© 2001 The Seattle Times Company
Nation & World : Wednesday, April 25, 2001
Nearly 1 in 3 students either a bully or victim
By Susan Fitzgerald
Knight Ridder Newspapers
PHILADELPHIA - Nearly one in three U.S. middle-schoolers and high school
students has been involved in bullying, either as a bully or a target,
according to the first national study to measure the extent of the problem.
Once largely brushed off as a normal part of childhood, bullying is
increasingly being recognized as unacceptable behavior with
possible lasting effects for both the aggressor and the victim.
In a survey of nearly 16,000 public, parochial and private school students
nationwide, 13 percent reported bullying other students sometimes or
frequently during the current term; 11 percent said they had been the victim
of repeated bullying; and 6 percent said they had both been bullied and
Boys were more likely to be involved than girls.
"Bullying is not a rite of passage, or kids being kids," said Tonja
a government psychologist who led the research published in today's Journal
of the American Medical Association. "It's a type of abusive behavior that
may negatively influence youth development."
The survey found that students who were bullied were more likely to report
difficulty making friends, poor relationships with classmates and feelings
of loneliness. Students who bullied were more likely to have academic
problems and be involved in smoking and drinking alcohol.
"Bullying is a red flag," said Dr. Howard Spivak, a pediatrician and
violence expert at New England Medical Center who co-authored an editorial
accompanying the study. "We know that bullies have issues. We know
who are bullied have issues we need to respond to in a helpful and
The school shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado and elsewhere have
focused attention on the possible connection between bullying and violence.
The image of the schoolyard bully picking on kids was a familiar one, but
the shootings also pointed to the flip side: kids who are tormented so badly
by their peers that their quiet seething erupts into violent behavior.
"Violence prevention, including bullying as a component, must be a priority
for all who are concerned about the health of children and youth," Spivak
wrote in the editorial, which called for more money to be spent on
antibullying interventions in schools.
The 1998 study of students in grades 6 to 10 by the National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development defined bullying as repeated behavior
that is intended to harm or disturb the targeted person, who is typically
less powerful than the perpetrator. The bullying could be physical
(hitting), verbal (teasing, name calling) or psychological (shunning.)
Students in grades 6 through 8 were most likely to report involvement in
bullying. Boys were more apt to resort to hits, slaps or pushing, while
bullying for girls more typically entailed making sexual comments and
spreading rumors. The study found that verbal taunting often focused on the
victim's looks or speech, as opposed to race or religion.
Spivak said yesterday that schools need to become places both where bullying
is not tolerated and children are taught the social skills needed to
navigate interpersonal relationships. Kids who are bullied often need to
develop resiliency and self-confidence and learn strategies for responding
Programs cut bullying
In England and Norway, where schools have such programs in place, the
incidence of bullying has been cut by more than 50 percent.
Reducing the incidence of bullying early on could have long-term
implications, Spivak said, citing a Norwegian study that found that bullies
had a four-fold increase in criminal behavior by the time they reached their
mid-20s. At the same time, the victims of bullying have higher rates of
depression as adults.
Alarmed by the violent events at Columbine and other schools, many districts
around the country are cracking down on bullying. The Southeast Delco School
District in Delaware County, Pa., for instance, is implementing a new
antibullying program that includes parents, teachers and students.
Community groups are also getting involved. In Philadelphia, a
violence-prevention program for children called Peaceful Posse includes
bullying among its topics.
Tiffany Jackson, 14, who attended a Peaceful Posse session Monday at the
Abbottsford Community Health Center, said she used to bully to get
Linda Thomas, 15, said she also used to intimidate people - with her stare.
"A bully is someone who pretends to be tough, but they're not," she
Here are tips from Arnold Goldstein, a retired Syracuse University
psychology professor and expert on bullying, and Sherryll Kraizer, author of
"The Safe Child Book: A Common Sense Approach to Protecting
Children and Teaching Children to Protect Themselves."
If your child is bullying others:
. Try not to be defensive.
. Get as much information as you can about what happened.
. Avoid blaming anyone.
. Do not ask why.
. Listen, because the bullying probably comes from your child's own feelings
. Make it clear that bullying is not acceptable behavior.
. Specify consequences if the behavior continues.
. If necessary, role-play new behavior.
. Reward more appropriate behavior.
If your child is being bullied:
. Do not be embarrassed.
. Avoid blaming anyone.
. Get as much information as you can about what is happening.
. Discuss with your child ways of dealing with a bully, including walking
away and getting help and acting more assertive.
. Role-play some of the alternatives with your child.
. Try to enhance your child's self-confidence.
. Ask how else you can help.
Copyright © 2001 The Seattle Times Company