ERIC Identifier: ED463563
Publication Date: 2002-03-00
Author: Lumsden, Linda
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Educational Management Eugene OR.
Preventing Bullying. ERIC Digest.
School is supposed to be a place where students feel safe and secure and
where they can count on being treated with respect. The reality, however, is
that a significant number of students are the target of bullying episodes that
result in serious, long-term academic, physical, and emotional consequences.
Unfortunately, school personnel often minimize or underestimate the extent of
bullying and the harm it can cause. In many cases, bullying is tolerated or
ignored (Barone 1997; Colvin and others 1998).
When teachers and administrators fail to intervene, some victims ultimately
take things into their own hands, often with grievous results. In its recent
analysis of 37 school shooting incidents, the U.S. Secret Service learned that a
majority of the shooters had suffered "bullying and harassment that was
longstanding and severe" (U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center
This Digest examines the problem of bullying and some of its effects,
discusses steps schools are taking, looks at ways peers can discourage bullying,
and identifies other strategies that are being pursued.
WHAT IS BULLYING AND HOW PREVALENT IS THE PROBLEM?
occurs when a person willfully and repeatedly exercises power over another with
hostile or malicious intent. A wide range of physical or verbal behaviors of an
aggressive or antisocial nature are encompassed by the term bullying. These
include "insulting, teasing, abusing verbally and physically, threatening,
humiliating, harassing, and mobbing" (Colvin and others). Bullying may also
assume less direct forms (sometimes referred to as "psychological bullying")
such as gossiping, spreading rumors, and shunning or exclusion (O'Connell and
In a recent survey of more than 15,000 sixth- through tenth-graders at public
and private schools in the U.S., "30 percent of the students reported bullying
others, being the target of bullies, or both" (Bowman 2001). The information,
gathered in 1998 as part of the World Health Organization's Health Behavior in
School-Aged Children Survey and released in April 2001, is "the first nationally
representative research on the frequency of bullying among students in the
United States" (Bowman).
Although the WHO survey queried only students in grades 6 through 10, younger
students are also victims of bullying. In a study of fourth- through
eighth-graders, about 15 percent reported being severely distressed by bullying
and 22 percent reported academic difficulties stemming from mistreatment by
peers (Hoover and Oliver 1996).
According to research done by Janice Gallagher, one out of four children is
bullied, and one out of five defines themselves as a bully (Schmitt 1999).
Approximately 282,000 students are physically attacked in secondary schools
every month (Schmitt).
Many avoid public areas of the school such as the cafeteria and restrooms in
an attempt to elude bullies. For some students, the fear is so great that they
avoid school altogether. Every day approximately 160,000 students stay home from
school because they are afraid of being bullied (Vail 1999).
WHAT IS THE IMPACT OF BULLYING ON TARGETED
Bullying can have devastating effects on victims. As one
middle-school student expressed it, "There is another kind of violence, and that
is violence by talking. It can leave you hurting more than a cut with a knife.
It can leave you bruised inside" (National Association of Attorneys General
Students who are targeted by bullies often have difficulty concentrating on
their school work, and their academic performance tends to be "marginal to poor"
(Ballard and others 1999). Typically, bullied students feel anxious, and this
anxiety may in turn produce a variety of physical or emotional ailments.
As noted above, rates of absenteeism are higher among victimized students
than rates among their nonbullied peers, as are dropout rates. According to
Nansel and colleagues (2001), "youth who are bullied generally show higher
levels of insecurity, anxiety, depression, loneliness, unhappiness, physical and
mental symptoms, and low self-esteem." When students are bullied on a regular
basis, they may become depressed and despondent, even suicidal or homicidal. As
a report by the National Association of Attorneys General notes, bullying "is a
precursor to physical violence by its perpetrators and can trigger violence in
The psychological scars left by bullying often endure for years. Evidence
indicates that "the feelings of isolation and the loss of self-esteem that
victims experience seem to last into adulthood" (Clarke and Kiselica 1997).
Studies have found a higher level of depression and lower self-esteem among
formerly bullied individuals at age twenty-three, even though as adults these
individuals were no more harassed or socially isolated than a control group
(Nansel and others).
WHAT CAN SCHOOLS DO TO COUNTERACT BULLYING?
Froschl and Gropper (1999), a written anti-bullying policy distributed to
everyone in the school community can help to send the message that bullying
incidents will be taken seriously. Of course, to be effective, the policy must
have the support of school staff, and it must be fairly and consistently
To discern the nature and extent of the bullying problem in their school,
administrators can distribute surveys to students, school personnel, and parents
(Colvin and others). Once baseline data are collected, school personnel will be
better able to judge whether any subsequent changes are actually making a
Debra Pepler, director of the LaMarsh Centre for Research on Violence and
Conflict Resolution at York University in Toronto, suggests mapping a school's
"hot spots" for bullying incidents (Ruth Walker 2001). Once problematic
locations have been pinpointed through survey responses or a review of
disciplinary records, supervision can be concentrated where it is most needed.
Barone points out that providing better supervision is not necessarily
costly. For example, principals can ask teachers to stand in the doorways of
their classrooms during passing time so that the halls are well supervised.
To achieve permanent changes in how students interact, Colvin and others
recommend not only delivering negative consequences to those who bully, but
teaching positive behavior through modeling, coaching, prompting, praise, and
other forms of reinforcement. Similarly, Ballard and others encourage schools to
take a proactive stance by implementing programs that teach students "social
skills, conflict resolution, anger management, and character education."
One 15-year-old girl said, "I don't know how you do this, but we need to make
acceptance cool" (National Association of Attorneys General).
