Preventing Bullying Behaviour among Schoolchildren

By Small, Mark A. | Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services, June 2004 | Go to article overview

Preventing Bullying Behaviour among Schoolchildren


Small, Mark A., Canadian Journal of Police and Security Services


The recognition of the importance of preventing bullying behaviour among schoolchildren combined with an increased understanding of the nature of bullying behaviour has led schools and communities to rethink how safety plans aimed at increasing security may be modified or expanded to address bullying. This article is designed to present a brief overview of bullying behaviour for police and security personnel. First, definitions of bullying behaviour are described. Second, a review of research is offered to dispel some myths about the nature of bullying as well to correct some misdirections in bullying prevention programs. Finally, a promising program for bullying prevention is described.

For many people, bullying and being bullied are seen as normal rites of passage for children and youth. Bullying often is viewed as a troublesome activity with unpleasant, but not serious, consequences for those involved. Accordingly, few public safety plans have addressed the prevention of bullying among schoolchildren as a distinct problem worthy of attention. Within the last decade, the co-occurrence of two events began to change public attitudes about bullying behaviour. First, publicity surrounding school shootings at several U.S. high schools in the late 1990s and subsequent reports that many perpetrators of school shootings had felt persecuted, bullied, or threatened by their peers caused many people to see bullying as a dangerous precursor to more serious violence (see, e.g., Vossekuil, Fein, Reddy, Borum, & Modzeleski, 2002). Second, a steady output of research literature on youth violence in general, and bullying in particular, raised the profile of bullying as topic of public concern. The recognition of the importance of preventing bullying behaviour among schoolchildren to thwart more serious violence combined with an increased understanding of bullying behaviour has led schools and communities to rethink how safety plans aimed at increasing security and reducing violence may be modified or expanded to address bullying.

This article is designed to present a brief overview of bullying behaviour for police and security personnel. First, definitions of bullying behaviour are described. Second, a brief review of research is offered to dispel some myths about the nature of bullying as well to correct some misdirections in bullying prevention programs. Finally, a promising program for bullying prevention is described.

UNDERSTANDING BULLYING BEHAVIOR

Defining Bullying

The most critical task in reducing or eliminating undesirable behaviour is to clearly define the behaviour at issue. Among youth violence researchers, bullying commonly is understood as aggressive behaviour that: (a) is intended to cause distress or harm, (b) exists in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength, and (c) is repeated over time (Limber, 2002; Nansel, Overpeck, Pilla, Ruan, Simons-Morton, & Scheidt, 2001; Olweus, 1993). Although bullying often involves direct physical actions, words, and gestures, bullying can also be indirect actions, such as social isolation spreading rumours, or enlisting a friend to assault a child (Limber, 2002; Olweus, 1993; Rigby, 1996).

The three distinct features of intentional harm repeatedly directed at someone of lesser status differentiates bullying from similar violent behaviours. Fighting, for example, often is not repeated over time and opponents frequently are relatively equal in strength. Similarly, the term harassment, which refers to "words, gestures and actions which tend to annoy, alarm and abuse (verbally) another person" (Black, Nolan, & Connolly, 1979) is often mistakenly equated with bullying. Yet, so defined, harassment also ignores the power imbalance that exists between the perpetrator and the victim. This power imbalance, which need not necessarily reflect a difference in physical strength, is a critical component of bullying behaviour. …

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