Utah school psychologist Ben Springer has been researching the causes and effects of bullying for years.
Although there are no easy solutions, Springer will highlight how Utah parents and educators can handle the complex issue.
The public workshop will be held 7 p.m. Wednesday at The McGillis School in Salt Lake City.
"The biggest glitch is there’s not a unified definition of bullying," said Springer, who works at the Park City School District. "It’s not teasing."
Sponsored by Jewish Family Service-Utah, the event involves Springer discussing the following: what bullying looks like; how parents and schools can prevent and respond to bullying; and how to prepare children for the challenge of bullying.
Springer said much of his work is based upon the work of psychology professor Dan Olweus of University of Bergen in Norway, who is an international guru of anti-bullying research. Olweus’ program is the most widely used in schools across the globe including many in Utah, Springer said.
Societal acceptance of bullying has changed in schools in the past decade or two. Before, Springer said school officials and parents often believed that bullying was essentially a rite of passage in childhood.
"Bullying works because it fits into a social structure," Springer said. "The parent has to act and has got to mean it. If a child reports bullying, its a big thing."
However, Springer cautions parents.
"The term is so loaded because it means so many things to so many people," Springer said.
Olweus was the first to come up with his much-used definition of bullying: Intentional negative behavior that is repetitive in a situation where one person in the relationship has less power.
Olweus’ research showed bullies have a strong need to dominate other people and some have a family background that creates the pattern. They also get a certain amount of social prestige for being tough, aggressive kids who are able to control others. Bullies also have little empathy for others, particularly their victims.
Those aspects of bullying have not changed even as the technology has evolved.
Cyberbullying is not increasing the number of bully cases or creating new victims but is another tool in a bully’s repertoire, Springer said.
He said anti-bullying programs should involve teaching students to recognize, report and refuse to tolerate bullying behavior as well as place heavy responsibility on adults in schools, calling on them to address reports of bullying in swift and consistent ways.
"There needs to be positive behavior supports — what kids do well — especially in primary grades," Springer said.
A question-and-answer panel will follow featuring Melanie Battistone, McGillis School psychologist and middle school director, and Jessica Weeks, a doctoral student specializing in bullying assessment and interventions.
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