What of those who witness bullying at school?

Bullying on campuses not only affects immediate victims, but alters the entire school climate. Witnesses can suffer as well.

A 2005 study by researchers Adrienne Nishina and Jaana Juvonen examined sixth-grade students’ perceptions of bullying. It affirmed that bullying affects not just the victim, but all bystanders, regardless of their role. “Anxious feelings increased regardless of whether the peer harassment was experienced or witnessed,” the authors wrote.

Elizabeth A. Barton, author of Bully Prevention, categorizes witnesses this way:

Bully Supporters

  • Incite the bully without taking part in the confrontation.
  • Don’t interact with the victim.
  • Create a supportive environment for the bully.
  • Are influenced by the bully’s appreciation of their efforts.

Passive Supporters

  • Are uninvolved in the confrontations.
  • Are perceived by the victim as bully supporters based on their lack of interaction.


  • Step in on behalf of the victim.
  • Stick up for the victim.
  • Are motivated by a sense of injustice.

Administrators and teaching staff need to know the kinds of witnesses in each case as well as the types of bullies and victims. If the witnesses are bully supporters, the school must deal with them to alleviate the problem. If administrators reprimand a bully but not his supporters, harassment of the target individual will likely continue.

These findings underscore the importance of school-wide programs that promote character and teach all students why bullying is wrong and can affect everyone.

The Teacher’s Role

Teachers can reinforce or even trigger a cycle of bullying. They have power, and any time they single out a student — even with a humorous remark that might not have been ill-intentioned — there may be repercussions. Not only might that child feel alienated, but it could open the door to student ridicule at recess.

Teachers can use sarcasm as a humorous tool with students, but students tend to model what teachers do, especially in the primary grades. If a teacher calls a student a funny nickname that bothers the student, that’s bullying. Unfortunately, teachers don’t always realize the power they possess.

Teachers have been known to use harmful, humiliating strategies to get students on task. If students are not following along during a group reading activity, for example, making them stand or badgering them can invite teasing from other students later.

Does your school have a problem with bullies? Check out our free anti-bullying resources and lesson plans and learn more about our anti-bullying workshops for educators, coaches, and parents.

Who are the victims of bullying?

Bullying victims tend to be polar opposites of bullies. They are often shy and quiet, with few friends and little social support at school. They may be physically weak or lack confidence in their strength. Hence, they rarely stand up to bullies.

Victims often have poor social skills. One study showed that students and teachers perceive victims to:

  • display vulnerability (e.g., “look scared”).
  • be nonassertive (e.g., “gives in to the bully too easily”).
  • reward, and thus reinforce, bullying (e.g., “cries when picked on”).
  • be withdrawn and solitary (e.g., “talks quietly”).
  • be “provocative” or “aggressive” (e.g., “annoys other kids”).

Most victims do nothing actively to provoke their tormentors. Their helplessness does it for them. But as the last item above suggests, one subgroup is different: “provocative” or “aggressive” victims. These youths are impulsive and socially clumsy. They often have reading and writing problems and show characteristics of attention-deficit disorder (ADHD). Their behavior tends to elicit negative reactions from other students. Because these youngsters may even try to bully others themselves, some call them “bully-victims.”

In his study “Bullies, Aggressive Victims and Victims: Are They Distinct Groups?” James D. Unnevern of Radford University found that aggressive victims were less proactively aggressive but more reactively aggressive than pure bullies. They were also substantially more proactively aggressive than pure victims.

Most studies show more boys are bullies than girls. Yet girls bully, too. Although physical bullying happens among girls, they tend to use subtler and less-direct tactics such as excluding someone from their group, spreading rumors or manipulating friendship relations. In one study of middle-school peer harassment, however, there were no differences in the perceptions of bullying between boys and girls.

Online, girls generally mock others’ appearance, while boys tend to make more sexually explicit comments, according to Mary Worthington, an elementary education counselor for the Network of Victim Assistance (NOVA), which offers prevention-education programs to students and parents.

Does your school have a problem with bullies? Check out our free anti-bullying resources and lesson plans and learn more about our anti-bullying workshops for educators, coaches, and parents.

Who are the bullies?

There are many myths about bullies. For one, they don’t appear spontaneously. Individual, family, and school factors all combine to produce them.

