The Star-Ledger newspaper featured an article on bullying this week based on a survey presented by H. Wesley Perkins, professor of sociology at HWS and David Craig, professor of Chemistry at the Colleges, at the Social Norms Approach conference in San Francisco. The article focused on Perkins’ argument that kids believe bullying occurs at school more often than it actually does – leading to either the sense of empowerment (for those who bully) or powerlessness (for those who don’t) on the part of children. “There’s a ‘reign of error’ in which students misperceive what the norm is. That misperception drives a lot of behavior,” Perkins is quoted in the article as saying. “If you’ve got three out of 10 kids who are bullies, but the other seven think they’re the only ones who are not, they’ll remain bystanders and go along with it.” Perkins is a graduate of Purdue University, and he received his M.A., M. Div., M. Phil. and Ph.D. from Yale University. He is the author of dozens of journal articles about substance abuse prevention and has been honored with national awards for his work in preventing alcohol and drug abuse in colleges and universities. His work with David Craig, professor of chemistry at HWS, is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as a premiere model for substance abuse prevention. The full text of the article appears below.
The Star-Ledger “Kids aren’t as harassed as they think” Peggy O’Crowley • Star-Ledger Staff • July 22, 2008 New Jersey middle-school students believe a lot of bullying goes on at school. In fact, they think it happens a lot more than it actually does. The authors of a new survey argue that the sense bullying is pervasive leads to more of it be cause kids feel either empowered to continue their bad behavior or powerless to stop others from doing it. “There’s a ‘reign of error’ in which students misperceive what the norm is. That misperception drives a lot of behavior,” said H. Wesley Perkins, a sociologist who co-authored the study with David Craig, a professor of chemistry. “If you’ve got three out of 10 kids who are bullies, but the other seven think they’re the only ones who are not, they’ll remain bystanders and go along with it.” Perkins presented the survey, “Assessing Bullying in New Jersey Secondary Schools,” yesterday at the Social Norms Approach conference in San Francisco. More than 10,000 kids in the fifth through ninth grades were asked whether they were involved in any bullying activities in the last 30 days and how often they thought bullying went on in their school. “We found about 15 to 30 percent of the kids in middle school engaged in bullying behaviors, but 88 percent overestimated that,” Perkins said. According to the state Department of Education, which funded the study, a total of 1,409 incidents of harassment, intimidation or bullying were reported in schools from 2005 to 2006, an increase of 275 incidents reported in the period from 2004 to 2005. The Social Norms Approach uses research to pinpoint what students are actually doing instead of what they think their peers are doing, said Perkins, who has done studies on high-school and college drinking, smoking and drug use. Those studies also found most students believed their peers were more heavily drinking, smoking, and using drugs than was actually the case, he said. The findings should help school officials recast their anti-bullying messages, said Perkins, who with Craig teaches at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, N.Y. They partnered with Rowan University Center for Addiction Studies to conduct the survey. “The way to address the problem and to reduce it is to give the message the majority don’t approve of it. If you’re going to use peer pressure, you go with the true majority of peers who exhibit health and safe attitudes,” he said, noting that bullying remains a problem in schools. Peggy O’Crowley may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (973) 392-5810. ©2008 Star Ledger © 2008 NJ.com All Rights Reserved.