Bullying in Schools Essay

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Fighting The Good Fight

I. Introduction

Witnesses of a 2013 shooting at Sparks Middle School in Nevada recall the 12-year-old shooter telling a group of students, 'You guys ruined my life, so I'm going to ruin yours” (Lurie). This student had been bullied for years, neglected by his peers, and finally had enough. Unfortunately, this is the consequence of the massive increase in school bullying over the past several years. Students feel lost, unloved, and at times worthless because of the bullying that takes place, and if there is no system in place to help them cope, this is one of many possible outcomes. The problem of bullying is evident, yet many schools have not taken the necessary steps to combat and prevent it. Bullying is defined by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program as a form of aggression that has negative effects on “mental, physical, and psychological health” (Cecil and Molnair-Main 335). The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is a system that has been proven to lead to reduced levels of violence, increased student satisfaction, and increased student achievement levels (Cecil and Molnair-Main 357). Each school throughout the nation should be mandated to establish and maintain the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to train teachers in bullying prevention techniques and effectively reduce the amount of bullying in schools.

II. The Bullying Pandemic

Bullying is a pandemic problem in our schools because it affects a large number of students and causes tremendous amounts of issues for victims. In a recent study, the National Center for Education Statistics identified bullying as “unprovoked conscious and aggressive action by one or more students intended to achieve physical or psychological dominance over others through intimidation or threat” (Thomas et al. 76). According to this report, almost one in three students ages 12-18 have identified themselves as bully-victims (Thomas et al. 76). Bullying is affecting a vast amount of students, perhaps more so than the general public may perceive. The organization Bullying Statistics has found extremely shocking information about bullying in our school system and the huge scope it has taken on. According to Bullying Statistics, over half of all students have witnessed some form of bullying in schools; 15 percent of students who do not show up to school reported it was out of fear of being bullied; and one out of every ten bully victims change schools or drop out due to bullying (Bullying Statistics). These statistics are obvious reasons schools must take swift action to prevent and counter bullying.

As bullying continues to grow into a nationwide dilemma, several different forms of bullying are becoming relevant types that schools must prepare and combat. According to recent research, bullying can be classified into four specific categories: verbal, physical, relational, and the newest form, cyber (Klomek et al. 283). Verbal bullying is a form of harassment that can include using mean names, making fun of someone, or teasing them in a hurtful way. Physical bullying is defined as any physical contact that is meant to hurt the victim, whether through hitting, kicking, pushing, or shoving. Relational bullying is described as spreading rumors about someone or ostracizing them in any manner. Cyberbullying is described as 'an aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who cannot easily defend him or herself” (Klomek et al. 283). The prevalence of cyberbullying has increased drastically over the past few years, as the usage of cellular phones and computers by young people has increased, and the study shows from five to ten percent of students have been a victim of cyberbullying or have been a cyberbullied (Klomek et al. 283) Research shows bullying is a manner that can take on many forms, making it all the more crucial to implement successful, well-rounded programs to combat each type of bullying behavior.

III. Effects of Bullying

The effects of bullying can go far beyond the classroom and the general school environment and can have wide-reaching and serious outcomes. Research has shown being bullied directly correlates to disastrous consequences such as suicide. Statistics from the Center for Disease Control state about 14 percent of high school students have thought of committing suicide and 7 percent have attempted to do it; the study also found victims of bullying are two to nine times more prone to killing themselves (Occupy Theory). Teens whose age falls between the 10 to 14 age brackets are at the highest risk of suicide (Occupy Theory). According to a recent study, “suicide rates among young people have been increasing to such an extent that they are now the group at highest risk in one-third of countries, both in developed and in developing countries.” (Klomek et al. 282) The statistics show adolescents have become increasingly susceptible to suicidal behaviors and thoughts over the past several years; but why? In the study, the researchers proclaim bullying behavior directly correlates to suicidal ideation, attempts, and the act of suicide itself; this suggests adolescents who bully others are also at severe risk of suicide, even if they are not victims themselves (Klomek et al. 286). However, suicide is not the only long-term effect associated with bullying in schools.

