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ATA versus Bullies - Teaming up to stamp out bullying in schools and beyond - ATA Leadership NOW

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ATA versus Bullies

Teaming up to stamp out bullying in schools and beyond

By Sarah Asp Olson / Illustrations by Pietari Posti
ATA World | Fall 2010

The Journal of the American Medical Association estimates that one-third of school-aged children in the United States are affected by bullying every year, as a target, as one who bullies or as both.

Often, however, the effects of bullying are grossly underestimated.

"A lot of parents still think it's just kids being kids, that it's a rite of passage or that every kid has to go through a time of being tormented by their peers in order to build character," says Dr. Marlene Snyder, director of development for the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in the U.S. "That's totally false. We know that it is very harmful; it actually is peer abuse."

Snyder and the team of researchers behind the Olweus program have made it their mission to prevent bullying by changing the culture in schools. Developed in Norway by psychologist Dr. Dan Olweus, the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program is backed by 35 years of research and has reduced bullying in more than 25 countries.

Recognizing the importance of keeping kids safe, ATA is partnering with Olweus to extend the research-based Olweus Bullying Prevention Program to ATA schools and communities. In the coming year, ATA instructors will counsel kids and parents about the dangers of bullying and teach them how to become part of the solution.

The Truth About Bullying

In 2007, ATA began exploring bully prevention when it introduced its Kidz'n Power child safety curriculum. The Kidz'n Power DVDs taught students and parents how to be preventative in potentially dangerous situations, which included facing bullies. Realizing bullying was one danger on the rise, ATA Headquarters staff assembled a team to study with experts and learn more about how ATA could help fight bullying in schools and communities.

But first, they needed to fully understand the seriousness of this country's bullying epidemic–and that meant debunking common misconceptions.

"I didn't realize that the key component is the imbalance of power," says National Vice Chairman of Instruction for ATA, Chief Master Michael Caruso. This is a concern because it inoculates the child with fear, says Chief Master Caruso. And once fear has been inoculated into a child, behavioral problems begin. According to Olweus materials, "students who are bullied ' may feel insecure, grow to dislike school and have difficulty learning. The effects of being bullied typically do not end in childhood. As they grow older, students who were bullied can experience depression, low self-esteem, health problems, poor grades and suicidal thoughts."

In fact, as Snyder mentions, bullying is a form of abuse, and it shares the primary characteristics of abusive behavior: it is intentional, negative behavior against someone else; it involves a pattern of repeated behavior; and there is an obvious imbalance of power between the abuser and the one being abused.

Unchecked peer abuse can lead to devastating results for children who are bullied. Children who bully and children who witness the abuse also are at risk for long-term problems. Those who observe bullying behavior may feel unsafe, powerless to act, guilty for not acting or may even be enticed to participate. Olweus research also shows that students who bully others often end up participating in more antisocial behavior – including criminal activity – at an early age.

Snyder says children may participate in different aspects of bullying and may experience the detrimental effects of bullying behavior in different ways throughout their school career. This reality is illustrated by the Olweus bullying circle (see below). "As that bullying circle shows, the roles are always changing," Snyder says. "If a child bullies at one time, it doesn't mean that's the role they're going to be in for the rest of the day or for the rest of his or her life. We choose the roles we play; labeling a child as being a bully or victim is not helpful."

Propagating common myths about bullying also can do more harm than good. One such myth is that students who engage in bullying behavior are doing so from a place of low self-esteem or lashing out because they feel like loners. "We know that kids who bully others must have a little support group of friends or people that support their behavior," Snyder says. "This is where they get their power."

This and other misconceptions have led to programs that advise students to simply ignore bullying behavior or ask bullied children to change something about their appearance or behavior to reduce instances of bullying. "Programs that tell kids just to laugh it off, to pretend it doesn't happen, just go on with your life as if nothing was wrong and don't say anything about it, those aren't helpful," Snyder says.

The Olweus Program

In contrast to programs that take place in a single, school-wide assembly, or advise kids to "just ignore the problem," the Olweus program focuses on changing the overall school climate and making bullying prevention a primary focus in every classroom. "Our program is focused on changing norms and restructuring the school setting. It's research-based ' [and] requires systematic efforts over time," Snyder says.

For the program to be successful, schools must take an active role in training staff, enforce school-wide rules about bullying and create a united front when it comes to bullying prevention. "Adults in school need to show warmth, positive interest and involvement; set firm limits for unacceptable behavior; consistently use non-physical, non-hostile negative consequences when rules are broken; and act as authorities and positive role models," Snyder says.

When implemented properly, the Olweus program has been proven to reduce existing bullying problems in schools, prevent new bullying problems, achieve better peer relations and create a safer, more effective learning environment overall. Several school districts in Arizona, for example, have implemented the program, and early results indicate an estimated 44 percent decrease in the number of children engaging in bullying behavior.

But the Olweus team recognizes that in order to fully eradicate bullying, parents and community organizations– like ATA–need to get involved. Olweus's bullying prevention materials state: "In order to stop bullying, it needs to be addressed at every level of a student's experience."

