Understanding the Issue
What is Bullying?
The Impact of Bullying on Students and Schools
What Does Research Say is Effective in Addressing Bullying?
Introducing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP)
Cyber Bullying: What Can Be Done to Address It?
A Misunderstanding of "Whole-School" Problems
According to Dr. Olweus, this definition includes three important components.
Bullying is aggressive behavior that involves unwanted, negative actions.
Bullying involves a pattern of behavior repeated over time.
Bullying involves an imbalance of power or strength.
This imbalance of power or strength could involve a larger or older student bullying smaller or younger students. It could involve a group of students bullying one student, or a student with more "social power" bullying a less popular student.
Types of Bullying
Bullying can happen in many ways. Most types of bullying fall into two categories: direct bullying and indirect bullying.
Direct bullying involves physical confrontations such as hitting, kicking, shoving, and spitting; and verbal harassment such as taunting, teasing, racial slurs; and threats and obscene gestures. Indirect bullying is more subversive and can include getting someone to bully for you, spreading rumors, deliberately excluding someone from a group or activity, and cyber bullying. No matter the type of bullying used, all forms are equally harmful and can have long-lasting consequences.
More about Cyber Bullying
School yard bullying was once limited to acts of shoving, hitting, taunting, and threats. With the latest technology, bullies can now add high-tech strategies to their arsenal of weapons. Rates of cyber bullying range from 7 to 15 percent of youth. When prevention and intervention are absent, the problem is compounded.
According to Dr. Susan Limber, Dr. Robin Kowalski, and Dr. Patti Agatston, leading researchers in the field, cyber bullying is defined as bullying through email, instant messaging (IM), in a chat room, on a Web site, or through digital messages or images sent to a cellular phone.
Students can use Internet-based technologies to tell lies, spread rumors, make threatening comments, and post humiliating images and videos about each other. All of this content can be posted anonymously or under a false name — and viewed at any time by anyone with Internet access. Cruelty goes digital, while perpetrators stay faceless. This makes it doubly hard for students who are cyber bullied to respond.
Research shows that students who are cyber bullied and also cyber bully others are more likely to be anxious, depressed, and have low self-esteem. Teens who are cyber bullied are also more likely to have lower grades and higher absenteeism rates. “Research has also shown a correlation between perpetrators of online harrassment and substance abuse,” adds Patti Agatston, Ph.D., co-author of Cyber Bullying: A Prevention Curriculum for Grades 3-5 and a similar curriculum for grades 6-12. “Internet harrassers were three times more likely to be frequent substance abusers.”
How Prevalent is Bullying?
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine's Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy and Practice report, school-based bullying likely affects between 18 and 31 percent of children and youth and the prevalence of cyber bullying ranges from 7 to 15 percent of youth. Prevalence rates can be even higher for vulnerable subgroups of youth such as students with disabilities.
The 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that 20.2 percent of youth reported being bullied on school property. This rate has remained unchanged since 2009. It was also reported that 5.6% of students in grades 9-12 did not go to school at least once during the previous 30 days because they felt unsafe at school or on the way to and from school
The Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2015 report states that16 percent of public schools reported student bullying occurred at least once a week in 2013–14. Approximately 7 percent of students ages 12–18 reported being cyber-bullied anywhere during the school year.
The Bullying in U.S. .Schools 2014 Status Report refelcts the status of bullying among 3rd-12th graders around the United States during the 2013–2014 school year. 15% of 3rd-12th grade students said that they had been bullied 2-3 times a month or more often, and 6% reported bullying others. The most common ways in which students reported being bullied were: verbal bullying, bullying by spreading rumors, and social exclusion. The least common forms of bullying that were reported by students were having property damaged, and cyber bullying.
When you consider the many different forms it can take and how prevalent bullying is, educators can no longer consider bullying something that children just need to learn to deal with. Bullying is a form of peer abuse and every child has a fundamental right to feel safe at school.
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Bullying doesn’t involve only those doing the bullying and those being bullied. Bullying involves and affects the entire school community. The three main groups that are affected by bullying are the students who are bullied, the students who bully, and the witnesses or bystanders who see it happen, like Rosa.
The Impact on Students who are Bullied
Students who are bullied can develop physical symptoms such as headaches, stomach pains or sleeping problems. They may be afraid to go to school, go to the lavatory, or ride the school bus. They may lose interest in school, have trouble concentrating, or do poorly academically.
Bullied students typically lose confidence in themselves. They may experience depression, low self-esteem, and suicidal thoughts or they may lash out in violent ways--the most serious being school shootings.
The Impact on Students Who Bully Others
Students who bully do not fair much better. Research shows that these students are more likely to get into frequent fights, steal and vandalize property, drink alcohol and smoke, report poor grades, perceive a negative climate at school, and carry a weapon. Long-term research has also shown that these students are at increased risk to commit crimes later in life.
