Commentary

October 11, 2012

Statistics show bullying increasing, but mitigating problem possible

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Susan Alderman-Schaefer
Family Advocacy Program Manager and Licensed Clinical Social Worker ACS, NTC and Fort Irwin


Military servicemembers and civilian personnel attended the recent International Violence Abuse and Trauma Conference, where experts provided information and possible solutions to a wide range of problems afflicting our families.

I had the opportunity to attend the conference and learn about the problem of bullying in greater detail. Statistics, descriptions, and mitigating techniques were discussed. Results from researches were shared with attendees. These hard facts help put a sobering perspective on the problem of bullying.

Information distributed at the conference explained that extensive long-term research indicates that bullying is not a phase a child outgrows. In a study of more than 500 children, University of Michigan researchers discovered that children who were viewed as the most aggressive by their peers at age 8, grew up to commit increasingly more serious crimes as adults. Other studies indicate that, as adults, bullies are far more likely to abuse their spouses and children.

Modern schools tend to discourage bullying with programs designed to teach students cooperation and train peers in bullying intervention techniques. However, some schools have a zero tolerance for violence, so if two students are discovered in a fight, both are disciplined, often by suspension, even though one may be the bully and the other the victim.

Experts say that school violence often is rooted in bullying. While bullying is often verbal threats and harassment, it can get out of control and turn into violence, including the use of weapons.

Researchers who have studied bullying have concluded that up to 15 percent of children say they are regularly bullied, and it occurs most frequently at school in areas where there is inadequate or no adult supervision, such as the playground, hallways, cafeteria, and in classrooms before lessons start. Bullying usually starts in elementary school, peaks in middle school, and drops in high school. It does not disappear, however. Although boys are more often the perpetrators and victims of bullying, girls tend to bully in indirect ways, such as manipulating friendships, ostracizing classmates, and spreading malicious rumors. Boys who are regularly bullied tend to be more passive and physically weaker than the bullies. In middle school, girls who mature early are commonly victims of bullying, according to some findings.

Bullying appears to be rapidly increasing, according to statistics from the U.S. Department of Justice. Among sixth-grade students, rates of bullying rose from 10.5 percent in 1999 to 14.3 percent in 2001; among eighth-grade students, victimization by bullies went from 5.5 percent in 1999 to 9.2 percent in 2001. In the 10th grade, bullying rose from 3.2 percent in 1999 to 4.6 percent in 2001, and among 12th graders, it doubled from 1.2 percent in 1999 to 2.4 percent just two years later.

A bully’s behavior does not exist in isolation. Rather, it may indicate the beginning of a generally antisocial and rule-breaking behavior pattern that can extend into adulthood. Programs to address the problem, therefore, must reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying behavior. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed, refined, and systematically evaluated in Norway in the mid-1980s, is the best-known initiative designed to reduce bullying among elementary, middle, and junior high school children. The strategy behind the program is to involve school staff, students, and parents in efforts designed to develop awareness about bullying, improve peer relations, intervene to stop intimidation, develop clear rules against bullying behavior, and support and protect victims.

The program intervenes on three levels:

  • School: Faculty and staff survey students anonymously to determine the nature and prevalence of the school’s bullying problem, increase supervision of students during breaks, and conduct school-wide assemblies to discuss the issue. Teachers receive in-service training on how to implement the program.
  • Classroom: Teachers and other school personnel introduce and enforce classroom rules against bullying, hold regular classroom meetings with students to discuss bullying, and meet with parents to encourage their participation.
  • Individual: Staff intervention with bullies, victims, and their parents to ensures that the bullying stops.

The Bergen research showed that the program was highly effective among students in elementary, middle, and junior high schools: Bullying dropped by 50 percent or more during the program’s two years. Behavior changes were more pronounced the longer the program was in effect. The school climate improved, and the rate of antisocial behavior, such as theft, vandalism, and truancy, declined during the two-year period.




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