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A Brief History of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program 

Dan OlweusDr. 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.

1. Standards are taken from John S.Kendall and Robert J.Marzano, "Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K - 12 Education, 3rd ed." (Aurora,CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning [MCREL,2000).

2. Dan Olweus, "Vad skapar aggressiva barn?" [What creates aggressive children?], in Normkriseog oppdragelse [Norm crisis and child rearing], ed.A.O.Telhaug and S.E.Vestre (Oslo,Norway:Didakta,1981); Dan Olweus,"Sweden," in The Nature of School Bullying: A Cross-National Perspective, ed.P.K.Smith, Y.Morita,J.Junger-Tas, D.Olweus, R.Catalano, & P.Slee (London:Routledge,1999),7 - 27.

3. Dan Olweus,"Bully/Victim Problems among Schoolchildren:Basic Facts and Effects of a School-Based Intervention Program," in The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression, ed.D. Pepler and K. Rubin (Hillsdale,NJ:Erlbaum,1991),411 - 48; Dan Olweus,"A Useful Evaluation Design,and Effects of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program,"Psychology,Crime & Law11(2005):389 - 402; Dan Olweus and Susan P.Limber,Blueprints for Violence Prevention:Bullying Prevention Program (Boulder:Program Institute of Behavioral Science, University of Colorado,1999); Jan Helge Kallestad and Dan Olweus,"Predicting Teachers' and Schools' Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program:A Multilevel Study,"Prevention and Treatment 6 (2003):3-21. Available on the Internet:http://www.journals.apa.org/prevention/volume6/pre0060021a.html.

4. C.B.Fleming, K.P.Haggerty, R.F.Catalano,T.W.Harachi, J.J.Mazza,and D.H.Gruman,"Do Social and Behavioral Characteristics Targeted by Preventive Interventions Predict Standardized Test Scores and Grades?" Journal of School Health75 (2005):342-349.

5. Dan Olweus,"Bully/Victim Problems among Schoolchildren: Basic Facts and Effects of a School-Based Intervention Program," in The Development and Treatment of Childhood Aggression, ed.D.Pepler and K.Rubin (Hillsdale,NJ:Erlbaum,1991),411 - 48.

6. Limber, S. P. (2004b). Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program: Lessons Learned from the Field. In D. Espelage & S. Swearer (Eds.) Bullying in American Schools: A Social-Ecological Perspective on Prevention and Intervention (pp. 351-363). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

7. Black, S. (2003). An ongoing evaluation of the bullying prevention program in Philadelphia schools: Student survey and student observation data. Paper presented at Centers for Disease Control's Safety in Numbers Conference, Atlanta, GA.


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