It’s important to note, however, that not all students who bully others have obvious behavior problems or are engaged in rule-breaking activities. Some of them are highly skilled socially and good at ingratiating themselves with their teachers and other adults. For this reason it is often difficult for adults to discover, or even imagine that these students engage in bullying behavior.
The Impact of Bullying on Bystanders
Students who witness bullying may also be affected. They may feel guilty for not helping, or fearful that they will be the next target. Or they may be drawn into the bullying themselves and feel bad about it afterwards. All of this may gradually change the group or classroom attitudes and norms in a harsher, less empathetic direction.
The Impact on the School
When bullying continues and a school does not take action, the entire school climate can be affected. The environment can become one of fear and disrespect, hampering the ability of students to learn. Students may feel insecure and tend not to like school very well. When students don’t see the adults at school acting to prevent or intervene in bullying situations, they may feel that teachers and other school staff have little control over the students and don’t care what happens to them.
The effects of bullying are so devastating and profound that all 50 states now have laws against bullying. There have also been civil suits brought against schools and school systems over bullying incidents, some with damages in the millions of dollars. It is important to realize that, like sexual harassment and racial discrimination, some forms of bullying are illegal actions.
Bullying is a serious issue that will impact the school experience of all children involved. This is why it must be taken seriously and effective measures to prevent it must be put in place.
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It is not uncommon for schools to use a variety of approaches to address bullying, such as schoolwide assemblies or zero tolerance policies. But are these approaches effective in creating long-term, lasting change in the bullying rates at school? Research shows that both of these approaches are not effective. So what is?
Research on bullying prevention has increased over the last few decades and has found that multicomponent schoolwide programs combining universal prevention with targeted interventions for youth involved in bullying work best. A review of research, existing bullying prevention programs, and feedback from educators in the field have identified ten strategies that represent “best practices” in bullying prevention and intervention.
- Focus on the school environment. To reduce bullying, it is important to change the climate of the school and the social norms with regard to bullying. It must become “uncool” to bully, “cool” to help out students who are bullied, and normal for staff and students to notice when a child is bullied or left out. This work should be done schoolwide, not just in one or two classes.
- Assess bullying at your school. Often, adults are not very accurate when estimating the nature and extent of bullying at their school. For this reason, it is most helpful to administer an anonymous survey to your students. This will show you the types and prevalence of bullying at your school.
- Garner staff and parent support for bullying prevention. Bullying prevention is most effective when the entire school community, from the bus drivers to the teachers to the parents, is on board.
- Form a group to coordinate your school’s bullying prevention activities. Bullying prevention efforts seem to work best, if they are coordinated by a representative group within the school. This coordinating team (which might include an administrator, a teacher from each grade, a member of the non-teaching staff, a school counselor or other school-based mental health professional, a school nurse, and a parent) should meet regularly to establish bullying prevention plans for the school.
- Train your staff in bullying prevention. All administrators, faculty, and staff at your school should be trained in bullying prevention and intervention. In-service training can help staff to better understand the nature of bullying and its effects, how to respond if they observe bullying, and how to work with others at the school to help prevent bullying from occurring.
- Establish and enforce school rules and policies related to bullying. Although many school policies and procedures prohibit bullying, they don’t clarify expectations for bullying behavior. Developing simple, clear rules about bullying can help to ensure that students are aware of adults’ expectations and they will know that adults will help if they are bullied.
- Increase adult supervision in hot spots where bullying occurs. Bullying tends to thrive in locations where adults are not present or are not attentive. Once school personnel have identified hot spots for bullying from the student surveys, look for creative ways to increase adults’ presence in these locations.
- Intervene consistently and appropriately in bullying situations. All staff should be able to intervene effectively on the spot to stop bullying. Designated staff should also hold separate follow-up meetings for the child who is bullied and the child who bullies.
- Focus class time on bullying prevention. It is important that bullying prevention programs include a classroom component. Teachers should set aside 20-30 minutes each week to discuss bullying and peer relations with students. Bullying prevention is most effective with students when it is integrated into their classroom time.
- Continue these efforts over time. There should be no end date for bullying prevention efforts. Bullying prevention should be woven into the entire school environment.
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One of the best ways to address bullying prevention in schools is to implement an evidence-based bullying prevention program. Evidence-based means the program has gone through rigorous evaluations effectively demonstrating that the program results in positive outcomes.
The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) is the most researched and best-known bullying prevention program available today. With over thirty-five years of research and successful implementation all over the world, OBPP is a whole-school program that has been proven to prevent or reduce bullying throughout a school setting.
