Suicides spurred global anti-bullying strategy

By Tommy Franz
Staff writer

Dan Olweus, a psychology professor in Norway, is often cited as the first major researcher of bullying.

Olweus began thoroughly researching the subject in the early 1980’s following the suicides of three boys aged 10-14, all three were potentially consequences of bullying in school.

Following these suicides, Olweus went to work to prevent bullying. According to the program’s website, the method led to a reduction of 50% or more in student reports of bullying in Norway. The report also provided evidence for marked reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, fighting, theft and truancy.

Following such success in Norway, the Olweus Program to prevent bullying in schools has been implemented elsewhere. In 1999, after the killings at a school in Columbine, Colo., the U.S. Department of Justice selected the Olweus Bully Prevention Program as a model for its national violence prevention strategy.

In March 2012, a South Korean film crew visited a New Jersey school district to document the effectiveness of the Olweus Program in the United States.

The news story account of the visit showed how cultures were learning from one another to curb a worldwide bullying epidemic. Yeji Shin, a film producer from Korea, said in the story about why she had made the trip to America to help show how bullying could be stopped in her country.

“There are a lot of concerns right now regarding men, boys and bullying. The bullying issue is one of the worst in the world in Korea,” Shin said. “We just want to show the Korean society what’s out there. I definitely think, just by what we’ve filmed so far, we have more than enough information to bring back. This is a very rich and action-oriented program. I hope we can prove that bullying is an issue that can be managed.”

In Michigan, school districts began forming or re-evaluatng school policies following the anti-bullying law that was passed in 2011. Williamston School District, which is about 10 miles east of Lansing, set out in its policy to define what bullying is, and guidelines based on the Olweus Prevention Program.

Defining bullying has been very difficult for lawmakers and teachers alike, but the Williamston district defined it as the following: “Bullying is defined as any gesture or written, verbal, graphic, or physical act (including electronically transmitted acts, i.e. internet, telephone or cell phone, personal digital assistant (PDA), or wireless hand held device) that, without regard to its subject matter or motivating animus, is intended or that a reasonable person would know is likely to harm one or more students.”

The policy draft goes on to describe ways in which the school district will work to curtail bullying, many of which are similar to the Olweus program.

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