Beating Bullies: Seeking New Solutions to Youth Violence

by July 3, 2009

Beating Bullies: Seeking New Solutions to Youth ViolenceSally Black, RN, Ph.D., associate professor of health services at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, was particularly happy to see the American Association of Pediatrics’ newly released policy statement on preventing youth violence. She was even more elated that for the first time ever the statement specifically addresses the issue of bullying, which Black has long been researching and advocating against.

In fact, this summer, with the help of the SJU Summer Scholars program and a junior psychology major Jessica Lax, Black is continuing her analysis of the Olweus bullying prevention program in a large urban school district, comparing data and determining the ongoing effectiveness of the program now that funding is running out for some of the schools.

“The recommendations are a positive step in the right direction, but certainly long overdue,” says Black, who believes that for too long adults have taken the wrong attitude toward bullies.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, which began in Norway in the early 70’s and has now been implemented in more than a dozen countries, is a multilevel, multicomponent school-based program designed to prevent or reduce bullying in elementary, middle and junior high schools. Black believes the program can and does work as long as it is implemented with fidelity.

“The bullying prevention programs that work are the ones that change the norms that promote passive acceptance of bullies,” Black explains. “The focus needs to be on building empathy both for the bully and the victim.”

According to Black, the AAP’s new policy recommends using the public health approach which requires all children to be screened for risk factors, such as bonding with parents, exposure to media violence, bullying and access to firearms. Children who screen at risk would be referred to the appropriate mental health resources in the community.

“This document can be groundbreaking in terms of reducing violence IF parents and physicians work together,” Black asserts. “Physicians have to feel comfortable asking questions about domestic violence, youth drug abuse and teen sexuality. In turn, parents have to feel comfortable in allowing physicians to ask these sensitive questions. Both groups need to support one another.”

Black is also quick to note that the United States now has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with one out of every 100 people in jail.

“Financing children in jail is an extremely expensive business. Additionally, once a juvenile enters the criminal justice system, he is isolated from positive social supports and begins to see the people around him as a normative population. By making health care offices a safe place to disclose violence-related issues, we can greatly reduce the emotional and financial costs of violence.”

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