New Ways to Stop Bullying

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New ways to stop bullying Psychologists are driving efforts to get effective, research-based bullying-prevention and intervention programs into schools. By NICOLE CRAWFORD Monitor Staff October 2002, Vol 33, No. 9 Print version: page 64 As an expert on bullying, Dorothy Espelage, PhD, hates to see her research collecting dust on library shelves. She wants it in the hands of educators where it can make a difference. So, the counseling psychologist/researcher heads to Wisconsin almost weekly to up
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  New ways to stop bullying Psychologists are driving efforts to get effective, research-based bullying-prevention andintervention programs into schools.By NICOLE CRAWFORD  Monitor  Staff October 2002, Vol 33, No. 9Print version: page 64As an expert on bullying, Dorothy Espelage, PhD, hates to see her research collecting dust onlibrary shelves. She wants it in the hands of educators where it can make a difference. So, thecounseling psychologist/researcher heads to Wisconsin almost weekly to update teachers onthe latest facts about bullying. We're doing good peer-reviewed research on bullying, and the only way to get the messageout there is to go into the schools, says Espelage, who with colleagues has surveyed 20,000Wisconsin second- through 12th-graders about the subject. Her research talks to teachersand administrators dispel common myths about bullying, such as that bullies are alwaysunpopular.Espelage is one of a growing number of American psychologists helping schools establisheffective bullying prevention and intervention programs, which are being mandated by manyschool systems across the country in the wake of Columbine and other school shootings. A lot of work has been done internationally on this topic, says developmental psychologistSusan Limber, PhD, who is associate director of the Institute on Family and NeighborhoodLife at Clemson University in Clemson, S.C. U.S. researchers are just beginning to catchup. New research from the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Education on 37 schoolshootings, including Columbine, found that almost three-quarters of student shooters feltbullied, threatened, attacked or injured by others. In fact, several shooters reportedexperiencing long-term and severe bullying and harassment from their peers.Indeed says Limber, Bullying is a very common experience for kids in school and morewidespread than previously thought.Other findings from the report on school shootings:    Attackers were rarely impulsive; they planned their actions.    In more than 80 percent of the cases, at least one person knew the attacker wasplanning something; two or more people knew in almost 60 percent of the cases.    School shooters don't fit an accurate profile. The attackers studied were all boys, butthey varied in age, race, family situations, academic achievement, popularity anddisciplinary history.     Most attackers did not threaten their targets beforehand.    Before the shootings, most attackers exhibited behaviors that caused others concern,such as trying to obtain a gun or writing troubling poems and essays.Bullying experts say that, while it's important to understand the connection between bullyingand school shootings, more studies are needed on the full range of bullying behavior and onthe socio-ecological conditions that allow it to flourish in some schools. Only studying theextreme end is neglecting the fact that there's a peer group supporting [bullying] behavior andthat we have kids playing various roles, says Espelage, who teaches psychology at theUniversity of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. New and innovative research  A nationally representative study of 15,686 students in grades six through 10, published lastyear in the  Journal of the American Medical Association (Vol. 285, No. 16) is among themost recent to document the scope of bullying in U.S. schools.In the study, psychologist Tonja R. Nansel, PhD, and colleagues found that 17 percent of students reported having been bullied sometimes or more frequently during the schoolterm. About 19 percent reported bullying others sometimes or more often. And six percentreported both bullying and having been bullied.Nansel and colleagues also found that:    Bullying occurs most frequently from sixth to eighth grade, with little variationbetween urban, suburban, town and rural areas.    Males are more likely to be bullies and victims of bullying than females. Males aremore likely to be physically bullied, while females are more likely to be verbally orpsychologically bullied.    Bullies and victims of bullying have difficulty adjusting to their environments, bothsocially and psychologically. Victims of bullying have greater difficulty makingfriends and are lonelier.    Bullies are more likely to smoke and drink alcohol, and to be poorer students.    