More Utah schools turning to bullying prevention programs

More Utah schools turning to bullying prevention programs

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SALT LAKE CITY -- More Utah schools are signing up for specific anti-bullying programs. School officials are finding it's better to be proactive and preventative when it comes to bullying, and get the whole school involved.

Programs like PeaceBuilders, BullyBlockers and BullyStoppers are becoming more common in Utah's schools. They are all about preventative and school-wide approaches to bullying.

"It's not enough anymore to tell someone just to ignore behavior," says Dan Olympia, a University of Utah associate professor of educational psychology.

Olympia says it's important for teachers and others to understand the definition of bullying. It's different than simple teasing or a one-time incident. He says bullying is physical or verbal aggression that is:

  • Intentional
  • One-sided
  • Repeated

Olympia says a bullying victim will have anxiety about attending school, try to avoid school and may even become depressed.

"In really extreme cases -- and this is really unfortunate -- kids start to internalize some of this experience and they become severely depressed or even suicidal," he says.

Olympia helped develop a program at Daybreak Elementary with some of his students. He says many schools are focusing on empowering and helping potential victims by giving them skills.

"How to disarm or difuse a situation. Also when to go for help from an adult. We want to make sure adults aren't dismissive and say ‘just ignore it,'" Olympia says.

Olympia says victims are often kids who are passive, new, different or disabled. He says with the increase of students diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, there's also something called the provocative victim.

"These are students who are targeted because the bully knows they will get an extreme reaction," he says.

Other schools try to single out risk kids who may become bullies.

"Bullies experience a type of payoff. For example, in their peer group they may feel an increase of self-esteem," says Olympia. "The other kind of interventions are helping bystanders, this huge group of students who are in the vicinity and maybe are more likely to observe bullying occur. [We are developing] ways of empowering them in a way to take a stand or intervene."

Most of Utah's schools are now focusing on teaching social competence, or respecting and looking out for each other. This includes school-wide positive behavior support or strategies.

"Most of the efforts that schools engage in have focused on creating a positive school climate or a culture that doesn't reinforce or tolerate bullying, so that generally among all students there is a sense that this is not appropriate behavior -- this is not something we want to engage in," says Olympia.


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Mary Richards


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