Curricula to Combat Bullying in Schools

Ryan Johnson for NPR

By Dr. David Childs, D.D., Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Originally published April 18, 2019

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines bullying as “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger or more powerful.” Furthermore, it can be “prone to or characterized by overbearing mistreatment and domination of others.” The Encyclopedia Britannica defines bullying as “intentional harm-doing or harassment that is directed toward vulnerable targets and typically repeated. Bullying encompasses a wide range of malicious aggressive behaviors, including physical violence, verbal mockery, threats, ostracism, and rumors spread either orally or by other means of communication, such as the Internet.”

Dan Olweus (A Norwegian researcher and psychologist) argues that “A person is bullied when he or she is exposed, repeatedly and over time, to negative actions on the part of one or more other persons, and he or she has difficulty defending himself or herself.” However some scholars challenge Olweus’ definition because a single act of violence or verbal abuse can cause considerable damage to a person, especially a child going through various stages of development. So therefore, some scholars argue that the incident does not necessarily have to be a repeated behavior in order for it to be bullying. They also go on to argue that “additionally, not all people engaged in this interaction can be categorized as pure bullies or pure victims; research has distinguished a third category of “bully-victims,” that is, young people who are both the bully and the victim. As a result, the website defines school bullying as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time… In order to be considered bullying, the behavior must be aggressive and include an imbalance of power. Kids who bully use their power—such as physical strength, access to embarrassing information, or popularity—to control or harm others. Power imbalances can change over time and in different situations, even if they involve the same people.”

The first known use of the term bully was in 1742 according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Therefore, the idea of bullying has been around for some time. It seems to primarily be associated with schools. In the 1970’s Olweus did significant research in Europe on bullying. Furthermore, the suicide of several victims in 1983 brought even more attention to the subject. In the 1990’s, due to increased school shootings and more suicides related to bullying, much media attention was given to the subject matter.  

There has long been a culture in the US to blame individuals that are being bullied as being a part of the problem. That is, it is thought that the victims’ actions or existence somehow warrant or justify their being bullied. For example, in many late twentieth century films an awkward student that excels in academics but is not good in sports is often targeted, becoming a victim of school bullies. The idea is that if the victim would somehow adopt more socially acceptable behaviors and become more “cool” they would no longer be the recipient of the violence or teasing. Many schools today tend to be a breeding ground for bullying. This culture has taken on a sinister turn, as many of the school shootings have been directly connected to bullying. That is, some of the school shooters have retaliated against their oppressors by resorting to violent resolutions. On the other hand, some of the shooters have been actual bullies themselves. Perhaps they fit the category we have mentioned earlier “bully-victims.” The Encyclopedia Britannica also points out that “A U.S. national study published at the turn of the 21st century documented that bullying and other forms of aggression affected approximately 30 percent, or 5.7 million, middle- to high-school students in the then-current school term.”

In contemporary times bullying has become a hot button issue in the US because of the increase of school shootings and suicides that seem to be directly connected to the phenomenon. Fortunately, many schools and classrooms have adopted anti-bully curriculum, that is often implemented throughout the entire campus. The resources below were identified for educators, to assist them in creating sophisticated and meaningful curricula surrounding bullying.

Curriculum/Lesson Plans
There Are No Bullies Just Children Who Bully—And You Can Help Them
National Bully Prevention Center
30-60 Minute Lesson Plan: Middle and High School, Introduction to Dynamics of Bullying
Week Long Curriculum: Middle and High School, Starting the Discussion Toolkit
Evidence-Based Bullying Programs, Curricula and Practices
Bullying Prevention Program
Violence Prevention Works: Safer Schools, Safer Communities
Open Circle: Getting to the Heart of Learning
PeaceBuilders® Creating Safe, Positive Learning Environments
Safe Schools Ambassador Program
Teaching Students to Prevent Bullying- NEA
Embedding Bully Prevention in Core Curriculum
Bullying Prevention Unit: The Power to Create a Positive School Environment
Safe School
Bully Prevention in Positive Behavior

We are open to feedback and discussion. If you see any typos or grammatical errors please feel free to email the author and editor at the address below:

Dr. David Childs 


  1. I chose to read this article because I feel I had been bullied throughout my middle and high school career, while many others did not consider it bullying because I was never physically attacked. I’m glad this article highlighted the definition of bullying to include harassment and other malicious behaviors, such as verbal mockery, ostracism, and rumors being spread. I also appreciated how it mentioned that it did not have to be repeated to be considered bullying only the potential to be repeated. I have memories of an incident happening only once, but this one experience carries with me today. Unfortunately, bullying has become such a problem in the U.S. that I worry about the safety of all involved. As a parent and a future educator, I think learning how to combat bullying and involving that curricula into our everyday life would be beneficial for the safety and mental health of all children.