Serious issue research has shown is related to school bullying is school shootings. Since 2013, there have been 153 school shootings in the United States, an average of almost one shooting per week (Everytown Research). A recent study showed schools that experience a shooting have over a five percent decrease in 9th-grade enrollment and have their math proficiency levels decrease by 4.9 percentage points, and their English proficiency levels decrease by 3.9 percent (Beland and Kim). School shootings have increased dramatically over the past several years, and the consequences, beyond casualties, have a great impact on schools. According to recent research, a reason behind the drastic increase in shootings is directly correlated to the amount of school bullying. Studies have shown one of the strongest motivations for school shootings is revenge for bullying that took place during school; over 72 percent of students who brought a school in March 2014 had been bullied, in a fight at school, threatened or injured with a weapon, missed school because they felt unsafe, and had something stolen from them at school (Lurie). This research shows one of the most obvious solutions for decreasing the number of school shootings is to effectively prevent bullying in schools, and the implementation of a structured bullying prevention program will help schools begin this task.

Another effect of bullying that can plague victims long after the torment is over is psychiatric problems, such as anxiety and panic disorder While past research has shown these disorders are common for children who experience bullying to have during their teen years, recent studies have proven these disorders also tend to extend into their adult lives. In a study conducted by psychiatrist William Copeland and fellow psychiatrists that is recorded in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), the doctors found that bully victims had elevated rates of young adult psychiatric disorders, such as agoraphobia, general anxiety, and panic disorder when compared to students who were not bullied. (Copeland). The research also shows both bullies and victims were at a greater risk of young adult depression, while bullies alone showed a higher risk of developing antisocial personality disorder (Copeland). It should be noted the researchers had to control for childhood psychiatric problems and family hardships before they were able to conduct their research. This study, and others, have shown that while the effects of bullying may be most prevalent when the victim is young, they can still be a hindrance to victims as young adults.

IV. The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

In 1983, three teen students in Norway committed suicide, likely due to bullying and harassment at their school; in response to this tragedy, The Norwegian Ministry of Education started a campaign to reduce bullying in schools, and from these efforts, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was founded (Limber 71). The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) is a structured system designed to help schools reduce their level of bullying and achieve better peer relations between their students (Limber 71). The OBPP is based on four key principles which adults in the school environment must follow in order to make the program successful. Teachers must show warmth and interest in their students; set firm limits to unacceptable behavior; use consistent, nonphysical nonhostile negative consequences for violation of rules; and act as authorities and positive role models (Limber 71). These key concepts drive the program and are the foundation, which is a very important part of the Olweus structure: it starts with the teachers and administrators. If the adults in the school are able to set these examples and make it an effort to display these principles daily, the students will follow and make the school a safer place for everyone.

In the OBPP there are four levels of program components; the school, the classroom, the individual, and the community (Limber 71). The first level, the school, is focused on establishing and maintaining the Bullying Prevention Coordinating Committee (BPCC), administering training of the OBPP to all faculty, and administering the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (OBQ) (Limber 73-75). The BPCC is a group of around 8-15 members and consists of administrators, teachers, nurses, other school personnel, and sometimes student representatives. The main goals of the BPCC are to “develop a plan to implement the OBPP in their school; communicate the plan to school staff, students and parents; ensuring the OBPP is coordinated with other relevant prevention and intervention efforts at the school; obtaining feedback from all constituents about the program’s implementation and representing the program to the broader community.” (Limber 73-74) Essentially, the BPCC is the head of the operation and is in charge of establishing and maintaining the program. Without fervent, dedicated work by the BPCC, the program is destined to fail within the school. The next task of the BPCC is to administer training to all school faculty. This is provided in a full-day session before the OBPP is implemented into the school; refresher courses must also be provided to new faculty or to delve deeper into specific topics with returning faculty (Limber 74). The final endeavor the BPCC is in charge of is administering the OBQ throughout the school; this has proven to be a vital part of the success of the program. “The OBQ is an anonymous self-report measure that is administered to students in Grades 3–12 prior to implementation of the OBPP and at regular intervals (ideally yearly) thereafter. The questionnaire assesses students’ experiences with and attitudes about bullying.” (Limber 74) After the test has been administered, a detailed report of findings is produced, which provides school personnel with information about the students’ responses. The schools then use this data to “help raise awareness about bullying, assist the BPCC to make specific plans to implement the OBPP, and assess change over time on key outcome variables.” (Limber 75) The questionnaire is vital to the program because it gives everyone involved in the program an in-depth look into what their students are going through and whether or not how they are implementing the program is having an effect on their students.

