The Bullying Prevention Program

The Bullying Prevention Program (BPP) reduced bullying problems in Norwegian schools by up to 50 percent. Actively involving students, school staff, and parents in restructuring their school environment created a safe and learning one, and lessened the number of opportunities and rewards for bullying. BPP had been replicated in American, Canadian, and European schools.

Background

In 1982 three teenage boys committed suicide in Norway. These boys, 10-14 years old, were severely bullied at school. The deaths of these teenagers led to a nationwide campaign by the Ministry of Education in 1983 against bullying/victim problems in Norwegian schools.

Dr. Dan Olweus, Ph.D., designed the Bullying Prevention Program (BPP) that was first implemented in 42 Bergen primary and junior high schools, grades 4-7 (ages 11-14 years). This is equivalent to grades 5-8 in the U.S. and present day Norway. The intervention project involved 2,500 students from 1983 to 1985.

What does bullying mean? A student is being bullied or victimized when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other students.1 These negative actions can include direct bullying such as kicking or calling names, and indirect (subtle) bullying such as excluding a student from a group. In bullying, there is an imbalance of power or strength, in other words, two students playfully teasing each other is not bullying, however malicious teasing among students who have different psychological power is considered bullying. In fact, bullying can be considered a form of peer abuse.2

Bullying has been shown to:

  • Affects the child's emotional state such as self-esteem and sense of security;
  • Have long-term negative effects on the child in his/her later years;
  • Lead to other types of anti-social behaviour such as drug use for the bullies; and
  • Make the classroom an unsafe place of learning for many students since they feel less safe and were less satisfied with school life. 3

Setting Objectives

The main goals of the Bully Prevention Program were to:

  • Reduce existing direct and indirect bullying problems among elementary, middle, and junior high school children in and outside of school;
  • Prevent the development of new bullying problems; and
  • Create a friendly and positive social climate at school so that students, in particular bullies, interacted and functioned better at and outside of school.

To determine a baseline against which to measure progress, the schools administered the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire. 150,000 students completed the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire in Norwegian and Swedish schools. Fifteen percent of the students, ages 7-16, reported being involved in bully/victim problems, approximately 9 percent were victims, and 7 percent bullied other students.

Getting Informed

Studies had shown that creating a friendly and positive social climate has a significant effect on the number of bullying episodes. If bullying behaviour is unchecked, over time, students become less empathetic towards bullied students, and bullying behaviour actually increases since bullies are aware of the lack of response from students and adults. Figure 54 shows the negative roles that students may play in a bullying situation and how they can be transformed into another role.

According to research on the development and modification of problem behaviours, particularly aggressive behaviour,5 a desirable school is one:

  • Characterized by warmth, positive interest, and involvement by adults,
  • With firm limits to unacceptable behaviour,
  • Where non-hostile, non-physical negative consequences are consistently applied in cases of violations of rules and other unacceptable behaviours, and
  • Where adults act as authorities and positive role models.

The research also showed that key barriers to overcoming bullying/victim problems included:

  • Social rewards for bullying;
  • Peer pressure;
  • Unfriendly school environment;
  • Victims not coming forward;
  • Defensiveness and lack of cooperation of bullys parents;
  • Poor communication between the school and parents about bullying/victim problems;
  • Inadequate documenting of bullying incidents; and
  • Lack of supervision during school breaks

Delivering the Program

An important premise of the Bullying Prevention Program was that by restructuring the social environment, bullying behaviour could be transformed into acceptable and positive social behaviour. Restructuring reduced the number of opportunities and rewards (e.g. peer support) for bullying. Key to the success of the BPP program was the involvement and commitment to the program by the principal, teachers, and school administrators. Also important was the active participation by parents, students, and non-teaching staff (e.g. bus drivers). Reduction in bullying behaviour at a school was directly related to the quality of the program implementation schools that showed the largest reduction in bullying problems had implemented core program components to a greater extent than other schools.

Core and optional components were implemented at three levels school, classroom, and individual:

School level

Not only did the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire measure bullying/victim problems prior to running BPP, but it also increased awareness about bullying at a school and encouraged active involvement by students and parents (Building Motivation over Time). Informing parents of the effect of bullying on the child also motivated parents.

Prior to launching the program in the fall of 1983, the questionnaire (about 25-45 minutes long) was administered anonymously in the recommended time period of late April. Timing of the questionnaire was important since it gave students a chance to think about the bullying that had occurred during the previous months and for the school personnel to examine the results.

Schools established a Bully Prevention Coordinating Committee to ensure continuity, persistence, and an effective implementation of the program. The committee included where possible a school administrator such as the principal, a teacher representative from each grade, a guidance counsellor, an on-site mental health professional, and parent and student representatives. In most cases, one member of the committee acted as an on-site coordinator who also liaised with the BPP program consultant.

At a half or full school conference day at the beginning of the school year, responses to the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire were presented. Participants of the conference included the principal, assistant principal(s), coordinator, the committee, and all other school personnel, and in most cases, student and parent representatives. The school conference day was used to create a detailed long-term plan to realize the BPP program at each school. At some schools, participants viewed the Bullying video to elicit their gut-reactions to bullying (Vivid, Personalized Communication).

Although bullying took place in school hallways, gyms, locker rooms, bathrooms, and to and from school, most bullying incidents occurred on the playground or in the classroom. Consequently another core program element was adult supervision of students during breaks since most bullying occurred at the school and less bullying occurred where there was a higher teacher-student ratio. Schools kept common logbooks to exchange information about bullying episodes and teachers (or other staff) quickly intervened when a bullying incident occurred. Consistent intervention sent the clear message We dont accept bullying in our school to bullies and would-be bullies.6

At some schools, meetings between parents and children of a particular grade took place.