  2. Bullying in schools is such a popular thing these days which is so sad and it is never ending. I think that this article is very important. I think that students should always be taught about bullying and it really needs to be stopped. I think that we need to do a way better job on handling bullying because it had harmed our country so much!

  3. I chose to read this article because the topic of bullying hits very close to home for me. I was bullied for all of my middle school career and well into my high school career. I struggled a lot with it. I’m glad you provided curriculums and lesson plans to look into, as I want to help my students not experience what I did. I’m most surprised that the earliest time that the term ‘bullying’ has been recorded was in the 1700’s. I would figure that bullying was around for much longer than that. I wonder if there was maybe a different term used for the same concept.

  4. I chose to read this article because bullying is a prevalent issue in schools today, and as a future educator I want to make sure I do my best to help solve this issue. Bullying is a complicated issue because it is different in each scenario but it can lead to very serious consequences. The sources at the end of the article are great resources to help people understand what bullying is and how to help prevent bullying in schools. As an educator it’s important to make sure we are actively fighting against the widespread bullying issue by equipping our students with the truth and the resources to stand up against bullies. If we are unable to put an end to bullying then the school shootings and the major suicide rates will not be decreasing. It’s scary to read the statistics about who is affected by bullying, 5.7 million people is outrageous. Bullying is harming millions of people in our schools and as a future educator we need to do a better job of stopping bullying at a younger age.

  5. Bullying in schools is an endless cycle because it starts with one person and the person affected by that bully usually takes it out on other students. As a person personally affected by bullying when I was in middle school, I understand how much of a toll it takes on, especially a developing brain and this article does a great job at explaining that and providing resources to cope with it. I also liked the part in the article where the term “bully-victim”, was introduced as it talks about how not all bullies are just bullies and that they also might be affected by some sort of bullying that caused them to lash out. This helps us understand what they might be going through and come up with helpful solutions to help them through it.

  6. Bullying is akin to a plague in school systems today. If it happens to one, that person is likely to take it out on another student, and so on. This will drastically reduce the mental and even physical health of all the students there. Even though we are well aware of the negative effects of bullying in schools today, it still runs rampant throughout today’s school system. A lot of times, the school will do nothing to prevent it or stop it once it is happening other than having a few school assembly sessions to say that it’s bad. Because of this, more violent events can occur in schools, such as fights or school shootings. I agree that bullying doesn’t have to be repeated to be bullying. The first definition that involved repetition better defines harassment rather than bullying. In short, more countermeasures against bullying should be taken, and people should be more educated on its effects.

  7. Bullying is a concept that is unfortunately present in all schools. Educating students about it and ways to prevent bullying from happening as well as exposing students to preventative resources is an effective way to reduce bullying in schools. According to the resource, “Violence Prevention Works”, 21% of school aged children (12-18) report being bullied. This percentage can be decreased through more awareness brought to the bullying concept. Educating students on ways to seek help, how to express themselves appropriately, as well as using social media in a safe way are a few preventative measures we can expose students to for the goal of decreasing this statistic.

  8. It is not shocking to read the stats for how prevalent bullying is in the U.S. It feels like bullying is so commonplace here that is would shock me more if the stats were lower. Personally, I can not think of a person in my life who hasn’t dealt with bullying, myself included. I feel like it is a vicious cycle that continues to get worse throughout generations because I think many kids feel like they have to be a bully to keep from being bullied. They see how other kids are treated and it’s easier to join in than try to help. I experienced bullying the most in middle-school and in elementary school by middle school aged children. But luckily, by the time I got to high school it stopped. Nobody in my class thought bullying was cool or funny or something to be proud of. As the article states, most of the time, the victim of bullying is blamed for being bullied, but in my high school experience, it was the other way around. I believe my generation is beginning to be more likely to stand up for victims and hold bullies accountable for their actions. As we move forward, this is something we should instill harder into our children to cut down on bullying and the tragedies that happen as a result of it.

  9. Bullying is a concept that has been around for quite some time now. It’s true that schools are a hot breeding ground, and it’s an issue that many students face. What’s eye-catching about this article is that brings light to the connection between bullying and school shootings. In the article, it states how “bullying has become a hot button issue in the US because of the increase of school shootings and suicides that seem to be directly connected to the phenomenon.” While many schools have adopted the anti-bullying policy, this is a concept that, especially in middle and high school, isn’t emphasized enough. Even teasing can be malicious, and I believe it’s an important topic that students across the board should be fully aware of, as well as its’ consequences.

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