A University of Nebraska-Lincoln psychologist is on the front lines of the battle against bullying. For Susan Swearer, this involves everything from conducting research, to leading outreach efforts, to traveling the country with pop star Lady Gaga’s Born Brave Bus Tour. In advance of a Nov. 7 presentation at UNL, Swearer talked about her work with Mike Tobias of NET News.
Susan Swearer: "I’m the chair of the research advisory board for the Born This Way Foundation. In conjunction with Lady Gaga’s Born Brave tour, there was a bus called the Born Brave Bus that went along with the tour. It was an interactive, three hour tailgate experience before each concert. We created an online survey for youth ages 13 to 25, and they were able to fill that out, and we have just a massive amount of data on social variables, psychological variables, the impact of the bus. We’re currently conducting qualitative interviews in Kansas City, Lincoln, Neb., New York and Los Angeles to further evaluate the impact that the bus had on youths’ lives."
"Certainly the experience was very impactful, and what we’re finding is that youth who experience the bus really are thinking about what are the qualities of kindness and bravery. That’s the tagline for the foundation, is creating a kinder and braver world. So certainly if we had a kind, brave world, things like bullying wouldn’t exist. So the bus connected youth with opportunities in their local communities, provided support, and really inspired them to go forth in their own communities and schools to practice things like kindness and bravery, and really create what Lady Gaga and her mother’s vision is of a kinder, braver world."
Bullying and It’s Connection to Recent Acts of School Violence
Swearer: "I think it tells us that bullying is connected to mental health issues, which is something that we’ve studied at the University of Nebraska in my lab, and that people around the world have studied really linking bullying as a very stressful life event in vulnerable kids. That then can be a trigger for these other social and psychological issues. So certainly bullying contributes to a negative climate, and then a negative experience for people, and then people can feel kind of pushed to the brink."
Scope of Bullying
Swearer: "Basically one in four kids are involved at some point during their school years in bullying. But also these behaviors occur on a continuum. So it could be being bullied, bullying others, observing bullying; we call those kids bystanders. At some point kinds are really impacted from the bystander perspective; being bullied, bullying others, or both. We know that for some youth, being bullied in one setting and then they may go and bully in a different setting. We call those kids bully victims, and my research and other people’s research has really shown that the bully victims are at greatest risk for psychological and psycho-social problems, not only in their school years but also throughout their life."
How Bullying Has Changed
Swearer: "Certainly what has changed is the electronic element. So when I first started studying bullying we didn't have cyberbullying because kids didn’t have access to cellphones and computers to the degree that they do today. So that has really changed the ability or the involvement in bullying from a behavior that might have been face-to-face, or might have been over an old-fashioned land line, to a behavior that can occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week."
“Creating a Kinder World: Empowering Youth to End Bullying” Presentation
Swearer: "I’m going to be presenting some of the data from the Born Brave Bus, and what I’m going to do is really challenge the audience to think about how we can create ‘Born Brave Buses’ in our homes and in our schools and in our communities. Because if we truly were able to create communities of acceptance, then things like bullying wouldn’t exist. So we really need to approach this issue from a prevention standpoint, and also understanding the complexity that then drives complex interventions. We know that simply solutions aren’t going to be effective at stopping what is a complex social and mental health problem."