Anti-Bullying Expert

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The keynote speaker at the October 5th “Anti-Bullying Summit” at ASU, Dr. Dan Olweus, is a professor of psychology and a world leader in research and developing intervention programs to address the problems of childhood bullying. He talks about his work and how to address problems with bullying.

Ted Simons: It is a question that never seems to go away. Why do some children appear to enjoy harassing and intimidating other kids? Bullying has always been with us, but in recent years, schools have focused on fighting back and elected officials are taking the problem seriously. Anti-bullying summit is taking place tomorrow on ASU's Tempe campus. It's sponsored by stop bullying Arizona, an initiative led by Phoenix's first lady Nicole Stanton. And our next guest is the keynote speaker at the event, Dr. Dan Olweus, who developed the Olweus prevention program which is uses in more than a dozen countries and thousands of schools across the U.S. It is good to have you here, thank you for joining us.
Dr. Dan Olweus: Thank you.
Ted Simons: Let's start at the beginning. Define bullying.
Dr. Dan Olweus: Yes, well, typically three criteria for defining bullying. It is a negative behavior, aggressive, kind of aggressive, proactive behavior, and, second, it is typically repeated pattern or behavior, but it can be single episodes as well, but definitely some repetitiveness, and finally and maybe most important, there is a power imbalance between the perpetrator or perpetrators and the targeted, the victim. So these are the three basic criteria.
Ted Simons: So basically, you've got the power vacuum there or the power imbalance there. You've got aggression and you've got repeated action. Repeated action is that different in how bullying was categorized, we should say, in years' past?
Dr. Dan Olweus: I think it was never categorized really.
Ted Simons: Yeah.
Dr. Dan Olweus: So when I started in -- I did the first -- what is generally considered to be the first scientific study of bullying actually in the '70s, and it was published in the U.S. in 1978, both aggression in the schools and bullying in the schools and victims at school but anyhow, at that time, we had little knowledge to really define -- make a clear definition. Very soon afterwards, we had suicides in Norway, where I moved, and that -- and that is nationwide campaign, international campaign, and then it was important to develop a criteria. So, these criteria, I defined them then at that time, and gradually they have been very well accepted in research literature and among practitioners as well, but with the advent of cyber-bullying, there has been some concerns about do they really apply in the same way? And other things suggesting that this criteria can also be applied relatively well, but, of course, sometimes you have single episode, for instance, posting a negative video or something like that, which can be spread to a large audience. It is not repetitive in the ordinary sense. I think we need to do more research. But it is typically, I think, definition can be, probably used also for cyber-bullying.
Ted Simons: Could be determined as repetition if the video is seen by more than one person.
Dr. Dan Olweus: Exactly.
Ted Simons: Okay. So, who are bullies and how do they become bullies?
Dr. Dan Olweus: Yeah. We have a lot of information on that actually. So, one can say, first, maybe the important point -- if we start with the victims, they are typically children, youth, who are kind of cautious, sensitive, somewhat have difficulty asserting themselves maybe. But under certain circumstances, almost anybody can be a victim. And but and the bullies, they typically are aggressive, of course, which is implied hopefully, but also other forms of rule-breaking behavior. In school, they often break other rules and engage in more antisocial activities. The important thing what we have now, accumulating more knowledge of the long-term consequence of these things. So, the victims, we have no more than 30 studies for them-- school victims, what happens to them later, maybe six, 10 years later. And we see that they are still very much marked by that. They have much more problems with depression, anxiety, suicidal ideation and so on. And for the bullies, this rule breaking behavior follows many of them and in particular for boys, and they are much more over represented in crime activity. So, I have this study in Sweden where we follow up 800 boys from which went up to age 24, and we see then that 35% of them have at least three convictions by the age of 24. And the base rate is only 10%. Almost four-fold increase in relatively serious -- so this means that this has long term outcomes, long term consequences for the victims and for the bullies, and not just a passing school problem. Therefore, it has also public health implications very much so and costs to society, because both groups are over-consumers of the health and social services of society. So they will cost society a lot of money actually.
Ted Simons: We have a better definition of what bullying is. We kind of know who the bullies are and who are the victims are and who they may become. You developed a program. Talk about the program and talk about the best way to prevent bullying. Let's talk about schools mostly because that seems where it goes on the most.
Dr. Dan Olweus: Yeah, absolutely. This has been very much focused in the school. The first important, of course, who should have responsibility for stopping these behaviors? And when we started, the typical idea was that this is something that parents should address. Students themselves should address them, or it should be the school. But gradually -- research, gradual marked change in the view of how this - who's responsibility it is. It is very clear that the main responsibility lies with the schools. We have kind of a social contact, you might say, parents provide their children and they have the right to expect that no child should be exposed to this kind of humiliating, degrading treatment. It is a violation of a fundamental human right actually. I think it is more and more accepted that it is really the school's responsibility, and legislation in the Scandinavian countries, in several states here also make it very clear that it is the school's responsibility. So, that is an important point, of course. What kind of program we have. This program was first developed in the 80s in the context of a nationwide campaign. We followed 42 schools over 2 1/2 years and we could see after eight months, work with the program, programs go down by 50% approximately. As the result being replicated in a number of -- we had more than 30,000 students involved in intervention projects and we can see why using this program in a systematic and with fidelity, you can get very considerable reductions.
Ted Simons: What does the program involve? We don't have much time left. Give us an overview of what you are targeting. What are you telling the schools?
Dr. Dan Olweus: Three different levels, at the school level, at the classroom level, and individual level. Of course important to have the principals be positive to do something, but the teachers are the key agents. At the school level, we know that much bullying occurs in the recess period. Must have good supervisor system with the adults out and ready to intervene. Classroom, school level, we introduce classroom rules or school rules against bullying. We don't bully in our schools. We should help children to get bullied. If we know someone who is bullied, tell an adult about that. If you have identified problems you must follow this up with very clear procedures of finding out this and make it clear to the bullies that this must stop and we will have some consequences, negative consequences if you don't follow these. This should be followed up in regular planned meetings, involving the parents often as well.
Ted Simons: Does that work? Does a kid, a bully, even a victim, when they hear about you should do this and should do that, these are kids. I don't want to be a snitch. I don't want to be seen as being weak. Does it really work?
Dr. Dan Olweus: That's what I say we now have replications and we have also now seven good projects in the U.S. actually, particularly in Pennsylvania, with more than 40,000, and we can see clear reductions, but in particular, I mean, you must have not only good program, you must have a good implementation model so that this becomes part of the everyday life of the school. Not just a single episode and sending the teachers on some course or something like that. It must be part of the everyday life of the school. It's a changing school culturally.
Ted Simons: And response has been good so far from teachers, educators, parents?
Dr. Dan Olweus: Yeah, people who use it are very pleased with it and get very excited about it. So, and this summit I think is a good initiative really. It is a good start. It will take time to get this in good shape, but absolutely very important.
Ted Simons: We are looking at the web site right now. Anti-bullying summit scheduled for tomorrow at the Tempe campus, Arizona State University. You are the keynote speaker. It is good to have you here tonight. Thank you for joining us. We appreciate it.
Dr. Dan Olweus: Thank you.

Dr. Dan Olweus:Anti-Bullying Expert;

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