The acts of violence featured in headlines are not the only concerns on today's school grounds. Age-old "lesser" forms of violence are also widespread in and near schools. Among the problems confronting students and schools is bullying -- the more insidious and fear inducing because of its commonplace occurrence at school and away from the notice of adults.

Photo of a bullyIn this country, bullying has traditionally been viewed as some perverse sort of child's play, its occurrence usually eliciting the common phrase, "Kids will be kids." Today, bullying is rightfully being recognized for what it is: an abusive behavior that often leads to greater and prolonged violent behavior. This phenomenon is more accurately termed "peer child abuse." Schoolyard bullying, which occurs in kindergarten through 12th grade, spans many different behaviors -- from what some may call minor offenses to the more serious criminal acts. Name calling, fistfights, purposeful ostracism, extortion, character assassination, libel, repeated physical attacks, and sexual harassment all are bullying tactics.

In May 1987, international authorities on schoolyard bullies and victims gathered at Harvard University for a Schoolyard Bully Practicum, which was sponsored by NSSC in conjunction with OJJDP. The practicum was one of the first meetings of prominent researchers, psychologists, school and law enforcement authorities, and public relations practitioners for the purpose of developing an awareness and prevention program to address bullying in the United States.

The following list of services, strategies, and suggested training classes were identified by practicum participants as ways to mediate bullying:

Bullet Rules against bullying that are publicized, posted schoolwide, and accompanied by consistent sanctions.
Bullet Student and adult mentors who assist victims and bullies to build self-esteem and to foster mutual understanding of and appreciation for differences in others.
Bullet A buddy system that pairs students with a particular friend or older buddy with whom they share class schedule information and plans for the school day and on whom they can depend for help.
Bullet An on-campus parents' center that recruits, coordinates, and encourages parents to take part in the educational process, volunteer, and assist in school activities and projects.
Bullet Classes for adults in parenting skills and for students in anger management, assertiveness training, and behavior modification training.
Bullet Behavior contracts signed by students and parents and written behavior codes for students, teachers, and staff members that are circulated to all parents and students.
Bullet Emphasis on discipline that stresses right behavior instead of reprimands that focus on punishing wrong behavior.
Bullet Friendship groups that support children who are regularly bullied by peers.
Bullet Peer mediation programs and teen courts that train students to mediate problems among themselves.
Bullet Conflict and dispute resolution curriculums available in all grades.
Bullet Close monitoring of cafeterias, playgrounds, and "hot spots" where bullying is likely to occur away from direct adult supervision.
Bullet Cooperative classroom activities and learning tasks, with care taken to vary the grouping of participants and to monitor groups for balanced reception and treatment of participants.
Bullet Classroom and schoolwide activities designed to build self-esteem by spotlighting special talents, hobbies, interests, and abilities of all students.
Bullet Publicity about organizations and groups that build children's social skills and self-discipline, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs, Scouting, and junior cadet programs, and various disciplines such as yoga, tai chi chuan, jujitsu, karate, kung fu, and tae kwon do.

Both bullies and their victims need help in learning new ways to get along in school. Curriculum developers and publishers now offer a variety of prevention/intervention materials to eliminate bullying from school life. Three programs, highlighted in NSSC's School Safety, are outlined below.10

Bullet No Bullying program.11 This Johnson Institute program, first implemented last year in schools across the country, pinpoints the "tell or tattle" dilemma facing many victims of bullying. Teachers are given step-by-step guidelines on how to teach students the difference between telling and tattling. Teachers also are shown how to establish and use immediate consequences when dealing with bullies.
Bullet Bully-Proofing Your School.12 This program, available from Sopris West since 1994, uses a comprehensive approach. Key elements include conflict resolution training for all staff members, social skills building for victims, positive leadership skills training for bullies, intervention techniques for those who neither bully or are bullied, and the presence of parental support.
Bullet Second Step.13 The Committee for Children's Second Step curriculum teaches positive social skills to children and families, including skill building in empathy, impulse control, problem solving, and anger management. Initial results indicate that students are able to identify more often with other people's feelings and are more readily able to control anger.

In the effort to make schools and communities safer for children, it is important that educators, parents, and policymakers be encouraged to support schoolwide programs that address all forms of violence, including bullying and its organized manifestation, gangs.

Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1998