Dr. Dan Olweus, a research professor of psychology from Norway, is often considered the "pioneer" in bullying research." He has spent several decades researching the issue of bullying to help keep children safe in schools and other settings. Today, Dr. Olweus is best known for the most researched and widely adopted bullying prevention program in the world, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
First Research Study
In the early 1970s, Dr. Olweus initiated the world's first systematic bullying research. The results of his studies were published in a Swedish book in 1973 and in the United States in 1978 under the title Aggression in the Schools: Bullies and Whipping Boys.
Protecting Human Rights
Dr. Olweus has long seen school safety as a fundamental human right.1 As early as 1981, he proposed enacting a law against bullying in schools so students could be spared the repeated humiliation implied in bullying. By the mid-1990s, these arguments led to legislation against bullying by the Swedish and Norwegian parliaments.
Program Development in Norway
In 1983, three adolescent boys in northern Norway died by suicide. The act was most likely a consequence of severe bullying by peers, prompting the country's Ministry of Education to initiate a national campaign against bullying in schools. As a result, the first version of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was developed.
The initial prevention program was carefully evaluated in a large-scale project involving 2,500 students from forty-two schools followed over a period of two and a half years.2 Statistics showed:
- Reductions of 50% or more in student reports of being bullied and bullying others. Peer and teacher ratings of bullying problems have yielded roughly similar results.
- Marked reductions in student reports of general antisocial behavior, such as vandalism, fighting, theft, and truancy.
- Clear improvements in the classroom social climate, as reflected in students' reports of improved order and discipline, more positive social relationships, and more positive attitudes toward schoolwork and school. 3,4,5
The prevention program was refined, expanded, and further evaluated in five additional large-scale projects in Norway. Statistics continued to show successful prevention of bullying in schools. And, since a 2001 initiative by the Norwegian government, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program has been implemented on a large-scale basis in elementary and lower secondary schools throughout Norway.
Bullying Prevention in the United States
Due to the program's success in Norway and other countries, Dr. Olweus began working closely with American colleagues in the mid 1990s to evaluate and implement the program in the United States.
With the help of Dr. Susan P. Limber of Clemson University in South Carolina and others, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program was adapted and implemented for U.S. schools with positive results. Authors and researchers continue to study U.S. results for further insights and improvements.
The first systematic evaluation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the United States was conducted in the mid-1990s, involving 18 middle schools in South Carolina.6 After one year of implementation, researchers observed:
- Large, significant decreases in boys' and girls' reports of bullying others
- Large, significant decreases in boys' reports of being bullied and in boys' reports of social isolation.
An evaluation of the Olweus program in 12 elementary schools in the Philadelphia7 area revealed that among those schools that had implemented the program with at least moderate fidelity:
- There were significant reductions in self-reported bullying and victimization
- There were significant decreases in adults' observations of bullying (in the cafeteria and on the playground)
Download a list of research articles in the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (pdf)
Hundreds of schools representing almost every state have used the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, and the number is growing. Read Olweus Bullying Prevention Program success stories.
Many state governments have followed the lead of Norway and Sweden. State legislation against bullying now helps to protect a child's fundamental human right to feel safe at school. For more information about bullying prevention activities and anti-bullying or violence prevention legislation in your area, see State Laws and Information.