.
  • Weapons in school: More than 43 percent of boys who said they were regular bullies in school admitted to having carried a weapon to school. About 29 percent of the victims of bullies said they had brought a weapon to school. By comparison, fewer than 8 percent of boys who said they had never bullied others reported having carried a weapon in school.

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.

Bully-Proofing Schools

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:

  • Increase awareness of bullying
  • Tighten teacher and parent supervision
  • Set firm anti-bullying rules
  • Protect and support victims of bullies

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.

What Parents Can Do:

  • Let the school know about your concerns immediately.
  • Keep a record of time, date, names and circumstances to show a pattern of bullying.
  • Urge your school to adopt a clear conduct code that enforces penalties for students who break the rules about bullying.
  • Teach your child self-respect; confident kids are less likely to be victims.
  • Let your child know it is okay to express anger, if done appropriately.
  • Encourage friendships, there is strength in numbers.
  • Arrange weekend play dates to promote friendships.
  • Build social skills, especially with shy kids. Role-play situations.
  • Explain the difference between telling and tattling (telling is when you report that you or someone else is in danger; tattling is just to get someone in trouble).
  • Recognize that verbal abuse and exclusionary behavior also are part of bullying.
  • Stress the importance of body language, kids who look like victims attract bullies.
  • Teach your kids how to make friends, share, compromise and apologize.
  • Violent TV, videos and games lead to aggression – talk to your kids about violence; limit violent games and TV; encourage your kids to read!

What Kids Can Do:

  • Assert (stand up for) yourself and walk away.
  • Ignore and walk away (especially for first-time incidents).
  • Use strong come-back statements.
  • Practice what you’ll say and do.
  • Use humor.
  • Agree with the bully.
  • Tell an adult.
  • Play detective to gather information.
  • Practice not showing strong emotions in front of the bully.
  • Stay with others – bullies usually act aggressively with kids who are alone.