- ATHENS, Ohio - Many teachers and counselors often overreact to one-time,
physical confrontations between kids and overlook nonviolent behaviors
that can cause even more damaging, long-term emotional and social problems.
- There's a natural and logical tendency
to react strongly to a schoolyard fight, but such an incident may not signal
the sort of emotional distress experts believe triggered many of the recent
school shootings across the country, says Richard Hazler, professor of
counseling education at Ohio University and author of a new study on bullying
- "When are children just playing
and when should an adult intervene?" Hazler says. "It's difficult
for even the most experienced professionals to figure out for any individual
situation whether to take strong action or to let the kids settle it themselves."
- Labeling all playground clashes as bullying
behavior is a common mistake, Hazler says. But in fact, bullying is defined
as repeated harmful acts of physical, verbal or social abuse and confrontations
that involve unfair matches between children.
- Hazler surveyed 251 teachers and counselors
in Ohio to assess their understanding of bullying and non-bullying behaviors.
Participants were given 21 scenarios of different emotional and physical
confrontations between kids and asked to identify which were bullying situations.
The study was presented at the American Counseling Association World Conference
- Most participants - between 50 percent
and 80 percent, depending on the individual scenario - labeled non-bullying
situations as bullying, suggesting that professionals are not clear about
which situations they should react to and how they should react.
- One resulting complication is that people
are "less likely to show concern, attempt to prevent or act to intervene
in situations involving potential social or verbal harm while they are
more likely to overreact in situations involving potential physical harm,"
- "This appears to be just the type
of mistake that allowed the young gunmen in recent school shootings or
many youth who attempt suicide who have their own struggles with peer harassment
to go under-attended to for months or years."
- In the study, more than 90 percent of
participants incorrectly identified the following scenario as a bullying
- Jackie came home with a ripped shirt,
a bruised cheek, and scrapes on her arms. Her mom was both scared and furious
at the same time. She sent her daughter off to a safe school and this is
not what she expected to come home from such a place. Jackie explains
that a bigger kid she hardly knew punched her, "for no reason, Mom.
I bumped into her on the playground and she said I did it on purpose. Then
she hit me, threw me down and stood over me."
- Teachers and counselors may be inclined
to respond more strongly to these one-time fights, only to discover the
skirmishes were caused by nothing more than normal flares of temper with
minimal to no long-range negative effects.
- "Overall, adults are spending a
lot of time and energy on one-time physical confrontations when much more
damage often results for the children involved in abuse that goes on over
time," Hazler says. "Parents and teachers need to spend more
time with children go to their ball games and observe them in school hallways
and when a confrontation occurs, adults should watch for repeated physical,
emotional or social scenarios."
- Adults also should pay close attention
to children on the receiving end of name-calling and teasing and be more
aware of signs such as a withdrawal from friends and a regular lack of
eye contact with peers and adults all of which experts believe preceded
recent school violence in Colorado, Arkansas, Kentucky and elsewhere. These
indicators of emotional distress are harder to detect and easier to dismiss
than more outward displays of violent behavior, says Hazler, who has studied
child bullying and victimization for 12 years.
- "If people aren't recognizing emotional
abuse as bullying, these things build up within children and can lead to
an explosion of violence as a means of being heard or retaliation in what
feels to them like a hopeless situation," he says. "One of the
problems children complain about is that adults do not intervene in most
non-physical bullying situations, and these are the situations that often
produce the most long-range damaging effects on children because they are
not recognized and handled as firmly and directly as physical situations."
- Hazler compares adults' lack of intervention
in bullying situations to students who become frustrated when they don't
understand class material: They become disheartened and give up. Once that
happens, Hazler says, troubled children are likely to take life-threatening
actions either toward others or themselves.
- Hazler has given workshops within schools
across the country to help adults recognize the difference between bullying
and non-bullying situations and what intervention methods to use in prevention
of school violence.
- "What really counts is what goes
on inside of a person," Hazler says. "And, from a child's eyes,
continuing emotional and social abuse by peers are the most damaging."
- Study co-authors included Suzy Green,
an Ohio University assistant professor of educational studies; Dina Miller,
a graduate student in education at Ohio University; and JoLynn Carney,
assistant professor of counseling at Youngstown State University. Hazler
and Green hold appointments in the College of Education at Ohio University.
- Contact: Richard Hazler, (740) 593-4461;
- Written by Erin Sullivan, (740) 597-2166;
email@example.com Attention editors, reporters: The conference
presentation on which this story is based is available by calling Kelli
Whitlock at (740) 593-2868 or Danielle Harley at (740) 593-0946.
- Note: This story has been adapted from
a news release issued by Ohio University for journalists and other members
of the public. If you wish to quote from any part of this story, please
credit Ohio University as the original source. You may also wish to include
the following link in any citation: <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/1999/06/990607111626.htmhttp://www.scien
- RELATED: Stories Newsgroups Sites Books
< PREVIOUS NEXT Copyright © 1995-99 ScienceDaily Magazine | Email:
firstname.lastname@example.org Best viewed with Internet Explorer or Netscape
Navigator (version 3.0 or higher)