Classroom level

Students learned what type of behaviour was considered bullying through role playing, observing bullying scenes in videos, and participating in discussions (Vivid, Personalized Communication).

To achieve a better social climate in the classroom, classroom discussions were used to clearly define and establish classroom rules against bullying. Actively involving students in these discussions, motivated them to support these rules and achieve personal responsibility (Building Motivation over Time). Classroom meetings were also used to agree on the negative consequences for bullying and to break down commonly held myths about bullying.

Teachers rewarded students who:

  • Intervened when a student engaged in bullying behaviour;
  • Called a teachers attention to an acute bullying situation;
  • Let a parent or teacher know when a student (including himself/herself) was being bullied; and
  • Took the initiative to include isolated students in activities.

Student discussions also made potential bullies aware of and experience their peers negative attitudes towards bullying. Thus potential bullies complied with peer pressure to follow the bullying rules, since these rules became part of the behavioural norm at school as the bullying prevention program evolved (Norm Appeals).

Individual level

The core component at this level involved talks with bullies and victims. The primary goal was to stop suspected bullys bullying behaviour. Where there was more than one bully involved, teachers talked with them separately but in rapid succession, giving the bullies less time to come up with a common story.

Talks with victims were intended to encourage students to come forward in the future if they were bullied again. In these talks it was important for the student to experience adults support and to believe in the schools plan of action against bullying such as protection and immediate decisive talks with the bully (Overcoming Specific Barriers).

Also essential was talks with parents both of the bully and the victimized student. The teacher's goal was to obtain cooperation from the parents of the bully to encourage their child to behave in appropriate ways. The bullying parents were more inclined to cooperate when they understood that bullies were at a higher risk of drug or alcohol abuse, or criminal activities (Building Motivation over Time). Talks with parents of the victimized student fostered the student's emotional and educational development since the child felt safer at school and performed better at school.

The Bergen Model

A newer model of the BPP program was implemented in the1997-1998 school year, involving 3,200 students in 30 Bergen schools, grades 5, 6, 7, and 9 (ages 11, 13, and 15 years). This model included teacher discussion groups where teachers met to discuss program implementation and their experiences. These discussion groups augmented program fidelity (i.e. adherence to program protocol), thus increasing a more successful implementation of the program.

Measuring Achievements

The program's effectiveness was measured using:

  • An extended version of the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire;
  • A self-report questionnaire about the students participation in antisocial behaviours; and
  • Teacher ratings of the bully/victim problems.

The BPP project involved 2,500 children in 42 primary and lower secondary schools from 1983 to 1985. Measures were taken at three points:

  • May 1983, about four months prior to program start;
  • May 1984, after 8 months into the program; and
  • May 1985, 20 months after the program ended.

Bergen: Of the schools in Bergen, 14 were intervention and 28 were control schools.

USA: The BPP program was implemented in non-metropolitan communities in South Carolina, U.S.A. in 1995 for two years. The first year was across 39 schools in grades 4-6, with 6,388 students. This included 11 intervention schools and 28 control schools.

Results

The BPP project from 1983 to 1985 showed a reduction:

  • In bullying and victimization problems (a decrease of 50 percent or more);
  • In existing bullying problems;
  • In the number and percentage of new victims, demonstrating the programs preventative effects on bullying; and
  • In antisocial behaviour such as truancy, alcohol use, vandalism, fighting, and theft.

Students also had a more positive attitude towards schoolwork and increased satisfaction with school life.

Bergen: The schools in Bergen showed a reduction of 20-35 percent in students being bullied and bullying in the intervention schools. In the control schools, there was no or little average change in students being bullied and an actual increase in students bullying other students.

USA: After seven months, the intervention schools reported a decrease by 25 percent in students bullying other students, while there was an increase in the control schools.

Germany: In 1994 the program was implemented in the State of Schleswig-Holstein, across 28 schools in primary and lower secondary grades (ages 8-16 years). The Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire administered in 1994 showed an average reduction of 18 percent in students being bullied, while two years later it showed an average reduction of 15.3 percent.

BPP has also been replicated in schools in England, Sweden, Finland, Holland, and Canada.

Contacts

For further information on the Bullying Prevention Program contact:

Dan Olweus, Ph.D.
Program Designer
University of Bergen
Research Center for Health Promotion (HEMIL)
Christiesgt. 13, N-5015
Bergen, Norway
Phone: 47-55-58-23-27
Fax: 47-55-58-84-22
Email olweus@psych.uib.no

For information on the U.S. replication contact:

Susan P. Limber, PhD, MLS
Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life
Clemson University
158 Poole Agricultural Center
Clemson, SC 29634
Phone: (864) 656-6320
Fax: (864) 656-6281
Email: slimber@clemson.edu

For information on the Blueprints for Violence Prevention programs contact:

Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence (CSPV)
University of Colorado at Boulder
Institute of Behavioral Science
900 28th Street, Suite 107
439 UCB
Boulder, CO 80309-0439
Phone: (303) 492-1032
Email:Blueprints@colorado.edu
http://www.colorado.edu/cspv/blueprints/

This case study was written by Ria van der Veen. Ria is an experienced writer with a broad portfolio including case studies, newsletters, articles for journals, and technical manuals. You can contact Ria for your researching, writing, and editing needs at otc@comnet.ca.

Notes

The Bully Prevention Program is one of the ten proven programs in the Blueprints for Violence at the University of Colorado. BPP meets the Center's set of evaluation standards including strong research design, evidence of significant deterrence effects, multiple site replication, and sustained effects.

1. Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence, Blueprints for Violence Prevention Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program (Colorado 2000, 2002), 7.
2. Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program, 8.
3. Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program, 13.
4. Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program, 14.
5. Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program, 16.
6. Book Nine Bullying Prevention Program, 29.

Last updated: August 2004

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