Dan Olweus

Dan Olweus visited Clemson only a few days after presenting research at the United Nations to make global recommendations for bullying prevention efforts.
Image Credit: Clemson University

Dan Olweus, known as the “founding father” of bullying research, recently appeared in Clemson to explore the subject of bullying and related research with Clemson faculty, staff and students. Olweus delivered the talk, “School Bullying: Basic Facts, Intervention and Long-Term Effects,” on June 16 in Clemson’s Watt Innovation Center.

Olweus offered a one-of-a-kind perspective on a career in bullying prevention dating back to the 1970s. In just under an hour, Olweus traced the history of bullying from mob mentalities in history to the future of research on bullying prevention being undertaken by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, of which he is the founder.

“One of the most interesting aspects of my career has been being able to see how perspectives on bullying have changed,” Olweus said. “In the 70s it was seen as a natural part of growing up; it’s now become a pressing social and public health issue.”

Olweus discussed common characteristics of students who bully and students who are bullied and used this information as a launching point for discussion on aggressive behavior, abusive relationships and the link between them. Olweus explored concepts such as “social contagion,” which causes non-bullies to join in with existing bullying behavior, and growing evidence of bullying victims possessing characteristics of both students who bully and the students who are bullied themselves.

Olweus also debunked some commonly held beliefs regarding students who bully. He said that contrary to popular opinion, students who bully typically do not have special problems with self-esteem, and there is not always an automatic link between bullying and aggressive behavior. Olweus also addressed misconceptions regarding cyber bullying.

“It is a popular opinion that cyber bullying is more frequent and on the rise,” Olweus said, “but media does not create new bullies and victims.”

Olweus finished his talk by discussing an in-progress study on the long-term effects and success of his bullying prevention program. According to the study, schools that continued use of the program saw substantial drops in bullying and sustained low numbers compared to national averages. Schools that adopted the program and discontinued it enjoyed drops in bullying, but most returned to near-average national numbers.

Olweus visited Clemson only a few days after presenting his program and associated research at the United Nations to make global recommendations for bullying prevention efforts. He said this visit coupled with his upcoming research is “very encouraging” for the future of bullying prevention efforts on a global scale.

Olweus has been involved in research and intervention work on bullying among school children and youth for almost four decades. His work has played a key role in changing worldwide perceptions of bullying from a natural part of school life to a pressing social issue that must be systematically addressed. His book, “Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do,” has been published in 25 languages. He has received major international awards for his work from the American Psychological Association and the International Bullying Prevention Association.

The Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is a renowned, evidence-based comprehensive bullying prevention effort that includes school-wide, classroom, individual and community components for grades K-12. A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine noted that the program is “the most extensively studied bullying prevention program.” Clemson’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life is the hub for training and consultation in the program in North, Central and South America, serving more than 7,000 schools in the U.S. alone.