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August 15, 2001

Systemic vs Individualistic Approaches to Bullying—Reply

Author Affiliations

Stephen J.LurieMD, PhD, Senior EditorIndividualAuthorJody W.ZylkeMD, Contributing EditorIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 2001;286(7):787-788. doi:10.1001/jama.286.7.787

In Reply: Mr Green describes the potential dangers of an overly individualistic approach to bullying. Bullying behaviors occur within a social context, and individuals and systems both deserve research and programmatic attention. However, attitudes accepting bullying as normative are unlikely to be changed without documentation that these behaviors are harmful. Indeed, we have heard accounts of educators who claim that "bullying isn't a problem in our school" and of those who argue that bullying is relatively innocuous, thus accusing researchers in the area of inventing problems in which to intervene. Such attitudes are unlikely to be altered without individual-level research such as ours, which showed the number of youth who are negatively affected. Longitudinal studies have demonstrated long-term effects such as suicide, depression, aggression, or criminal behavior in adulthood.1,2 While our cross-sectional study can only demonstrate concurrent relationships between bullying and indicators of youth development, it nevertheless provides an important foundation for future research on effects, systemic factors, and interventions. The key to avoiding the common response of blaming the target of bullying is not to eschew research on bullies and those bullied, but rather to correctly interpret and use such research. As such, individual- and systems-level research both have their place in understanding and ameliorating public health problems.

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