The Olweus Bullying Prevention program

In response to increased levels of aggression and violence involved in bullying, the Society for Adolescent Medicine has called for effective prevention programming in schools. Three-quarters of young adolescents report experiencing some bullying, while as many as one-third report more extreme experiences. Bullying involves a power imbalance between the bully and the victim and includes physical violence, intimidation, exclusion from activities, teasing, spreading rumors, or destroying property.

Bullying interferes with learning in school and contributes to a negative school environment. There are significant and sometimes long-lasting negative impacts for both the bullies and their victims. While it is desirable to reduce the suffering of the victims of bullying, it is also highly desirable to counteract the aggressive tendencies of the bullies themselves, as they are likely to expand their antisocial behaviors.

Young bullies are six times more likely to have a criminal conviction by the age of 24, and victims grow increasingly more socially insecure and anxious, with decreased selfesteem and increased depression rates, even into adulthood. Research shows that reducing aggressive, antisocial behavior may also reduce substance use and abuse.

Prevention of delinquency

The Olweus Bullying Prevention program is a school-based intervention designed to prevent or reduce bullying in children eight to 15 years of age. It attempts to restructure the existing school environment to reduce opportunities and rewards for bullying. The school staff is responsible for introducing and implementing the program.

The Olweus program was developed in Norway following the 1983 suicides of three adolescent boys who had been the victims of extreme bullying. Norway’s Ministry of Education commissioned Dan Olweus, University of Bergen, to conduct a large-scale research and intervention program on bully/victim problems as part of the ministry’s plans for the prevention of youth delinquency and violence. The Olweus program has been implemented throughout Norway and in other countries. Professor Olweus has worked closely with U.S. colleagues including Dr. Sue Limber and Dr. Gary Melton, Clemson University. The Olweus Bullying Pre v e n t i o n Program has been named a “model program” by the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Risk factors for bullying

Olweus identified a number of risk factors for bullying: an impulsive, hot-headed, dominant personality with lack of empathy, difficulty conforming to rules, positive attitudes toward violence, and low tolerance for frustration. A bully’s parents often lack warmth, are overly permissive, don’t provide supervision or are harsh disciplinarians; and the school is indifferent to or accepting of bullying.

The Olweus program works at three levels: school-wide, in classrooms, and with individuals. School-wide intervention begins in the spring with administration of a bully/victim questionnaire completed by all students anonymously, the formation of a bullying prevention committee made up of staff, students and parents, and the appointment of an on-site coordinator for the program. It is recommended that staff training be carried out before school opens in the fall. The staff develops school-wide rules against bullying and a coordinated system of supervision during break periods. Classroom-level intervention includes a weekly class meeting about bullying and peer relations and a parent meeting. Individual-level interventions are carried out by the school counselor with children who bully, children who are targets of bullying and their parents.

Researchers have evaluated the program using experimental and control groups. The most recent evaluation in Oslo involved 10 schools. Results show positive outcomes that include reductions of between 30 and 70 percent in student reports of bullying. Results also show significant reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior, including vandalism, fighting, theft and truancy. Significant improvements in classroom order and discipline and a more positive attitude toward schoolwork and school were also documented.

The program requires significant and ongoing commitment from school administrators, teachers and other staff. Technical assistance is available for interested schools, including follow-up by phone. The questionnaire and software for processing and evaluating students’ responses, teachers’ manuals, videos and supplemental lesson plans, as well as a parents’ manual, are available from

Researchers warn educators that because students may have many reasons for not speaking out about bullying, schools should explore any way possible of getting at what is really happening, in order to ensure that an intervention is rewarding and relevant. They conclude that the single most effective thing any school can do is to develop an anti-bullying policy to which everyone is committed.

“The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: A Proven School-Based Program to Reduce Bullying”, The Brown University Child and Adolescent Behavior Letter, Volume 21, Number 4, April 2005, pp. 1, 4-6.

Published in ERN May/June 2005 Volume 18 Number 5

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