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Study: Bullying rampant in U.S. middle schools


Are U.S. Schools Safe?


August 20, 1999
Web posted at: 10:16 p.m. EDT (0216 GMT)

In this story:

'Different' kids are likely targets

Fun or danger?


From staff and wire reports

CHICAGO (CNN) -- Four out of five middle school students say that they act like bullies at least once a month, according to a new study that found such aggressive behavior to be more common than previously thought.

The study of 558 students in a Midwestern middle school found that 80 percent said their behavior included physical aggression, social ridicule, teasing, name-calling and issuing threats within the previous 30 days.

And many middle school students are not shy about admitting such behavior.

"Yep, I get in fights with a lot of kids," one boy told CNN.

The classic image of the "lone" schoolyard bully doesn't ring true, according to the study, conducted by the University of Illinois.

"By asking students if they had engaged in certain behaviors over the past month without telling them those behaviors are defined as bullying, we found that our results support that adolescents don't neatly fall into categories of either bullies or non-bullies," said psychologist Dorothy Espelage, author of the study.

Earlier research had concluded that bullies account for up to only 15 percent of the school population.

"I think a lot more goes on in junior high than the teachers or supervisors really know about," said one girl.

'Different' kids are likely targets

Espelage believes adults should step in to stop bullies.

"Kids don't have the skills to stop it. They also fear that if they try, attention will turn to them," the psychologist said.

"They also have a sense that it's all in fun. But to the victims, it's not funny," Espelage said.

"It would hurt my feelings so bad, I would cry at home, tell my mother and my mother would come and, you know, talk to them and tell them that it's wrong," one young female victim of bullies told CNN.

The children who are different are usually the most vulnerable.

When one boy was asked why he thought the other students picked on him, he said, "I don't know, because I'm fat."

"If there's one message parents, teachers and administrators (should) hear out of all this (it's) pay attention to it," Espelage said.

Fun or danger?

So what makes bullies do what they do?

"It's fun," said one unrepentant bully. "These kids, they're like helpless -- I mean they've got the big glasses and fat stomachs."

Recent school shootings across the country have put a spotlight on bullying. The shooters in those tragedies had said they'd been made to feel like social outcasts.

Espelage is concerned that ignoring bullying behavior is the same as condoning it.

"We're creating a climate in which kids are sent the message, even those kids that don't do it, that it's okay to tease people," said Espelage.

The study concludes that parents and teachers must learn how to deal with bullying behavior, because that makes it clear that it's not just a normal part of growing up.

Reporter Lisa Price and Reuters contributed to this report.

Are U.S. Schools Safe?

Crossfire: Has Fear of Violence Turned America's Schools Into Fortresses?
August 18, 1999
Clinton to parents: Talk to kids about violence
August 17, 1999
School violence helps spur rise in home schooling
August 17, 1999
Drills, new security measures mark return to schools
August 16, 1999
School lesson: Deflect bullies, prevent violence
May 28, 1999

Talking With Kids About Tough Issues
Children Now
CDC: Facts About Violence Among Youth and Violence in Schools
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