Another myth is that they are loners. In fact, most bullies are not socially isolated and report having an easier time making friends than non-bullies. Their social network is often their key source of power over others. They usually have at least a small group of friends who support their bullying.

Still another myth is that they lack confidence. In fact, most research shows bullies have average or above-average self-esteem. Interventions that seek to boost bullies’ self-respect have little effect and could even make their bullying worse.

In Bullying at School: What We Know and What We Can Do, Dr. Dan Olweus, a pioneer in the field, identified the following characteristics typical of bullies:

  • They have a strong need to dominate and subdue others to get their way.
  • They are impulsive and easily angered.
  • They are often defiant and aggressive toward adults, including parents and teachers.
  • They show little empathy toward their victims.
  • They are physically stronger than other boys (among boys).

Certain child-rearing practices can predict whether children will become bullies. The perfect incubator combines inattention, lack of warmth, poor supervision, and aggressive parental behavior. The latter may include physical and verbal aggression toward the child or each other.

Bullies often have issues at home. Olweus’s research shows the following general patterns:

  • Home life is characterized by emotional frigidity.
  • A greater likelihood exists of chaotic home organization.
  • The family tends to be socially isolated.
  • Parents are frequently in conflict and disharmony.
  • Child-rearing practices are largely ineffective.
  • Family order is maintained rigidly.

Does your school have a problem with bullies? Check out our free anti-bullying resources and lesson plans and learn more about our anti-bullying workshops for educators, coaches, and parents.

Who are the non-bullies and non-bullied?

It is the ideal that all programs aim to produce: kids who don’t bully other kids and have the personality and character traits that discourage and resist bullying. These are some of the characteristics of those students:

  • They don’t adamantly insist on their own way.
  • They are flexible, entertain other agendas, and don’t have control issues.
  • They are willing to compromise.
  • They are able to apologize readily, easily, and naturally.
  • They are able to share and offer to share.
  • They have healthy self-esteem.
  • They have a positive attitude and sense of humor, with the ability to laugh at themselves and to make others feel at ease around them.

Does your school have a problem with bullies? Check out our free anti-bullying resources and lesson plans and learn more about our anti-bullying workshops for educators, coaches, and parents.

What would Honest Abe Lincoln say?

SurveyWhat would Honest Abe Lincoln say about the values of today’s American youth? In our survey of more than 40,000 high school students, the gap between what students believe and their actions does not bode well for future generations.

This report comes on the heels of our report issued in October of 2010 on bullying in American high schools.

Survey highlights: while 89 percent of students believe that being a good person is more important than being rich, almost one in three boys and one in four girls admitted stealing from a store within the past year.  Moreover, 21 percent admitted they stole something from a parent or other relative, and 18 percent admitted stealing from a friend.

On lying, more than two in five said they sometimes lie to save money (48 percent of males and 35 percent of females). While 92 percent of students believe their parents want them to do the right thing, more than eight in ten confessed they lied to a parent about something significant.

Rampant cheating in school continues. A majority of students (59 percent) admitted cheating on a test during the last year, with 34 percent doing it more than two times. One in three admitted they used the Internet to plagiarize an assignment.

“As bad as these numbers are, they appear to be understated,” said Michael Josephson, president of the Institute. “More than one in four students confessed they lied on at least one or two survey questions, which is typically an attempt to conceal misconduct.”

Josephson said the results of this survey, conducted in 2010, are slightly better than those of the 2008 survey. “We show some improvement in ethical behavior, but the baseline of values remains alarmingly low compared to what they believe,” he said, adding that a whopping 92 percent of students were satisfied with their personal ethics and character.

What would Lincoln say to our youth? A great believer in human potential, he might patiently remind them, “You have to do your own growing, no matter how tall your grandfather was.”

* See the complete data tables

* Get a pdf of the press release

* Take our Integrity Survey

* Read about the Report Card on Bullying and Violence

* Surveys were conducted in 2009 and 2010 with a national sample of public and private high schools. For the general questions (over 40,000 responses), the accuracy is well within +/- 0.005 or 0.5%; for breakdowns of 20,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.69%, and for 10,000 the accuracy is +/- 0.98%; and even when there are just 1,000 responses, the accuracy is +/- 3.1%. Almost all standard errors of differences are much less than 1% for even small samples.