The main component of the classroom level of the OBPP is weekly meetings held in the classroom, which are designed to build cohesion among the class (Limber 76). The meetings provide an opportunity for all students in the class too, “discuss rules about bullying, help students understand the roles that they all have in preventing bullying, and provide an opportunity for students to problem-solve ways to address bullying, through role-play and other strategies” (Limber 76). According to a study done by the program founder, Dan Olweus, classes that hold weekly discussions have a greater reduction in bullying, as well as those that use role-playing to explore bullying issues (Limber 76).

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While the schoolwide and classroom efforts to prevent bullying will almost certainly reduce the amount of bullying within the school, it is necessary for schools to have the training, policies, and procedures to deal with any bullying activity that happens within the school; this is considered the individual level of the OBPP (Limber 76). The main goal of these procedures is to make sure any staff member is able to effectively intervene in a situation where bullying is occurring, and follow-up meetings are held between any involved students (Limber 76). These follow-up meetings are crucial and are separated the victim and the bully, and involved students are normally joined by their parents (Limber 76). According to Olweus, the meetings are most beneficial when the student’s primary teacher or the staff member with the closest relation to the student is involved in the meeting (Limber 76). The main purpose of the follow-up meetings is to ensure the students and parents the bullying will be stopped and the situation will be monitored at home and at school; bullied students are also provided with support and develop safety plans with school administration (Limber 76).

The final level of the OBPP is the community level, which uses the integration of community members into the program to broaden support for the program among the community and collaborates with community members to ensure bullying prevention techniques are being taught outside of the school as well (Limber 76). While Limber believes this community involvement will benefit programs in the United States, she does note this level of the program was not implemented in the original Norwegian model, although it has been tested in several programs in the United States. Examples of the implementation of community-level components in the United States have included, “infusing OBPP principles and components into community organizations, involving community members in program kick-off events at the school, enlisting the support of local businesses for needed supplies, and including staff from after-school programs on the school’s BPCC” (Limber 76).

V. Implementations of the OBPP

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been evaluated on a large scale six times in Norway and in diverse communities across the United States, using graded self-report items or scales from the previously mentioned Olweus Bullying Questionnaire (Olweus 127). Program founder Dan Olweus has stated data from a questionnaire is the best indicator for change in bullying levels in evaluation studies (Olweus 127). The Norwegian studies Olweus focuses on were performed between 2001 and 2003, after a national initiative offered all Norwegian comprehension schools (Grades 1-10) the opportunity to implement the OBPP (Olweus 127). Olweus argues the initiative provided a “unique opportunity to examine the effects of the OBPP on very large samples and schools under ordinary conditions in the context of large-scale dissemination” (127). Olweus uses this initiative as a foundation for the examination of his program and its effectiveness among students.

