Lincoln, Neb. — Dan Olweus, a Norwegian psychologist regarded as the founding father of bullying research, and Cynthia Germanotta, who co-founded the Born This Way Foundation with her daughter Lady Gaga, will be keynote speakers at a bullying prevention conference June 13 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The conference, co-sponsored by the Buffett Early Childhood Institute at the University of Nebraska, will examine bullying dynamics among preschool-age children.
Expected to attract 200 participants, it is the sixth bullying prevention conference sponsored by the Bullying Research Network and the second to be held at UNL.
Susan Swearer, a UNL educational psychology professor and nationally recognized bullying prevention expert, is co-director of the Bullying Research Network.
"Bullying prevention begins with early identification and intervention," Swearer said. "During this conference, we'll identify the difference between harmless and hostile behavior in early childhood and share evidence-based interventions to prevent bullying behavior in young children."
Olweus, a research professor of psychology at the University of Bergen in Norway, has studied bullying for more than 40 years. He began a large-scale project in 1970 that is generally regarded as the world's first scientific study of bullying problems. In the 1980s, he conducted a systematic intervention study, which led to the widely used Olweus Bullying Prevention Program. That program has been implemented in more than 7,000 schools in the United States.
Olweus comes to Nebraska as the United Nations General Assembly prepares to issue global recommendations against bullying later this year. In a June 10 event before the U.N. Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence Against Children, Olweus will present new findings from a large-scale evaluation involving more than 70,000 U.S. children who participated in his bullying prevention program.
Germanotta is president of the Born This Way Foundation. Founded in 2012, the foundation works to support the wellness of young people and empower them to create a kinder and braver world by shining a light on real people, quality research and authentic partnerships. To this end, the foundation has partnered with respected researchers including Swearer to learn more about the factors that impact young people's mental and emotional well being. This has included the Born Braver Experience survey, launched in 2013 and currently in its third phase.
"Understanding that what is going on in our children's minds is as impactful on their lives as what's going on in their bodies is fundamental to building schools and communities that truly meet their needs," Germanotta said. "We all – as parents, educators, researchers, resource providers and advocates – have a role in empowering young people with the tools their minds and bodies need to flourish."
Recognizing that he had played a vital role in changing public attitudes about bullying – from being seen as a natural part of school life to a pressing public health issue that must be taken seriously by authorities, the American Psychological Association honored Olweus in 2012 with its Award for Distinguished Contributions to Research in Public Policy.
"For many years, I was basically the only person who conducted research on the problem at an international level," Olweus said recently. "In the past 15 to 20 years, the development has been explosive in terms of research, legislation, media attention and other ways."
However, Olweus said he is concerned that the term "bullying" is becoming overused.
"Some researchers and others have used the label to designate generally nasty or aggressive behavior," he said. "They are actually studying something partly different from bullying. They miss the very important fact that bullying implies an abusive relationship that usually goes on over time."
Overbroad labels make it difficult to build a coherent base of knowledge about bullying, Olweus said.
In addition, cyberbullying occurs less frequently than is generally believed, he said.
"Most of the youths who are cyberbullied are also bullied in traditional ways," he said. "Although some forms of cyberbullying can be very hurtful, it is important that schools realize that the key problem to address is traditional bullying."
Olweus lauded the Nebraska conference for its focus on early childhood.
Marjorie Kostelnik, UNL's acting senior vice chancellor for academic affairs, also will serve as a keynote speaker during the conference. The conference is co-sponsored by the College of Education and Human Sciences, along with the Buffett Early Childhood Institute and the Bullying Research Network.