Early Intervention Most Effectively Curbs Bullying
> 1/29/2007 3:22:51 PM

Teachers, students and staff at schools of any kind and in any location eventually come face to face with some form of the ever-present bullying phenomenon. Whether social, psychological or physical in nature, unwarranted and disruptive aggression between students begins as early as preschool and peaks with the changing physiology and emotional extremes of early adolescence, but it can manifest itself well into adulthood. The motivations behind such behaviors vary sharply, but the effect they have on millions of young people making it through the school system is relevant in every corner of their lives: in class, at home and with peers outside the academic world.

Renowned child psychologist Dan Olweus developed a comprehensive behavioral intervention plan more than twenty years ago; in a two-year trial at a troubled school in Norway, it reduced the number of bullying reports by more than 50 percent, and it has repeatedly been cited as one of the best models for combating the problem before it starts and containing it when it does. His basic premise advocates early intervention, and he argues that the heaviest burden of responsibility lies not with parents and their school-age children but with the institutions themselves. This approach may, at first glance, seem reliant on ideology and lacking in specific applications, but its successes have been well-documented in the United States and abroad.   

Efforts should not strictly focus on protecting victims or singling out problem individuals as those who practice the anti-social behaviors sometimes need outside intervention more than their targets; the only way to address the problem is to adapt a long-standing approach to policy that applies to all students and staff, hopefully moving to influence their home lives as well as the disciplinary atmosphere of their schools. Olweus's definition of bullying excludes friendly teasing and confrontation between children of approximately equal size and strength, but the successful implementation of his program also works to reduce the occurrence of these and other seemingly minor or unrelated offenses. It includes manuals and questionnaires to be filled out anonymously by every student and recommends that all participating schools develop permanent committees to coordinate the implementation of bully prevention policies. Many experts agree that children are considerably more receptive to positive influence in elementary school before age and experience make anti-social habits permanent. In some instances, voluntary peer mentors advise younger students on how to survive the school experience relatively unfazed or, at least, to avoid situations that lend themselves to bullying.

Olweus believes that, while behavioral standards should be consistent and strictly enforced, corporal "payback" punishment for bullies does not work, as it only furthers the concept of violence as an acceptable means to an end (whether sanctioned or not). On the most basic level, addressing these problems requires increased supervision. The fact that this probably means more staff and greater expenses could make it difficult for many school districts to implement the plan, but overall cost increases are minimal, and their demonstrable benefits far outweigh any fiscal setbacks contained within. Olweus's plan is only one of thousands designed to curb youth violence, and it is certainly not a magic bullet or miracle cure. But all in education should maintain a guarded willingness to consider the proven merits of a program whose ultimate goal is an environment allowing children to focus less on the risk of physical and emotional harm and more on the reason for their presence: the learning process.

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