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Dan Olweus, Crusader Against Bullies

by Izzy Kalman (February 2003)

Dan Olweus, a Norwegian psychologist and researcher, is the “Freud” of the modern anti-schoolyard-bullying movement. He was the first to become known for doing psychological research on bullying and is considered the ultimate authority in the subject. Unfortunately, his approach to reducing bullying promotes a victim mentality in society. Olweus correctly explains how the victim’s own actions unwittingly cause him to continue to be harassed. From this understanding, we would expect Olweus to reach the logical conclusion that kids need to be taught how not to fall victim to bullying. Instead, he decided that the solution is no less than changing the whole culture of the school so that teasing and bullying would not be tolerated. In his program, the staff, students, and parents all need to become vigilantes against bullies, preventing them from bothering anyone and disciplining them when our preventative efforts fail. In other words, if you are teased or bullied, don’t worry about handling the problem by yourself. You are the good guy, and if you tell us that someone is bothering you, we won’t tolerate it. We’ll become knights in shining armor and rescue you from your evil bullies. Why did Olweus decide to change society rather than change the individual victim with the problem? I believe there are two reasons (and I may very well be wrong). The main one is that he didn’t figure out a good, reliable way to teach kids not to be victims. Thus, the only option was to forbid anyone from being a bully. The second reason (and I am less certain about this one) is that Olweus comes from Norway, a strongly socialistic country. In socialism the drives for personal power and wealth are considered evil. (I am not judging socialism here, just making a comment about its underlying philosophy.) While all types of govenments sympathize with the downtrodden and provide for their welfare, sympathy for the underdog is the raison d’etre of socialism. Therefore, it could be that Olweus is expressing his cultural ideals and putting them ahead of pure psychology. I have no doubt that Olweus has nothing but the best intentions. Unfortunately, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Because I haven’t joined the crusade against bullies, many people think I have no sympathy for victimized kids. Nothing can be farther from the truth. I have been helping them for years, and my entire website is devoted to ending their suffering. But I do it only by helping the victims overcome their problems on their own, not by feeling sorry for them and fighting their bullies for them.

My manual for victims, How to Stop Being Teased and Bullied Without Really Trying, available free on the website, will help most kids understand why they are victimized and how to make their problem end without anyone else’s help and without getting anyone in trouble. Even without the victim’s involvement, adults can reduce teasing and bullying between kids by 70 to 80% simply by using the “magic responses” in my adults’ manual, A Revolutionary Manual for Handling Children’s Aggression. And this is accopmplished not by intensifying staff efforts but by reducing them!

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