This article is from the archives of the UB Reporter.

Standing up to bullies

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    Watch an interview with Janice DeLucia-Waack.

Published: April 21, 2011

Scientists at a new national research center at UB 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 Program in UB’s Graduate School of Education and a member of 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.

“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 for the Alberti center.

“I think almost all of us could give some incidents where we were teased or bullied,” says DeLucia-Waack, who co-authored a Newsweek story on the best ways to combat bullying. “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 a gift from UB alumna Jean M. Alberti, a clinical and educational psychologist and former local elementary teacher—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,” DeLucia-Waack notes. “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 explains. “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 the Alberti center. But DeLucia-Waack’s research and study of existing research shows some common guidelines:

  • Define bullying. 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 that 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.”

The research to take place in the Alberti center 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.