At Central York Middle School in Pennsylvania, all students sign anti-teasing
pledges and are taught how to appropriately manager their anger. Since this
practice was started, the school reports a reduction in fistfights. At Laurel
Elementary in Fort Collins, Colorado, students undergo "Be Cool" training in
which counselors present them with provocative situations and help them
recognize the difference between a "hot response" and a "cool response" (Labi
HOW CAN PEERS DISCOURAGE BULLYING?
O'Connell and others
(1999) assert that "peers may actively or passively reinforce the aggressive
behaviors of bullies through their attention and engagement. Peer presence is
positively related to the persistence of bullying episodes." Similarly,
psychologist Peter Fonagy says, "The whole drama is supported by the bystander.
The theater can't take place if there's no audience" (Labi 2001).
According to Salmivall (1999), bullying is increasingly viewed as a "group
phenomenon," and intervention approaches should be directed toward witnesses as
well as direct participants. Salmivall encourages the development of
anti-bullying attitudes among peers through awareness-raising, the opportunity
for self-reflection and awakening feelings of responsibility, and role-playing
or rehearsing new behaviors.
To discourage peers from acting as an "audience" to bullying behavior, Seeds
University Elementary School (UES) in Los Angeles has a policy of sending
bystanders as well as bullies for after-school mediation. Students and their
parents sign contracts at the beginning of the school year acknowledging they
understand it is unacceptable to ridicule, taunt, or attempt to hurt other
students (Labi). If an incident occurs, it can be used as an opportunity to
educate students about alternative ways of resolving similar situations in the
Teaching respect and nonviolence should start in elementary school. Some
suggest that nonviolence training conducted by older peers can be particularly
powerful because, as one high school student put it, younger students "don't
look up to old people; they look up to teenagers" (National Association of
A survey administered by Naylor and Cowie (1999) found positive effects of
peer-support systems designed to challenge bullying. Students accessing support,
offered in the form of mentoring, befriending, mediation, and counseling, as
well as their peers who provided the support, both derived benefits.
WHAT ELSE CAN BE DONE?
Some states are beginning to require
schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. Colorado, New Hampshire, and West
Virginia recently passed legislation that makes it mandatory for schools to have
anti-bullying policies. Massachusetts has allocated one million dollars to "bully-proof" its schools.
Students who bully often need intensive support or intervention, so it is
important for schools and social-service agencies to work together. Perpetrators
are frequently from "hostile family environments" (Ballard and others). They may
be victims of acts of aggression at home, or witness aggression among other
Parents can play a role in reducing bullying. William Pollack, a
psychologist, says, "Research shows that the success of any program is 60%
grounded in whether the same kinds of approaches are used at home" (Labi).
If everyone works together to discourage bullying and respond to incidents,
fertile conditions are created for students to develop a greater sense of
connection to their peers and for seeds of respect and acceptance to grow.
Ballard, Mary; Tucky Argus; and Theodore P.
Remley, Jr. "Bullying and School Violence: A Proposed Prevention Program." NASSP
Bulletin (May 1999): 38-47.
Barone, Frank J. "Bullying in School: It Doesn't Have to Happen." Phi Delta
Kappan (September 1997): 80-82. EA 533 807.
Bowman, Darcia Harris. "Survey of Students Documents the Extent of Bullying."
Education Week on the Web (May 2, 2001).
Clarke, E. A., and M. S. Kiselica. "A Systemic Counseling Approach to the
Problem of Bullying." Elementary School Guidance and Counseling 31 (1997):
Colvin, G.; T. Tobin; K. Beard; S. Hagan; and J. Sprague. "The School Bully:
Assessing the Problem, Developing Interventions, and Future Research
Directions." Journal of Behavioral Education 8, 3 (1998): 293-319.
Garrity, C.; K. Jens; W. Porter; N. Sager; and C. Short-Camilli.
Bully-Proofing Your School. Longmont, Colorado: Sopris West. 1996.
Hoover, J. H.; and R. Oliver. The Bullying Prevention Handbook: A Guidefor
Principals, Teachers, and Counselors. Bloomington, Indiana: National Education
Khosropour, Shirin C., and James Walsh. "The Effectiveness of a Violence
Prevention Program: Did It Influence How Children Conceptualize Bullying?" Paper
presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association
in Seattle, April 2001.
Labi, Nadya. "Let Bullies Beware." Time online, March 25, 2001.
Nansel, Tonja R.; Mary Overpeck; Ramani S. Pilla; W. June Ruan; Bruce
Simons-Morton; and Peter Scheidt. "Bullying Behaviors Among U.S. Youth:
Prevalence and Association with Psychosocial Adjustment." Journal of the
American Medical Association 286, 16 (April 25, 2001).
National Association of Attorneys General. Bruised Inside: What Our Children
Say About Youth Violence, What Chauses It, and What We Should Do About It.
Naylor, Paul, and Helen Cowie "The Effectiveness of Peer Support Systems in
Challenging School Bullying: The Perspectives and Experiences of Teachers and
Pupils." Journal of Adolescence 22, 4 (August 1999): 467-79. EJ 609 417.
O'Connell, Paul; Debra Pepler, and Wendy Craig. "Peer Involvement in
Bullying: Insights and Challenges for Intervention." Journal of Adolescence 22
Salmivalli, Christina. "Participant Role Approach to School Bullying:
Implications for Interventions." Journal of Adolescence 22 (1999): 453-59.
U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. Safe School
Initiative: An Interim Report on the Prevention of Targeted Violence in Schools.
Washington, D.C.: Author, October 2000.
Vail, Kathleen. "Words That Wound." American School Board Journal (September
Walker, Ruth. "To Stop Bullying, Involve the Whole School." Christian Science
Monitor (March 13, 2001): 19.