Release Date: April 11, 2011
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Researchers at a new University at Buffalo national research center say the United States lags behind in the struggle to address and prevent bullying, and have begun to detail how to help victims and stop what they call "child abuse by children."
"Bullying is a serious issue," says Janice DeLucia-Waack, program director for the School Counseling Graduate Program in UB's Graduate School of Education and on the advisory board for the university's Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying, Abuse and School Violence. "And we are behind other countries."
A video interview with DeLucia-Waack is available here.
"For a long time in this country it has been just kids being kids, and (an assumption) that this bullying did not have long-term consequences," says DeLucia-Waack. "But we've started to look at research in other countries and see that it does. Then we started to collect data in more recent years that has shown that there truly are serious long-term consequences."
Bullying -- an issue NBC network news has called a "national epidemic" and the object of an ongoing White House anti-bullying campaign after President Obama said he was bullied as a child for his "large ears and funny name" -- will be the top priority in UB's Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying, Abuse and School Violence.
The Alberti Center has named a new director, who will begin work at UB on July 15. DeLucia-Waack was a member of the search committee, and has co-authored a story on the best ways to combat bullying for Newsweek.
"I think almost all of us could give some incidents where we were teased or bullied," DeLucia-Waack says. "I think we can all understand what it's like to be bullied. And it does pull at your heart. It really does."
UB's research and preparation for its emerging anti-bullying and school violence center -- made possible thanks to what DeLucia-Waack calls a "very generous donor" -- has shown the bullying phenomenon goes beyond the primary and high school classroom to bullying on the job, on athletic teams, on college campuses and what has become the newest bullying vehicle -- the Internet.
"It doesn't seem to go away," says DeLucia-Waack. "And there really are some long-term consequences. We have these suicides. There has always been some, but I think they have become more public. The other thing we know is that kids who were bullied sometimes turn around and bully later on. Or they become abusers; domestic violence or date-rapers.
"If you feel powerless and then you suddenly decide, 'I can be powerful,'" she says. "So there is a long-term effect we're just starting to realize, for the bullies as well as the people being bullied."
Just what works and how to address bullying and child abuse by children will be a chief task of UB's Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence. But DeLucia-Waack's research and study of existing research shows some common guidelines:
A successful Upstate New York program made a point of defining the code of conduct for types of bullying. Then it trained teachers in what to look for. Know the difference between kids having a fight one day, she says, and bullying. Conflict resolution and peer mediation works well for peer conflict. The same kind of response can only inflame bullying behavior.
Establish Clear Consequences, Beyond Punishment:
"I say this all the time," she says. "Schools are in the business of educating kids. So we can't just punish them. We are supposed to teach kids social-emotional learning standards. We are supposed to help them become better people later on. So we have got to teach them better communications skills. We've got to teach them how to get along."
Start with the Teacher, Especially in Primary or Secondary Schools:
"That's the place to say, 'Do you notice anything different?'" DeLucia-Waack says. "These teachers have a lot of ownership of their kids. So start with that teacher."
Recognize Bullying Is a Power Issue, Immune to Methods That Solve Problems Between Students:
"What we do know is clearly you do not put the bully and the person who is being bullied in the same room," she says. "It's about power, and the bully is going to use that power, and they are probably going to retaliate against that other person later on. So that is an absolute no-no, and sometimes people are still doing that."
"The Kids Have Got to Get Involved":
"The kids have to take charge, because if the kids do not own it, they are not going to tell the teachers. They are not going to police themselves," she says. "At the same time, teachers and administrators have to be a key piece to this."
A Center at the University at Buffalo Means Progress:
The research to take place within UB's Jean M. Alberti Center for the Prevention of Bullying, Abuse and School Violence will be key, DeLucia-Waack says, because most researchers point out the need for a national center to organize and catalogue diverse research throughout the country.
"There is not one clear center where people go to for bullying research," she says. "So if we can serve as the main clearing house, that place where people look at our website, where we hold a conference once a year and everyone wants to come, where the people doing the research and the cutting-edge practice come to present, and the other people come and learn, we would do that.
"Having interviewed very different people for our director position, there are all these things going on all around the country, and people are not talking to each other."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.