After three young suicides shocked Norway in 1982, the Ministry of Education asked psychologist Dan Olweus to participate in a campaign to stop bullying in the schools. Olweus had been studying the problem of school bullies in Sweden and Norway since 1970 and, having studied more than 150,000 children, had identified the classroom as the key social unit that must be dealt with to ease the tension.
Within each class he identified four kinds of students: the lone victim, the bully, the two or three henchmen who gang up with the bully, and the bystanders, some of whom are indifferent and some of whom want to help but are afraid. With his assistance the Ministry of Education devised strategies, available in videocassettes and booklets, to help teachers and parents intercede in children's social behavior, especially the behavior of the bystanders who are encouraged to befriend victims and condemn bullies.
Olweus, a Fellow at Stanford's Center for Advanced Studies this year, notes that these patterns seem universal. Children in Japan as well as Scandinavia and the United States are taking their own lives at earlier ages, often leaving messages that explain that they could not tolerate any more bullying.
Olweus estimates, on the basis of his large-scale study, that 10% of all children in first through ninth grade are victimized and about 8% are bullies. Contrary to what he calls myths, there are no differences in the way children behaved in large and small schools, or in city and country schools. The unexpected exception he found were rural schools, like our one-room schoolhouses, where bullying incidents were more frequent, probably, Olweus suggests, because older children often torment younger ones.