OBPP is used at the school, classroom, and individual levels and includes methods to reach out to parents and the community for involvement and support. School administrators, teachers, and other staff are primarily responsible for introducing and implementing the program. These efforts are designed to improve peer relations and make the school a safer and more positive place for students to learn and develop.
What are the Goals of OBPP?
OBPP has three main goals. They are to reduce existing bullying problems among students, prevent the development of new bullying problems, and to achieve better peer relations at school.
To achieve these goals, OBPP includes four anti-bullying rules for the entire school community to follow:
We will not bully others.
We will try to help students who are bullied.
We will try to include students who are left out.
If we know that someone is being bullied, we will tell an adult at school and an adult at home.
When posted around the schools and memorized by the students, these rules, along with the rest of the program, are effective in reducing and preventing bullying.
What are the Effects of OBPP?
Research has shown how successful implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program can reduce school bullying. Results have included:
Twenty to seventy percent or more reductions in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Peer and teacher ratings of bullying problems have shown similar results.
Significant reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior such as school bullying, vandalism, school violence, fighting, theft, and truancy.
Significant improvements in the classroom social climate as reflected in students' reports of improved order and discipline, more positive social relationships, and more positive attitudes toward schoolwork and school.
Greater support for students who are bullied, and stronger, more effective interventions for students who bully.
When implementing OBPP with fidelity, this award-winning program will effectively reduce and prevent bullying in your school. For more information visit the South Carolina Bullying Prevention Initiative or call (803) 798-8380.
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After reading a recent article by Neil Swidey in The Boston Globe (May 2, 2010, “The Secret to Stopping Bullying”), we felt compelled to correct some inaccuracies about bullying prevention efforts in general, and the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP), in particular, which are promoted by Swidey and supported by a number of quotes from Dr. Dorothy Espelage.
A Misunderstanding of “Whole-School” Programs
Mr. Swidey notes that “whole school assembly-type programs are notable for their abject failure.” In fact, whole-school programs such as the OBPP (also referred to as comprehensive programs, whole-school, or school-wide programs) actually stand in stark contrast to “assembly-type approaches” and other short-term solutions to bullying. The federal government (Health Resources and Services Administration, (www.stopbullyingnow.hrsa.gov) and many experts recognize that short-term, one-shot approaches are unlikely to produce positive outcomes, and comprehensive bullying prevention programs are needed to reduce bullying and have, in fact, been proven successful.
Meta-Analysis of Bullying Prevention Programs
Mr. Swidey appears to base his conclusion that “nothing works” on a meta-analysis by Kenneth Merrell and colleagues (Merrell, Guelder, Ross, & Isava, 2008). The Merrell meta-analysis included only 16 studies (and several of them with very small samples) and included only one of the six large-scale evaluations of the OBPP in Norway. The Norwegian evaluations, which comprise more than 20,000 students, have documented very positive results--typically with a reduction of 35-50 percent in reliable self-reports of “being bullied” and “bullying other students” after eight months of work with the program.
Curiously, Mr. Swidey dismisses the quite positive findings from a much larger meta-analysis by noted Cambridge University criminologist David Farrington and colleagues (Ttofi & Farrington, 2009; Ttofi, Farrington, & Baldry, 2008) as “less rigorous” even though this study is widely recognized as the most complete and rigorous study to date on bullying prevention programs. It includes 30 programs and 59 studies with a minimum of 200 subjects per study. In a recent article (Swearer, Espelage, Viallancourt, & Hymel, 2010), Dr. Espelage, herself, actually found the Cambridge analysis “noteworthy because of the rigorous study selection procedures used” (p. 42).
The OBPP is actually the only bullying prevention program in the Farrington meta-analysis that has been replicated a number of times with positive results; all the other program evaluations are based on first-time, demonstration projects (where possible future replications are much more uncertain). A basic message of the Cambridge meta-analysis is that whole-school programmes can be quite successful but also that there are great variations in the effects of different programs. Farrington and his colleagues concluded that programs “inspired by the work of Dan Olweus worked best” (Ttofi et al., 2008, p. 8) and that future efforts should be “grounded in the successful Olweus programme” (p. 8). In sum, the general message of this report and in particular with regard to the OBPP is in complete opposition to what is argued in the Globe article.
Appropriateness of the OBPP in Diverse Settings
In the Boston Globe article, Dr Espelage claims that, “there is no scientific evidence to show that strategies developed for Norway’s homogeneous population actually work for the population here, especially given its diversity.” With regard to this statement, it should be emphasized first that several of our successful evaluations of the OBPP have been made with schools in Oslo (the capital of Norway) where approximately 25% of the students are of minority background and where as many as 30-40 different languages are spoken by students.
