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Expert Suggests Ways to Combat School Bullying

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Updated: 12/08/2003 8:57 am
Indiana University

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BLOOMINGTON, IN -- Bullying is a serious risk factor in school violence, but educators can make choices to address this concern, according to Russell Skiba, an Indiana University School of Education faculty member and expert in school safety.

"A Secret Service report on deadly school shootings since 1974 found that more than 75 percent of all school shooters had been victims of continuing harassment and intimidation by peers," said Skiba, an associate professor in educational psychology and director of the Safe and Responsive School Project. "Given the psychological effects of harassment, these numbers should not surprise us."

He said actions can be taken to address these harassment conditions. "Through improved supervision, classroom rules against bullying, positive and negative consequences for following and violating rules, and serious talks with bullies and victims, bullying prevention plans can strive to develop a school environment characterized by warmth and positive adult involvement."

"At the elementary level, worksheets, role plays, and relevant literature may be incorporated into existing curricula. Such measures send the message that bullying is not accepted in our school, and we will see to it that it comes to an end," he explained.

Skiba said the presence of peer harassment in a school might be described as the tinder that can fuel school violence. "It is never certain that that tinder will explode into serious violence in any given school. But the more of it there is, and the less that is done to combat it, the greater the probability that intimidation and harassment will eventually lead to serious school disruption and violence."

Skiba said it is important to have students involved in bullying prevention, and this probably increases with age. "At the elementary level, most bullying prevention programs will probably be curricular in nature, teaching students from the start that bullying and harassment are not acceptable school behaviors. As one moves toward high school, however, it is increasingly important that students are involved in the planning of any bullying prevention projects so they 'buy into' the program."

The IU educator said bullying has been shown to be associated with a host of psychological symptoms and disorders that range from shyness to depression and even suicide. "In addition," he added, "there are a substantial proportion of children who are bullied who will eventually turn to bullying or aggression themselves."

A recent news item in Education Week reported mixed results from anti-bullying programs that are now required or recommended in 33 states, but not Indiana. "It's healthy to have anti-bullying programs," Skiba said, "because studies have shown that day-to-day disruption and serious violence are correlated."

"Schools that address their day-to-day disciplinary problems reduce their chances that these minor disruptions will escalate into more serious violence. The data on harassment suggest that attention to bullying prevention should be a cornerstone of such preventive efforts," he concluded.

A Web site with information on Skiba's work involving school violence prevention is at http://www.indiana.edu/~safeschl.

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