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Anti-bullying program reduces gossip

SEATTLE, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- The widely used Steps to Respect bullying prevention program can curb children's malicious gossip that can lead to physical intimidation, U.S. researchers say.

Karin Frey, a University of Washington associate professor of educational psychology in Seattle, says teachers tend to not view gossip as a significant form of bullying, but it can lead to physical bullying.

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Frey and colleagues used Palm Pilots to electronically record second-by-second observations of 610 students in grades 3-6 at six elementary schools in the Seattle area.

They recorded each child's behavior on the playground for 5 minutes once a week for 10 weeks in the fall and 10 weeks in the spring.

After observers heard gossip on the playground in the fall, the anti-bullying program -- which encouraged empathy, taught assertiveness and emphasized that bullying is not a social norm -- was conducted in half of the 36 classrooms.

The study, published in the winter issue of School Psychology Review, said children in the Steps to Respect classrooms had 234 fewer instances of gossip per class of 25, or a 72 percent decrease in gossip among the students.

Bullying victims who retaliate often end up bullied even more, therefore the Steps to Respect teaches students to not fight back and these children were more likely to avoid being a victim of gossip in the spring. However, if bystanders speak up and tell the bully to "Knock it off," the bullying stops, Frey said.

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