March 4, 2002
Guest Editorial: School smarts can outsmart bullies
by Karen Lytle Blaha
"Given the serious effects bullying behavior has on both students and schools, we can't afford to simply dismiss it as 'normal' or inevitable part of childhood," say Cori Brewster and Jennifer Railsback.
The two are authors of "Schoolwide Prevention of Bullying," a booklet that pulls together research about bullying and its effects on both the target and the bully.
The free booklet is part of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory's By Request, a series on hot topics about school and learning.
Kids who are targeted by bullies can become depressed and anxious, and of course that affects their learning. But they're not the only ones who are affected. Bullying behavior makes others feel unsafe as well.
In just one example, the booklet notes that 7 percent of eight graders stay home at least once a month because of bullies. And the long-term effects on the bullies themselves, who continue that kind of behavior into adulthood, should be taken seriously.
The research points out that while teachers, counselors and parents might be able to deal with individual cases of bullying as they arise, that approach probably doesn't have a significant impact on the incidence of bullying in the school.
Adults typically don't spot bullying. In fact, they see less than 10 percent of the bullying that occurs. And many teachers and administrators don't understand the dynamics that occur in bullying.
Without adequate training, some adults may actually endorse bullying behavior, either by sending kids the message that bullying is "part of growing up," or by simply ignoring the behavior.
Adults and kids alike frequently say victims bring the bullying on themselves, either by provoking the bullies or by making themselves look weak and defenseless.
Defining exactly what bullying is and how it differs from "normal" childhood conflicts is the first step in solving this problem.
It's important for schools to develop a schoolwide anti-bullying program, say the authors, to "empower the silent majority," those students who see the bullying that goes on, but don't know what to do about it.
Teaching students to recognize and intervene in bullying has the greatest impact on curbing incidents of bullying and harassment at school, they say. Programs to accomplish this take many shapes, the authors note, and give a sampling of schools that have researched-based programs.
For a free copy of "Schoolwide Prevention of Bullying," write to Newspaper Column, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, 101 SW Main Street, Suite 500, Portland, OR 97204. It is also available on the Laboratory's Web site at www.nwrel.org/request.
This column by Karen Lytle Blaha is provided as a public service by the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, a nonprofit institution working with schools and communities in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington.