Dan Olweus

Dan Olweus, the “founding father” of bullying research and founder of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
Image Credit: Olweus Bullying Prevention Program

CLEMSON, South Carolina — The largest study of bullying prevention efforts in U.S. schools has revealed significant, sustained positive impacts from the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP).

Researchers at Clemson University and the University of Bergen in Norway evaluated nearly 70,000 students across 210 elementary, middle and high schools in Pennsylvania over two years. A companion analysis assessed year-to-year changes in a subset of 95 schools over three years. The research documented clear reductions in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Overall, the results were stronger the longer the program was in place.

The demonstrated success of the program is encouraging for students and schools, according to distinguished research professor Dan Olweus, a lead author of the study and founder of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. He generally is recognized as the “founding father” of bullying research.

“All too many young people have their lives more or less ruined by peer bullying during school years,” Olweus said. “It is rewarding to see that the program has provided a large number of bullied students safer and better lives and that schools can learn new and more effective ways of preventing these problems.”

The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, the nation’s leading nonprofit addiction treatment provider, is home to Hazelden Publishing, which publishes Olweus Bullying Prevention Program materials. Dr. Joseph Lee, medical director for youth services at the foundation, said the research comes at a crucial time.

Dan Olweus

Dan Olweus during a visit to Clemson in 2016. He visited campus only a few days after presenting research at the United Nations to make global recommendations for bullying prevention efforts.
Image Credit: Clemson University

“In an era of heightened concerns about adolescent suicide, depression and substance use, addressing bullying is a societal imperative,” said Lee.

The study of students in grades 3 through 11 in schools using the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program found that an estimated 2,000 students escaped bullying and 2,000 more stopped bullying others over the course of two years.

Olweus said previous studies in the U.S. had been modest in scope and length, producing few positive results. He said the current study’s unprecedented size sets it apart from previous prevention efforts in this country.

“This study clearly shows bullying prevention efforts can positively affect behaviors and perceptions of students of all ages,” said Olweus. “Given the scarcity of positive results from anti-bullying programs in the U.S., this new study is a breakthrough.”

Olweus points out that the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is not a “program” in a narrow sense, but rather a collection of research-based components that form a unified whole-school approach to bullying. He argues these components should be in place in all schools that want to create a safe and productive learning environment for their students.

In addition to reductions in self-reports of being bullied and bullying others, the study found increases in students’ expressions of empathy for bullied peers and decreases in students’ willingness to join in bullying. Students’ perceptions that teachers were actively addressing bullying also increased after the prevention program was put in place.

Susan Limber

Susan Limber, a lead author on the study and professor in Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life.
Image Credit: Clemson University

“It’s important to see how a bullying prevention program such as the OBPP can affect not only the behavior of students but also students’ perceptions of the school climate that are related to bullying,” said Susan Limber, a lead author on the study and professor in Clemson University’s Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, which is the training and consultation hub for the Olweus program in North, Central and South America.

Limber said the examination of a wide range of age groups was a unique feature of the study. She said it is rare for a single evaluation to study elementary, middle and high school students, and to be able to examine program effects over the course of multiple years.

Although the program’s effects took longer to emerge in older students, a positive impact was documented across all age groups.

“It’s encouraging to see that despite some more ingrained behaviors in older students, we still see quite positive responses in later grades,” Limber said. “Ideally, bullying prevention should be implemented K-12.”

Joe Jaksha, publisher of Hazelden Publishing, added that the research results should clear up any misconceptions that bullying is an inevitability to be tolerated by students and schools.

“Some people have the misperception there’s nothing you can do to prevent bullying,” said Jaksha, “but we’ve known for years that the right kind of prevention works, and it’s nice to see that reality validated by such a robust study.”

The research – which will be published in August 2018 in the Journal of School Psychology– can be accessed online here. It was funded with support from the Highmark Foundation.


Olweus Bullying Prevention Program
Olweus Bullying Prevention Program logoThe Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is a renowned, evidence-based comprehensive bullying prevention program 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 Olweus 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.

Hazelden Publishing and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation
Hazelden Publishing creates and disseminates knowledge through innovative media and service solutions, based in evidence, to help youth and adults recognize, understand, and overcome substance misuse, addiction and closely related issues. As the leading publisher of evidence-based prevention programs, its education division offers state-of-the-art resources in alcohol, drug, bullying, suicide and dating violence prevention. Based on decades of research, Hazelden Publishing’s extensive collection of school and community-wide curricula and multimedia classroom resources is designed to engage and inspire students, parents, faculty and staff to take a unified stand in creating a healthy environment.

Hazeldon Publishing logoHazelden Publishing is part of the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, a force of healing and hope for individuals, families and communities affected by addiction to alcohol and other drugs. The Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is the nation’s leading nonprofit treatment provider, with a legacy that began in 1949 and includes the 1982 founding of the Betty Ford Center. With 17 sites in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Illinois, New York, Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and Texas, the Foundation offers prevention and recovery solutions nationwide and across the entire continuum of care to help youth and adults reclaim their lives from the disease of addiction. It includes Hazelden Publishing, a fully accredited graduate school of addiction studies, an addiction research center, an education arm for medical professionals and a unique children’s program, and is the nation’s leader in advocacy and policy for treatment and recovery. Learn more at HazeldenBettyFord.org and on Twitter @hazldnbettyford.