Lesson plans to beat bullying and celebrate February’s holidays

Smiling studentsAddressing Bullying Behavior Through the Six Pillars

The Six Pillars of Character offer a great framework for exploring how bullying behaviors conflict with good character. This exercise will help students identify troublesome behaviors and use critical thinking to determine which Pillar they should emphasize to eliminate them.

Check out the full lesson plan.

Lesson Plan for February:

For Black History Month, teenage students can research and write about an influential African American who exemplifies one of the Six Pillars of Character. Nine- to eleven-year-old students can examine the life of Rosa Parks through the Six Pillars of Character.

For Valentine’s Day, teach your six- to nine-year-old students about metaphors, plants, and caring by having them create a Kind Heart garden.

Finally, in honor of President’s Day (February 21), elementary-school students can learn about citizenship by studying the life of Abraham Lincoln.

Decrease bullying by increasing empathy

A boy comforts his friendIs bullying like a disease? For which the only antidote is a little taste of social exclusion?

Writing for the website LiveScience, Jeanna Bryner summarizes the findings of a recent study at Northwestern University: “Unless they’ve experienced it firsthand, people underestimate the social pain endured by victims of bullying.”

In the study, researchers had students play a simple computer game that involved tossing and catching a ball with other players (who were actually computer simulations). Some students experienced exclusion as the other players left them out of the game. Others were included in the play.

The researchers then asked the students questions. Two of the questions dealt with how students would feel after discovering their close friends didn’t invite them to their party or after asking someone out and getting turned down. The students who’d just been excluded in the computer game “indicated a significantly higher pain experience” than those who didn’t, highlighting the fragility of our social self-esteem.

In another experiment, students had to gauge how a victim of bullying felt after being teased about her weight. The excluded students rated her pain higher than the included students. This result suggests that their recent experience of social pain increased the students’ empathy for another’s experience of it.

The researchers then put middle-school teachers through the same tests, asking also about the proper punishment for the person who bullied the overweight student. In keeping with the previous results, the teachers who’d recently experienced exclusion rated the student’s pain higher and suggested more severe punishment for the bully.

Lead researcher Loran Nordgren concludes, “All told, our perception of social pain matters as much as our understanding of physical pain. Not only do estimates of social pain govern how we empathize with socially traumatic events, but they guide our approach to how well we advocate on a victim’s behalf.” Nordgren thinks current programs and laws that address bullying might not adequately address the problem. He suggests increasing empathy in teachers and administrators through training that simulates social exclusion.

Making you feel bad about yourself isn’t even remotely a goal of our Character Development Seminars, but we do offer exercises that help increase your empathy and teach you how to better understand bullying, what to do about it, and how to prevent it from happening in the first place. Our new 3-day training works by providing you with successful strategies to instill character values in your students and create physically and emotionally safe environments. Even if you’ve attended one of our seminars before, this dynamic, redesigned program reflects a full integration of new teaching/learning practices you need now.

Learn more, or see the schedule.

A One-of-a-Kind Find

By Barbara Gruener

Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun

If you’re looking for a gourmet bullying-prevention resource, try this tasty morsel from Maria Dismondy and Nelson Publishing. With irresistible illustrations by Kimberly Shaw-Peterson, Spaghetti in a Hot Dog Bun: Having the Courage to Be Who You Are is a spicy story about Lucy, a wide-eyed, curly-locked child with a uniquely-flavored zest for life. Her caretaker, Papa Gino, has modeled celebrating differences, repeatedly telling Lucy that everyone has a heart with feelings. Well, if her classmate Ralph really does have heart, then why is he so mean?

After reading this entree aloud, ask the students, “Is Ralph a bully?” followed by, “How can you tell?” Review the definition of a bully using this formula: Are Ralph’s mean actions and words REPEATED? Are his behaviors toward Lucy causing INTENTIONAL harm? Is he using words and actions to purposefully create an imbalance of POWER? If the answer is yes to all three of these, Ralph is, by definition, bullying.

This delicious delight will serve up a discussion about dealing with bullying behaviors. Did Lucy use an anti-bullying strategy like Talk, Walk, Then Tell? If so, which parts did she try and how did they work for her? What else could Lucy have done to solve her problem with Ralph? Are there other children with bullying behaviors in the story?

More food for thought: Bullies will do what bystanders allow. Who are the bystanders in Lucy’s story? What, if anything, could they have done to help Lucy? Isolate some pages; how does Ralph feel when he’s sitting alone on the bus? One of my students thought that maybe he just didn’t know how to make friends appropriately. Isn’t that insightful? Another said Ralph was angry because he was all alone. Find out what your students might suggest to help Ralph get along with others better.