Bully-victims--students who are both bullies and recipients of bullying--tend toexperience social isolation, to do poorly in school and to engage in problem behaviorssuch as smoking and drinking.Susan M. Swearer, PhD, lead investigator for the Nebraska Bullying Prevention andIntervention Project, is among the researchers taking a closer look at bully-victims. In thepast, bullying behavior was dichotomized--students were classified as either bullies orvictims, she says. But, kids [often] report that they're both. In one of Swearer's studies, bully-victims experience higher levels of depression and anxietythan the bully-only group or the victim-only group. The bully-victim subgroup is reallymore impaired in terms of internalizing problems, says the University of Nebraska-Lincolnschool psychology professor.In another line of her research, Swearer found that teachers aren't always able to identifybullies. Limber concurs. Unfortunately, adults within the school environment dramatically  overestimate their effectiveness in identifying and intervening in bullying situations, shesays.This can have serious implications, Swearer believes. For instance, to cut costs, some schoolsconduct intervention programs in group settings. If bully-victims are in the group, they maycause problems for kids who are victims. It's better for bully-victims to be treated separately,she says.According to Limber, mediation programs for bullies and victims are also problematic. Peermediation may be appropriate in resolving conflict between students with equal power, but bullying is a form of victimization, she says. It's no more of a 'conflict' than child abuse ordomestic violence. The University of Illinois's Espelage is also doing research on bullying that she says is aradical departure from how previous studies have defined bullying. Although folks havestudied aggression and bullying, the focus in the United States has been on physicalaggression. [Bullying has also been] seen as the behavior of only a small percentage of students, she explains. We see bullying as a continuum in which many students engage inthese behaviors at various levels. For example, some studies focused on extreme cases of bullying by excluding studentsreporting low and moderate levels of bullying behavior or by collapsing participants intoextreme categories on a bullying scale, continues Espelage. That approach reduces theprecision in measurement of bullying behavior and fails to consider an important aspect of the ecological framework--the school. However, Espelage's research shows that adolescents don't fit neatly into strict categories of bullying or nonbullying. Instead, her findings indicate that bullying behavior is common,with most students reporting some involvement in bullying others. In fact, some of thesestudents are unwilling participants in low-level bullying--teasing, name-calling, threateningand social ridiculing of peers--but are afraid to go against their peer group. The sixth-grader who wants to fit in will go along with harassing other kids, explainsEspelage. You can see the empathy in them. They're engaging in behavior that doesn't feelgood to them. I feel for these kids the most. Creating programs that work  Many psychologists agree that to design effective bullying-prevention and interventionprograms, they need to understand that a child's tendency toward bullying is influenced byindividual, familial and environmental factors. To this end, Espelage and colleagues at K12Associates in Madison, Wis., have surveyed and continue to study 20,000 public schoolstudents--as well as teachers, parents and administrators--on issues including the prevalenceand incidence of bullying, teasing, locations of bullying, school climate and respect fordiversity. After survey data are entered and analyzed, reports are given to individual schoolsso that they can design prevention and intervention programs based on their own data.Like Espelage, Limber is also helping schools develop programs. The most effectivestrategies to stop bullying involve the entire school as a community to change the climate of the school and the norms of behavior, she says. This is why her institute promotes the  Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, developed by Norwegian psychologist Dan Olweus,PhD--considered by many to be the father of bullying research. In this intervention, schoolstaff introduce and implement the program, which seeks to improve peer relations and makethe school a safe and pleasant environment.Limber is also a consultant on The National Bullying Prevention Campaign, a multiyearpublic awareness and prevention effort by the Health Resources and Services Administrationin the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The research-based campaign, set tolaunch next September, will include input from educators, parents, students, health andmental health professionals and the community, says Limber.The campaign's goals are to raise public awareness about bullying, prevent and reducebullying behaviors, identify and provide appropriate interventions for tweens --9- to 13-year-olds--and other targeted audiences, and foster links between public health and otherpartners.To avoid reinventing the wheel, the campaign plans to disseminate information aboutsuccessful programs such as Olweus's, which was named a blueprint program by theUniversity of Colorado's Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. I really am committed to getting the word out on bullying and prevention measures, saysLimber who also has consulted with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health ServicesAdministration to develop a bullying-prevention and intervention campaign. I see theseefforts as terrific opportunities to help translate what researchers know about bullying intoeffective prevention strategies. http://www.apa.org/monitor/oct02/bullying-read.aspx http://espelageagainstbullying.com/images/pdf/Espelage,%20D.%20L.,%20&%20Asidao,%20C.S.%20%282001%29.pdf  
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