ATA and Olweus

ATA's new bullying prevention program, the Kidz'n Power Bullying Prevention Program, was introduced this year at World Championships in Little Rock, Ark. It falls under the Kidz'n Power umbrella and combines Olweus's data and research with ATA's well-known ability to empower kids at school and in life.

"What makes it a good fit is that now, for the first time in any martial arts organization, we've got the real information and the real data about what's going on," says Master Greg Moody, a member of the ATA bullying prevention team. "We're including specific things that our kids need to do to deal with bullying."

ATA's bullying prevention program can be broken out into 12 five-minute lessons and integrated into youth classes or presented as a stand-alone seminar. It supports Olweus's efforts in schools but also focuses on bullying that happens away from the eyes of teachers and school supervisors. "The Olweus program works well when you're inside the parameters of the school system, but what happens on Saturday on the ball field or in the neighborhood?" says Chief Master Caruso. "That's a situation where we're going to teach the bullying prevention program."

By the end of 12 lessons, students will know how to prevent bullying, how to react when bullying does occur and how to protect themselves and others from bullying behavior. "We teach the kids what they need to do, how they need to think so they don't get bullied, what they need to be perceiving in the environment," says Master Moody. Students will also memorize the Karate Kid Bullying Prevention Promise and repeat it at the beginning of every session.

To get instructors started, the ATA bullying prevention team has created an easy-to-use bullying prevention planner complete with goals and teaching tips. ATA also offers marketing tools for instructors to help them spread an anti-bullying message in the community and get the Olweus program into schools.

"If schools are not doing something for bullying, we need to recommend that they get on board," says Master Moody. "We also can help with fundraising so they can cover the cost of materials for the Olweus program. That builds the relationship between the ATA academy and the school."

What's to Come

As ATA academies nationwide begin to adopt the bullying prevention program, Chief Master Caruso and the ATA bullying prevention team are hard at work creating the next rung on the ladder: self-defense techniques to use when bullying becomes physical.

"We're supporting the Olweus program, and now we need to go one step further," says Chief Master Caruso. "What happens when that bullying turns into a physical confrontation where a child is going to fear for their life or serious bodily injury? We're going to be prepared on our end to have some physical components' to be able to build more confidence in a child who might be getting bullied."

This next step in bullying prevention will be unveiled in detail in October at Fall Nationals in Orlando, Fla. For now, ATA continues to build its bullying prevention program and work closely with Olweus to eradicate bullying in schools and communities.

"It's really a partnership between two World Champions," Snyder says. "We look forward to a good, long relationship with ATA and are very pleased to find such an outstanding community leader to partner with and get out messages that can save children's lives." ATA

Karate Kid Bullying Prevention Promise

I will not bully others. I will try to help other kids who are being bullied. I will try to include other kids who are being left out. If I know another kid is being bullied, I will tell an adult.

Fast Facts

  • It has been estimated that each day, 160,000 U.S. kids stay home from school for fear of being bullied.
  • According to one Canadian study, teachers catch only 5 percent of bullying behaviors.
  • In a study in Norway, 60 percent of middle school boys who were regularly bullied were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 25.
  • More than half the time, bullying stops within 10 seconds of a bystander stepping in.

What You Can Do

Make time between back-to-school shopping trips and end-of summer activities to talk to about bullying. Not sure where to start? Here's how kids, parents, and ATA instructors can talk about the dangers of bullying and how each can be part of the solution.


  • Believe that bullying is wrong. Understand that it is harmful to your child to participate in bullying in any way.
  • Recognize the signs. For example: torn clothing, unexplained scratches or bruises, sleep troubles, fear of going certain places, sudden disinterest in school, feigning sickness or getting sick with worry.
  • Have nonjudgmental conversations. If you suspect your child is being bullied, encourage him to talk about it. Tell him that bullying is wrong, that it is not his fault, and that you are glad he had the courage to tell you.
  • Get involved at school. Talk to your child's teachers and administrators about the importance of implementing a bullying prevention program. Offer to organize a fundraiser to support the purchase of materials.
  • Involve your ATA school. Encourage your ATA school owner to adopt ATA's bullying prevention program, which empowers ATA kids to prevent bullying in and out of school.


  • Be responsible. We all have a responsibility to report bullying when it happens to us or another child, and to work to stop bullying behavior.
  • Know the difference between "tattling" and "telling." Tattling is trying to get someone else in trouble or attention for yourself. Telling, or reporting, is getting protection for yourself or someone else if you see someone hurting another person.
  • Be confident. The way you look and behave can be an excellent bullying prevention tool. Talk to your ATA instructor about how to display confidence and that "don't bully me" attitude.
  • Be a protector. Support a friend who is being bullied by walking up, taking his arm and confidently walking away from the child who is bullying. Add words of encouragement like, "You don't deserve to be treated that way!"


  • Know that bullying is a real issue. Talk about it that way, and communicate the importance of learning strong anti-bullying techniques. Discuss it openly with all your students, not just the young ones.
  • Teach bullying prevention. Discuss scenarios kids might encounter and how they should look and act to prevent bullying.
  • Work to get bullying prevention into schools. Visit area elementary and middle schools and talk to teachers about bullying prevention and the Olweus model.
  • Recruit parents. Talk to parents about the importance of bullying prevention and how ATA can give their kids the tools to stand up in their schools and communities.