BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Although passion and widespread sympathy for
bullying victims is natural and admirable, those who want to stop
bullying abuse need to act in ways that reflect good science and
proven research if they want to contribute to a culture that does
not condone this behavior, according to the director of the
University at Buffalo's anti-bullying center. See video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5nUZOUbFHk
"There is such a tension right now around the issue of bullying.
A lot of people have passion and want to make a difference," says
Amanda B. Nickerson, the director of UB's Dr. Jean Alberti Center
for the Prevention of Bullying Abuse and School Violence in the
Graduate School of Education.
"But I'm worried that passion is not coupled with good science
and theory behind it," Nickerson says. "So one of the things the
Alberti Center can do is conduct research and also look closely at
what we know about the research to guide the efforts."
National attention and concern with bullying continues to be one
of the most discussed and debated social issues of the year. Most
recently, singer Lady Gaga started a new nonprofit foundation to
promote "self-confidence and anti-bullying." The entertainer has
often cited the suicide of 14-year-old Williamsville high school
student Jamey Rodemeyer. Her new "Born This Way" foundation came
about after she recently met with President Obama to discuss ways
to combat youth bullying.
Given the attention and outcry over this tragedy -- and the
steady stream of media attention to the implications of Rodemeyer's
death -- Nickerson addressed related topics, from the tell-tale
signs your child is being bullied to Nickerson's mission at UB's
Q: What is bullying?
AN: Bullying is a form of aggression. It's intentional, usually
repeated acts of verbal, social or cyber aggression with the intent
to cause either psychological or physical harm to the target. It
also involves a power differential between the person bullying and
Q: Can you explain what you would like the Alberti Center to
AN: Our mission at the Alberti Center is to identify, research
and disseminate information to practitioners about bullying abuse,
prevention and intervention. Our primary focus is on conducting
empirical research on the problem of bullying, how it develops and
what we can do. We want to disseminate research of high quality so
that practitioners have a solid base to guide their efforts.
Q: What are some qualities of programs that have successfully
prevented or changed bullying behavior?
AN: Successful anti-bullying programs target the school level in
terms of having clear and consistent policies administrators can
follow; they also work directly with the students, educating them
not only about bullying, but also teaching them assertiveness
skills, empathy and how to manage emotions. So it's not just saying
"bullying is wrong" and giving them quick solutions to it. It's
really about having a shared vision and systematic efforts at
targeting the problem. And it's about creating a culture where it's
not acceptable and where kids and adults will step up to
These successful policies explicitly define what bullying is and
what it encompasses. They also have a consistent response that the
school staff will take when this happens. Most often they have a
continuum of consequences, not just suspension and expulsion, but
meaningful, logical consequences for this behavior. And they have
efforts that show that schools are trying to educate and prevent
and teach kids about these issues and give them skills they
Q: What about anti-bullying laws? Do they have an impact on
reducing bullying behavior?
AN: I will say that school policies that address this and are
enforced consistently have been shown to be effective. But in terms
of laws, I don't think we have data to support that having strict
laws to punish kids who bully is the answer.
Q: What are some signs that your child may be the victim of
AN: The classic signs are torn clothing, unexplained injuries,
and missing belongings. But often the signs are more subtle.
Changes in behavior, loss of interest in activities they once found
enjoyable, school avoidance, headaches, stomach aches, and physical
complaints that don't seem to have a physical explanation can also
be warning signs.
Q: What should you do if you do suspect trouble?
AN: If you think your child is being bullied, start the
conversation. Tell them what you noticed about their behavior and
that you are concerned. Ask explicitly if there is bullying at
school, and then listen and empathize when they tell their stories.
Sometime that is the most important thing we can do, just to be
there with our children to hear and to say 'That must be really
hard for you. I'm sorry that happened. That shouldn't have
happened.' And then join with the child about what you are going to
do about it.
Parents obviously need to take the lead on the effort. But kids
are more aware of the peer culture and the culture of the school to
know what will make it worse and what will make it better. So we
need to involve them in the conversation. Also contacting the
school and getting the school involved. We don't recommend parents
try to address this directly, especially with the parents of the
child who is bullying. It's better to get a third party involved,
and the school is the most logical choice.
Q. Any other words of advice when it comes to identifying what
AN: In order to work effectively with individuals who bully, it
involves a combination of responding to the behavior in on-the-spot
intervention, saying it's wrong, and applying appropriate
consequences. But it can't just be about punishment. It also needs
to be about teaching acceptable alternatives to the behavior. It is
important to try to identify what it is that is feeding into the
behavior, whether it is their cognitions (for example, believing
that they are superior to others and that others deserve this), or
their need for power and control, and showing them there are more
adaptive ways they can go about getting that.
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.