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Recognized as more than just a problem between kids, schools are called upon to put forth a team effort to end bullies' longtime reign of terror.
In Arthur's April Fool, Marc Brown's lovable aardvark gets the best of a school bully by playing a joke on him. Lucky for Arthur, the book ends there.
As most children know, and many adults remember, struggles with real-life bullies rarely are resolved so easily. The enormity of those struggles are now recognized, and bullying in schools, once shrugged off with a kids-will-be-kids attitude, has come to be regarded as a serious problem around the world.
The facts about bullying show that 10 to 15 percent of children are bullied regularly, and bullying most often takes place in school, frequently right in the classroom. The facts show, too, that bullying is an equal-opportunity torment -- the size of a school, its setting (rural, urban or suburban) and racial composition seem to have no bearing on its occurrence.
Bullying takes a heavy toll on the victims. As many as 7 percent of eighth grade students in the United States stay home at least once a month because of bullies. Chronic fear can be the source of all-too-real stomachaches and headaches and other stress-related illnesses. According to Norway's Dan Olweus, a leading authority on the subject, being bullied also leads to depression and low self-esteem, problems that can carry into adulthood.
The effects of such behavior are grim for the offender, too. One study by Olweus shows that 60 percent of kids characterized as bullies in sixth through ninth grades had at least one criminal conviction by age 24.
Rather than help resolve the issue, schools have contributed to the problem. Teachers and principals underestimate the amount of bullying in schools and, when they do witness it, often are reluctant to get involved, says Nan Stein, a researcher at Wellesley College, in Beating the Bullies (Teacher magazine, August/September 1997). "Kids say that when they tell the adults about the bullying, adults don't take them seriously, or they make them feel responsible for going back and working it out." In the same article, researcher Charol Shakeshaft of Hofstra University said she found that "kids believe that teachers thought it was OK to behave that way because teachers didn't intervene."
Until recent years, the problem of bullying has been addressed primarily through efforts to raise the self-esteem of victims, many of whom are more passive and physically weaker than their tormentors. While this helps, it's not nearly enough. Olweus and other researchers emphatically agree that preventing and eliminating bullying in schools requires a clearly stated, zero-tolerance attitude toward bullying and a wholehearted team effort involving teachers, administrators and support staff, as well as students and parents.
The approach advocated by Olweus, detailed in his book Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, includes first distributing a questionnaire on bullying to students and teachers to foster awareness, justify intervention efforts and establish a benchmark for later comparison. He also recommends:
In his article What Schools Can Do About Bullying, Ken Rigby of the University of South Australia says teachers can have a significant impact on the problem by specifically:
Anti-bullying campaigns make a difference. Schools in Norway and in South Carolina that adopted Olweus' program reported incidents of bullying dropped by 50 percent. For anybody who's ever felt the sting of a schoolmate's punch or caustic words, that's very good news.
Article by Colleen Newquist
Copyright © 2006 Education World
Sources fromTeacher magazine:
From the National PTA:
Ken Rigby's Bullying Pages
Includes information on resources concerned with bullying in schools and questionnaires (for sale) for use in schools, plus the article "What Schools Can Do About Bullying."
Children Not to Be -- or Be Victims of -- Bullies
From the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC).
Your Children at School: Helping Children Deal with a School Bully
From the National PTA.
From the Safe Child Organization.
Bullying: A Parents Guide from Kidscape
From a London-based agency that teaches children about personal safety.