The research-based evaluations of the OBPP in Norway are taken from three groups of schools that conducted their introductory surveys between October 2001 and October 2003 and are the primary source of data regarding the successful implementation of the program after the national initiative was passed (Olweus 127). The students focused on in the study are bullied students from grades 4 to 7 and the data is all based on self-reported answers to the OBQ (Olweus 127). The study found after approximately eight months, the percentage of bullied students in the first group of schools was reduced from 15.2% to 10.2%, a relative reduction of 33%; in the second group, the percentage dropped from 14.0% to 9.2%, a relative reduction of 34%; the final group had the percentage reduced from 13.2% to 8.7%, with a relative reduction of 34% (Olweus 127). These changes are noticeable and significant, especially when considering the size of the population used in the study (Group 1 had 8,388 students, Group 2 had 4,083, and Group 3 had 8,483) and the consistent decrease in bullying among them (Olweus 127). Olweus notes another significant data point from Group 1 is that in following studies performed on the schools that continued until October 2006, the relative reduction was at 50.2% from the first study in 2001; he argues this is important because while many studies have shown program effects are short-lived and are considerably reduced when even a slightly longer time period is involved, these results prove the OBPP can be long-lasting and change the culture of schools to prevent bullying for the long term (128).

The first research-based evaluations in the United States were conducted in South Caroling during the mid-1990s (Olweus 128). The study involved elementary and middle schools in six predominantly rural districts and had a sample that was largely African American (ranging from 46% to 95% African Americans among the districts) and of low socioeconomic status (Olweus 128). After seven months of program implementation, bullying rates were compared to control schools where the program had not been established. The study found in intervention schools, the bullying rate was reduced by 16%, while in control schools the bullying rate increased by 12%, resulting in an overall relative reduction of 28% (Olweus 128). Measures of general delinquency, vandalism, school misbehavior, and sanctions for school misbehavior all showed no increase or slow levels of increase, indicating the program slowed student’s age-related rate of increase in antisocial behavior (Olweus 129). It should be noted the program was discontinued after another year due to extremely low levels of fidelity, making it inconsiderable as a reliable model program model (Olweus 129).

To further examine the implantation of the OBPP, other studies were performed in the United States during the early to late 2000s in the states of Pennsylvania, Washington, and California (Olweus 129). In Pennsylvania, researchers Black and Jackson used observation to measure Bullying Incident Density which is, “a checklist of bullying behaviors that include physical, verbal, and emotional bullying” (Olweus 129). Observations of elementary level students took place during recess, while the middle school students were observed during their lunch period; according to the researchers, Bullying Incident Density decreased by 45% over four years of program implementation, from 65 incidents per 100 students hours to 36 (Olweus 129). Olweus notes unfortunately the data from this study did not include self-reporting on the OBQ, and therefore could not be compared to other examinations (129). In Washington, researchers used the OBQ to measure the effectiveness of the OBPP in 10 nonrandomized schools (7 intervention, 3 control) throughout the state (Olweus 129). The research showed significant effects on relational victimization and physical victimization among White students but did not see any significant changes among other demographics (Olweus 129). In the California study, the effectiveness of the OBPP in three elementary schools was evaluated over a three-year period by anonymous surveys of students (using the OBQ), teachers, and parents (Olweus 129). The results showed that self-reports of being bullied decreased by 21% after one year and 14% after two years; self-reports of bullying others showed an 8% decrease after one year and 17% after two years (Olweus 129). While studies across the United States have not been quite as consistent in their findings as the studies done in Norway, they do suggest the OBPP has had a positive impact on bullying behavior, according to the self-reporting done on the OBQ (Olweus 129).

VI. Challenges Regarding the Implementation of the OBPP

While the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has proven it can be an effective way to combat bullying in schools, there are several underlying problems that could cause the wide-scale implementation of the program across the United States to not be uniformly consistent. One such problem is the notion that while the program may be strong within the first year, there have generally been declines in the effectiveness of the program as time goes on. Olweus himself stated in a study, that previous research has shown prevention programs tend to lose their effectiveness at a dramatic rate when time periods increase even slightly longer than the two to three-year period used in most research (Olweus 128). One of the examples of this is the program established in South Carolina during the 1990s by Susan Limber and other researchers. The program was shut down after only two years of implementation due to a general lack of fidelity and effectiveness of the program (Olweus 129). However, I believe there is enough evidence of the program working long-term in Norway to consider this as an issue that can be solved. Program directors would need to implement the same strategies that are being used overseas to combat the potential of the program losing its effectiveness. Of course, it should be noted in different cultural aspects of the program may need to be adjusted to conform to American society.