Further, comparisons of nationally representative U.S. and Norwegian student samples have shown that there are no marked differences in levels of problem behaviors in the two countries (Olweus & Limber, 2010). Moreover, there are, in fact, U.S. evaluations of the OBPP with positive results that have included ethnically diverse populations. In one large-scale evaluation study from South Carolina a majority of students from low-income families with minority (African American) background. This study showed positive program effects for students’ reports of bullying and antisocial behavior. Another large-scale study of schools in inner-city Philadelphia with predominantly African American students found marked decreases in “Bullying Incident Density” with the OBPP over a 4-year period (Black & Jackson, 2007).
Admittedly, the results obtained with the OBPP in the U.S. have not (yet) been as consistent and convincing as in Norway but given the effects produced by other programs in the U.S., we think they must be considered quite encouraging, in particular since they were obtained with economically and ethnically very diverse populations.
Against this background, we find Dr Espelage’s critical comments about the OBPP generally unfair and her attempt to create an impression that the program is not suited for ethnically diverse U.S. student populations misguided. The inappropriateness of such categorical statements is also demonstrated by the fact that we are presently involved in two large-scale U.S. evaluation studies of the OBPP in which the preliminary analyses of both student and teacher data show quite promising results
A Focus on Bystander Behavior
In his Boston Globe article, Mr. Swidey notes that, “one strategy gaining a good deal of traction involves bystander training. The thinking is that we can reduce bullying by encouraging uninvolved students to step in to protest when they see it happening.” This idea is not new. As educators and school children know who have implemented the OBPP, the program does, in fact focus on bystander behavior, and it has done so from its inception (Olweus, 1993; Olweus, Limber, & Mihalic, 1999).
Olweus’ Bullying Circle (Olweus et al., 1999), which diagrams the numerous roles that children may play in bullying incidents, has been cited widely. Bystanders are engaged in the OBPP in many ways. (See Olweus et al., 2007). However, we feel it is naïve to believe that one can change the social ecology of the school with regard to bullying with an approach that focuses on “henchboys” and “henchgirls” without also focusing on others who are key actors in bullying prevention, including educators, parents, children who bully, children who are bullied, and other bystanders. Mr. Swidey, himself, admits that, “there’s not a lot of science to back the sidekick approach.”
Ongoing research is, of course, important to continue to shed light on effective practice in bullying prevention. However, concluding that “nothing much is working,” as Swidey does is inaccurate, unhelpful, and devalues the hard work that is being done by many educators, students, and parents in this country to reduce bullying. The most sound policy involves promoting those approaches to bullying prevention that have the most research support. Quite a few governmental and other organizations have recognized the OBPP in this light, including:
The Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, University of Colorado (The OPBB is one of 11 approved Blueprint Programs and the only one focusing on bullying prevention; a total of more than 600 programs have been assessed.)
U.S. Department of Education (Level 2 Program, which is “scientifically demonstrated to prevent delinquency or reduce/enhance risk/protection for delinquency and other child and youth problems using either an experimental or quasi-experimental research design, with a comparison group, and the evidence suggests program effectiveness).
Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (Effective Program)
Dan Olweus, University of Bergen
Sue Limber, Clemson University
Black, S. A., & Jackson, E. (2007). Using bullying incident density to evaluate the Olweus Bullying Prevention Programme. School Psychology International, 28, 623-638. doi:
Merrell, K.W., Guelder, B. A., Ross, S. W., & Isava, D. M. (2008). How effective are school bullying intervention program? A meta-analysis of intervention research. School Psychology Quarterly, 23, 26-42.
Olweus, D. (1993). Bullying at school: What we know and what we can do. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Olweus, D., & Limber, S. P. (2010). Bullying in school: Evaluation and dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 80, 120-129. doi: 10.1111/j.1939-0025.2010.01015.x.
Olweus, D., Limber, S.P. & Mihalic, S. (1999). The Bullying Prevention Program: Blueprints for Violence Prevention, Vol. 9. Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
Olweus, D., Limber, S. P., Flerx, V., Mullin, N., Riese, J., & Snyder, M. (2007). Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Schoolwide guide. Center City, MN: Hazelden.
Swearer, S. M., Espelage, D. L., Vaillancourt, T., & Hymel, S. (2010). What can be done about school bullying: Linking research to educational practice. Educational Researcher, 39, 38-47. doi: 10.3102/0013189X09357622.
Ttofi , M. M., & Farrington, D. P. (2009). What works in preventing bullying: Effective elements of anti-bullying programmes. Journal of Aggression, Conflict and Peace Research, 1, 13–24. doi:
Ttofi, M. M., Farrington, D. P., & Baldry, A. C. (2008). Effectiveness of programmes to reduce bullying. Stockholm, Sweden:Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
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