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Published: April 3, 2011


The browbeating or physical victimization of a youngster by one or more other more powerful youngsters. One of the most prevalent types of student misbehavior in almost every elementary, middle and high school, bullying is largely ignored by teachers and administrators, often because they do not know how to prevent it and actually believe it to be a relatively harmless, normal part of the maturation process. The few available studies of bullying dispel this and the many other myths that cloak the problem.
Most children are victimized by bullies at least once, and the majority emerge relatively unscathed. Boys usually suffer extortion and physical abuse, while girls usually suffer social alienation and intimidation, such as teasing about appearance or dress. About 10% of all children attending school are afraid during the entire school day because of bullying. As a result, many avoid lunch, recess and playtime for fear they will be humiliated or physically abused by bullies. Some routinely feign illness to avoid attending school and, as a result, often suffer academically. Long-term victims suffer low self-esteem, fear, anxiety, poor academic performance, lack of interest in school, lack of trust, and difficulties establishing and sustaining friendships. Many need counseling to overcome the traumas of victimization. Failure to provide such counseling has led to tragic consequences. On April 20, 1999, two Colorado teenagers exploded with rage after years of victimization and, armed with automatic weapons, they burst into their high school in Littleton, Colorado, intent on killing 250 of their schoolmates. They killed 12 students and a teacher and wounded two dozen others before turning their guns on themselves and committing suicide. In March 2001, bullying provoked two students at Santana High School, in Santee, California, to shoot and kill two students and wound 13 others.
Bullies, too, however, suffer long-term consequences of their antisocial behavior. According to a study by Dr. Dan Olweus, a psychologist at the University of Norway, who followed thousands of boys from grade school to adulthood, 65% of boys identified as bullies in the second grade had felony convictions by the time they were 24 years old. Olweus found that bullies tend to become delinquents during their teenage years and develop “serious antisocial and criminal behavior in adulthood.” Most remain bullies throughout their lives, enjoy their power and control over others. They often drop out of school, have difficulties holding jobs and fail to sustain close, intimate relationships. They achieve less academically, socially, economically and occupationally than their nonbullying peers. They have more arrests for felonies, convictions for serious crimes, are abusive toward their spouses and are more likely to have highly aggressive children of their own.
Despite the traumatic effects of bullying on both bully and victim, teachers and administrators seem at a loss to handle this widespread problem. Many victims are afraid to report bullying for fear of retaliation by the bullies and alienating their nonbullying peers by reporting a fellow student to school authorities. Teacher and administrator discipline of bullies seldom solves the problem. Indeed, bullies usually respond to discipline such as isolation or suspension with rage reactions against their victims—regardless of whether their victims were responsible for having provoked the discipline. Nor does a nondisciplinary counseling approach seem to have much of an effect, because the typical bully lacks empathy and has little or no concern how much he or she hurts another youngster.
Like most student social problems, chronic bullying seems immune to solutions at the school level—largely because it is a deep-seated dysfunction with its roots in the home during early childhood. Bullies are usually the children of bullying parents who not only cannot control their own behavior, but are unwilling to control their children’s behavior, despite exhortations from teachers and school authorities. Many bully-type fathers are quite proud that their bully sons are “tough.” One solution that was tested effectively at 12 elementary schools is a comprehensive “bully-proofing” program in which the entire school faculty, staff and, most importantly, the student body are enlisted to support victims and shun bullies. “No Bullying Allowed” posters adorn the walls, and “nobullying rules” are taught to every child and distributed to every parent. The approach has yet to be tested at the middle school and high school level, where teachers and administrators seem at a loss to deal with the problem.