You can also review the Respect pillar by finding out how many times your students saw the Golden Rule in this tale. Ask your students to research the Golden Rule to find out how many cultural variations of Treat others the way you want to be treated there are.

Finally, ketchup on toast? Explore what kinds of creative concoctions your students have tried and liked; mayo on your French fries, anyone?


Check out this book and treat yourself to an authentically savory story! And don’t miss The Juice Box Bully: Empowering Kids to Stand Up for Others, a sequel by the same amazing author/illustrator duo.

Barbara Gruener is a school counselor at Westwood Elementary in Friendswood, TX, a winner of the 2009 CEP National School of Character Award. For more information on Westwood’s program, visit its website.

Breaking down walls at Hinsdale Central High School

CHARACTER COUNTS! at Hinsdale CentralIn his new book On Purpose: How Great School Cultures Form Strong Character, education expert Samuel Casey Carter examines 12 public and charter schools “where confident children joyfully strive to accomplish worthy goals in concert with their friends.” One thing each school has in common is the focus on creating a culture of character.

Carter specifically applauds Hinsdale Central High School, a CHARACTER COUNTS! school in suburban Chicago. Last week, Carter told the Chicago Sun-Times that the school enjoys “the wonderful outcomes harnessed by an extraordinary school culture committed to student character.”

This isn’t the first time Hinsdale Central’s CC! program has made the news. In 2008, the school was designated a National School of Character by the Character Education Partnership. The award recognized the school for its success in building the character and social/emotional skills of its students and granted it $20,000 to continue the program and train other educators.

What does it mean for Hinsdale to have a culture of character?

Beginning when they arrive for freshman year – and continuing for the next four years, students are trained in Conflict Resolution Skills, Peer Leadership Building, Ethical Thinking, and Internet Safety. This curriculum gives students a solid foundation for effectively responding to conflict, controlling negative impulses, and making ethical decisions.

Throughout the school year, Hinsdale Central hosts several events that help establish a culture of caring. One of these is the annual “3,000 Devils Tolerance Month,” which includes a “Mix It Up Lunch,” in which students are encouraged to sit with someone new, and an “Eliminate Hate” campaign, in which students create videos to combat “hate speech” heard in the halls and cafeteria. Those videos are shown on the monitor by the cafeteria. (Watch a recent video at the bottom of this story.)

Hinsdale Central students organize and host “Walk the Walk for Autism,” which raises student awareness and encourages students to be understanding and caring citizens, and “Leave Your Hate at the Door,” a conference in which different schools present their ideas for building cultural bridges.

There’s also “Break Down the Walls,” an anti-bullying performance created and performed by the 52-student Break Down the Walls club. In addition to performing, club members “step in on their own when they see bullying happening.” This actually happens. When a few Hinsdale Central students sat in on our recent “Bullying Stops Here” webinar, one student said she went over and talked to girls who’d snubbed another girl. She told them it was wrong and got them to change their behavior. Another Break Down the Walls student said she participates in the program because, “once you get to high school, it’s not really cool to be mean anymore. It’s cool to care.”

Other clubs that help create a culture of caring at Hinsdale Central include the Gay/Straight Alliance, Peer Buddies, which joins special ed. and regular ed. students, and Spectrum, which allows autistic students to form friendships with each other and with other students.

Since Hinsdale Central implemented CHARACTER COUNTS! ten years ago, incidents of harassment and intimidation went from 49 in the 1997-98 school year to nine in 2006-07, even as total enrollment increased from 1981 to 2656. Those numbers show just how effective CC! can be in changing the culture of a school.

Watch this video made by Hinsdale Central students:

Anti-Bullying Campaign from Sara Klepacki on Vimeo.

Note to Illinoisans: To recognize the publication of On Purpose, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will host a  book signing event in the Hinsdale Central Library on December 14, 2010 from 8:30 a.m. – 11:00 a.m. If you buy a book, it will be signed by all individuals who are quoted within it. In addition, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will present signed books to the Hinsdale Township High School District 86 Board of Education. This presentation would take place during the January 2011 BoE meeting.

During these events, Hinsdale Central Character Counts! will record video testimonials from students, staff, and others about the value of CC! at Hinsdale Central High School.