Help for victims
Though some 40 percent of teachers report observing bullying
once a week or more, according to a 2010 survey by the
National Education Association, plenty of harassment happens
outside school officials’ sights. To identify the hidden victims
of bullying, Cornell and his colleagues helped start the Safe
Schools/Healthy Students Albemarle/Charlottesville Project, in
Virginia. The project uses anonymous surveys that ask students
to list classmates who are regularly bullied.
“What we’ve found in a number of schools are students who
get listed 10 or 15 or 20 or more times. Almost invariably, these
are students who are in serious trouble, and often not known to
be victims by guidance counselors,” he says.
School counselors use this information to help victims by
learning what type of bullying is taking place and investigating
possible sources of conflict. They often identify perpetrators
and may discipline them. School counselors also talk to
bystanders and encourage them to intervene on behalf of the
victim and not egg on the bully, he says.
According to the project’s annual report, published in
August, the number of high school students who reported
experiencing bullying dropped by 22 percent and the number
of middle school students decreased by almost 16 percent since
the project started in 2009.
Perhaps the most effective way to reduce bullying is to band
students together against bullying. Two such programs, the
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program developed by Norwegian
psychologist Dan Olweus, PhD, and Positive Behavioral
Intervention and Supports, are being tested by Bradshaw
through a $13.3 million study of 60 public high schools in
Maryland. The study is funded by the U.S. Department of
Education’s Safe and Supportive School grant program.
The Positive Behavioral Intervention Supports program
works by asking students to discuss and adopt positive
behavioral goals, such as being “ready, responsible and
respectful” in their interactions with peers and teachers,
Bradshaw says. In the classroom, respecting yourself can
mean doing your best, being honest and using appropriate
language, while being responsible can mean being on time
to class, coming prepared and completing assignments,
Students who behave positively are eligible for rewards such
as a ticket to a special school dance, or permission not to wear
the school uniform for a day, she says.
Although the results of the high school study aren’t yet in,
another randomized trial of PBIS in 37 Maryland elementary
schools showed that it resulted in less bullying and lower levels
of social rejection (in press, Archives of Child and Adolescent
Another effective way to galvanize students against bullying
is to teach them ways they can intervene as bystanders, says
Helping students help their peers
Video: Learn more about how schools in
Charlottesville, Va. use anonymous student
surveys to identify bullying victims.
developmental psychologist Ron Slaby, PhD, a senior scientist
with the Education Development Center Inc., a non-profit
organization based in Newton, Mass., that develops programs
for education, health and economic opportunity. Empowering
students to speak out and stand up for victimized students
greatly reduces bullying, according to research on Slaby’s
Aggressors, Victims and Bystanders curriculum.
An expert panel that reviewed Aggressors, Victims and
Bystanders for a 2001 U.S. Department of Education report
said students who received the curriculum showed significant
decreases in their belief that violence is OK.
The program teaches students to stop and size up a bullying
situation and to try to intervene if possible — perhaps by
defusing the situation by making a joke or distracting the bully.
If it’s not safe to intervene, students are encouraged to report
bullying to an adult and console a bullied peer afterward and say
“A friendly response from a peer, for a kid who’s falling
into despair, can be enormously effective,” Slaby says. Doing
nothing, and saying nothing, only encourages continued
Whichever evidence-based program schools use, the most
important thing is that, as a society, we are finally taking
bullying seriously, says Cornell. “The attention to bullying is
going to be highly beneficial for the millions of students who
experience it, and for that proportion of students for whom it’s
a very serious problem,” he says. n
To see APA’s resources on bullying, go to www.apa.org/