In his research on the effectiveness of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, Olweus highlights resistance by school staff and parents to the implementation of the program as a large challenge to the adoption of the OBPP in the United States (130). Olweus argues parents and teachers that are opposed to the program have stated they either do not believe bullying exists in their school (or is rare) or they see bullying as a “rite of passage” students must go through (130). Teachers and parents with this mindset do not understand the implications of bullying, especially the long-term effects which I have previously proposed. Although the unwillingness of these adults may well indeed be an obstacle to the implementation of the OBPP, I would argue the significant increase in the amount of bullying in schools and research showing the in-school and long-term effects of bullying will persuade most of these naysayers to agree an anti-bullying program is essential in every school.

VII. Final Thoughts and Topics of Discussion

Bullying is a pandemic problem that will not stop growing until each and every school has implemented a successful, well-organized prevention program. I believe the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program provides a solid, firm foundation for preventing and reducing bullying in any school, regardless of grade level, culture, and previous history. I argue schools across the United States, regardless of location, should be mandated to implement the OBPP to effectively reduce the amount of bullying in our educational system. While this will undoubtedly be a long and arduous process, the overall effects of the program will be worth the strain and effort of implementing the program. Several topics of discussion will certainly arise in the wake of such widespread adoption of a program that encompasses a vast scale of problems. I believe these will include, but certainly not be limited to: the timeframe of the program and when it should be evaluated for effectiveness; if the Olweus Bullying Questionnaire is the best way to assess the effectiveness of the program; if teachers should be paid supplemental income for undertaking training courses and being mandated to refresh themselves on these courses; and finally how schools should handle programs that are deemed unstable or unfit to run, and how this should be determined. These questions will need to be answered before the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program can be successfully implemented across the United States. Only time will tell if they can be answered, and once they are, how long it will take for bullying in our education system to become an issue of the past.

Works Cited

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  3. Cecil, Heather, and Stacie Molnar-Main. 'Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Components Implemented by Elementary Classroom and Specialist Teachers.' Journal of School Violence 14.4 (2014): 335-62. Web. 02 Oct. 2015
  4. Copeland, William, Wolke, Dieter, Angold, Adrian, Costello, Jane. “Adult Psychiatric Outcomes of Bullying by Peers in Childhood and Adolescence.” Journal of the American Medical Association 70.4 (2013): 419-426. Web. 09 Oct. 2015
  5. Limber, Susan P. 'Development, Evaluation, and Future Directions of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.' Journal of School Violence 10.1 (2011): 71-87. Web. 02 Oct. 2015
  6. Lurie, Julie. “Bullying Victims Are Twice as Likely to Bring a Weapon to School.' Mother Jones. 5 May. 2014. Web. 02 Oct. 2015.
  7. Klomek, Anat, Sourander, Andre, Gould, Madelyn. 'The Association of Suicide and Bullying in Childhood to Young Adulthood: A Review of Cross-Sectional and Longitudinal Research Findings.' Yearbook of Psychiatry and Applied Mental Health (2011): 282-286. Web. 02 Oct. 2015
  8. Olweus, Daniel. “Bullying in School: Evaluation and Dissemination of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.” American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 80.1 (2010): 124-134. Web 13 Oct. 2015
  9. Smith, Peter, et al. Bullying In Schools: How Successful Can Interventions Be? Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 2004. Print.
  10. 'The Long, Shameful List of School Shootings in America.' EverytownResearch. Everytown Research. 01 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Oct. 2015
  11. Thomas, Bruce, Bolan, Yvette, Hester, Jackie and Lisa Hyde. “Perceptions of Bullying in a Dated Over-Crowded School Setting.” Review of Higher Education and Self-Learning 3.7 (2010): 76-81. Web. 02 Oct. 2015
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