ERIC Identifier: ED407154
Publication Date: 1997-04-00
Author: Banks, Ron
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Elementary and Early Childhood Education Champaign IL.
Bullying in Schools. ERIC Digest.
Bullying in schools is a worldwide problem that can have negative
consequences for the general school climate and for the right of students to
learn in a safe environment without fear. Bullying can also have negative
lifelong consequences--both for students who bully and for their victims.
Although much of the formal research on bullying has taken place in the
Scandinavian countries, Great Britain, and Japan, the problems associated with
bullying have been noted and discussed wherever formal schooling environments
Bullying is comprised of direct behaviors such as teasing, taunting,
threatening, hitting, and stealing that are initiated by one or more students
against a victim. In addition to direct attacks, bullying may also be more
indirect by causing a student to be socially isolated through intentional
exclusion. While boys typically engage in direct bullying methods, girls who
bully are more apt to utilize these more subtle indirect strategies, such as
spreading rumors and enforcing social isolation (Ahmad & Smith, 1994; Smith
& Sharp, 1994). Whether the bullying is direct or indirect, the key
component of bullying is that the physical or psychological intimidation occurs
repeatedly over time to create an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse
(Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
EXTENT OF THE PROBLEM
Various reports and studies have
established that approximately 15% of students are either bullied regularly or
are initiators of bullying behavior (Olweus, 1993). Direct bullying seems to
increase through the elementary years, peak in the middle school/junior high
school years, and decline during the high school years. However, while direct
physical assault seems to decrease with age, verbal abuse appears to remain
constant. School size, racial composition, and school setting (rural, suburban,
or urban) do not seem to be distinguishing factors in predicting the occurrence
of bullying. Finally, boys engage in bullying behavior and are victims of
bullies more frequently than girls (Batsche & Knoff, 1994; Nolin, Davies,
& Chandler, 1995; Olweus, 1993; Whitney & Smith, 1993).
CHARACTERISTICS OF BULLIES AND VICTIMS
Students who engage
in bullying behaviors seem to have a need to feel powerful and in control. They
appear to derive satisfaction from inflicting injury and suffering on others,
seem to have little empathy for their victims, and often defend their actions by
saying that their victims provoked them in some way. Studies indicate that
bullies often come from homes where physical punishment is used, where the
children are taught to strike back physically as a way to handle problems, and
where parental involvement and warmth are frequently lacking. Students who
regularly display bullying behaviors are generally defiant or oppositional
toward adults, antisocial, and apt to break school rules. In contrast to
prevailing myths, bullies appear to have little anxiety and to possess strong
self-esteem. There is little evidence to support the contention that they
victimize others because they feel bad about themselves (Batsche & Knoff,
1994; Olweus, 1993).
Students who are victims of bullying are typically anxious, insecure,
cautious, and suffer from low self-esteem, rarely defending themselves or
retaliating when confronted by students who bully them. They may lack social
skills and friends, and they are often socially isolated. Victims tend to be
close to their parents and may have parents who can be described as
overprotective. The major defining physical characteristic of victims is that
they tend to be physically weaker than their peers--other physical
characteristics such as weight, dress, or wearing eyeglasses do not appear to be
significant factors that can be correlated with victimization (Batsche &
Knoff, 1994; Olweus, 1993).
CONSEQUENCES OF BULLYING
As established by studies in
Scandinavian countries, a strong correlation appears to exist between bullying
other students during the school years and experiencing legal or criminal
troubles as adults. In one study, 60% of those characterized as bullies in
grades 6-9 had at least one criminal conviction by age 24 (Olweus, 1993).
Chronic bullies seem to maintain their behaviors into adulthood, negatively
influencing their ability to develop and maintain positive relationships
(Oliver, Hoover, & Hazler, 1994).
Victims often fear school and consider school to be an unsafe and unhappy
place. As many as 7% of America's eighth-graders stay home at least once a month
because of bullies. The act of being bullied tends to increase some students'
isolation because their peers do not want to lose status by associating with
them or because they do not want to increase the risks of being bullied
themselves. Being bullied leads to depression and low self-esteem, problems that
can carry into adulthood (Olweus, 1993; Batsche & Knoff, 1994).
PERCEPTIONS OF BULLYING
Oliver, Hoover, and Hazler (1994)
surveyed students in the Midwest and found that a clear majority felt that
victims were at least partially responsible for bringing the bullying on
themselves. Students surveyed tended to agree that bullying toughened a weak
person, and some felt that bullying "taught" victims appropriate behavior.
Charach, Pepler, and Ziegler (1995) found that students considered victims to be
"weak," "nerds," and "afraid to fight back." However, 43% of the students in
this study said that they try to help the victim, 33% said that they should help
but do not, and only 24% said that bullying was none of their business.
Parents are often unaware of the bullying problem and talk about it with
their children only to a limited extent (Olweus, 1993). Student surveys reveal
that a low percentage of students seem to believe that adults will help.
Students feel that adult intervention is infrequent and ineffective, and that
telling adults will only bring more harassment from bullies. Students report
that teachers seldom or never talk to their classes about bullying (Charach,
Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995). School personnel may view bullying as a harmless
right of passage that is best ignored unless verbal and psychological
intimidation crosses the line into physical assault or theft.
Bullying is a problem that occurs in
the social environment as a whole. The bullies' aggression occurs in social
contexts in which teachers and parents are generally unaware of the extent of
the problem and other children are either reluctant to get involved or simply do
not know how to help (Charach, Pepler, & Ziegler, 1995). Given this
situation, effective interventions must involve the entire school community
rather than focus on the perpetrators and victims alone. Smith and Sharp (1994)
emphasize the need to develop whole-school bullying policies, implement
curricular measures, improve the schoolground environment, and empower students
through conflict resolution, peer counseling, and assertiveness training. Olweus
(1993) details an approach that involves interventions at the school, class, and
individual levels. It includes the following components:
* An initial questionnaire can be distributed to students and adults. The
questionnaire helps both adults and students become aware of the extent of the
problem, helps to justify intervention efforts, and serves as a benchmark to
measure the impact of improvements in school climate once other intervention
components are in place.
* A parental awareness campaign can be conducted during parent-teacher
conference days, through parent newsletters, and at PTA meetings. The goal is to
increase parental awareness of the problem, point out the importance of parental
involvement for program success, and encourage parental support of program
goals. Questionnaire results are publicized.
* Teachers can work with students at the class level to develop class rules
against bullying. Many programs engage students in a series of formal
role-playing exercises and related assignments that can teach those students
directly involved in bullying alternative methods of interaction. These programs
can also show other students how they can assist victims and how everyone can
work together to create a school climate where bullying is not tolerated
(Sjostrom & Stein, 1996).
* Other components of anti-bullying programs include individualized
interventions with the bullies and victims, the implementation of cooperative
learning activities to reduce social isolation, and increasing adult supervision
at key times (e.g., recess or lunch). Schools that have implemented Olweus's
program have reported a 50% reduction in bullying.
Bullying is a serious problem that can
dramatically affect the ability of students to progress academically and
socially. A comprehensive intervention plan that involves all students, parents,
and school staff is required to ensure that all students can learn in a safe and
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Charach, A., Pepler, D., & Ziegler, S. (1995). Bullying at school--a
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Sjostrom, Lisa, & Stein, Nan. (1996). BULLY PROOF: A TEACHER'S GUIDE ON
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