Bullying Epidemic: Facts, Statistics and Preventionby Becton Loveless
Bullying is an epidemic. It is rampant, widespread, pervasive and the effects can be catastrophic. It occurs in our communities, in our schools – and sadly – even in our homes. Bullying statistics are staggering, scary and merit serious consideration and immediate action. Consider the following:
Facts and Statistics
- 90% of students in grades 4-8 report having been harassed or bullied.
- 28% of students in grades 6-12 experience bullying.2
- 20% of students in grades 9-12 experience bullying. (stopbullying.gov)
- In grades 6-12, 9% of students have experienced cyberbulling.2
- Over 160,000 kids refuse to go to school each day for fear of being bullied. (Nation Education Association)
- 70.6% of students report having witnessed bullying in their school–and over 71% say bullying is a problem.
- Over 10% of students who dropout of school do so due to being bullied repeatedly.
- Each month 282,000 students are physically assaulted in some way in secondary schools throughout the United States–and the number is growing.
- Statistics suggest that revenge [due to bullying] is the number one motivator for school shootings in the U.S.
- 86% of students surveyed said, "other kids picking on them, making fun of them or bullying them" is the number one reason that teenagers turn to lethal violence at school.
- Nearly 75% of school shootings have been linked to harassment and bullying.
- 87% of students surveyed report that bullying is the primary motivator of school shootings.
- 64% of students who are bullied do not report it. (Petrosina, Guckenburg, Devoe and Hanson 2010)
2National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics
Types of Bullying
When most people think about bullying they envision some kind of physical intimidation. However, bullying can take on many forms which are just as emotionally and psychologically damaging as physical intimidation and harassment. There are four general forms of bullying. These include:
- Physical – Physical bullying involves aggressive physical intimidation and is often characterized by repeated tripping, pushing, hitting, kicking, blocking, or touching in some other inappropriate way. Even though it's the most obvious form of bullying, it isn't the most prominent.
Physical bullying is damaging and can be emotionally and psychologically devastating. When a child fears for their safety, they're not able to focus on life and function normally. Notwithstanding the trauma that physical bullying causes, most children don't report it to a teacher or to their parents. Signs of physical bullying may include unexplained scratches, bruises, and cuts, or unexplainable headaches or stomach aches. However, the psychological effects of physical bullying may be even more pronounced than the physical scars. Children who are withdrawn, struggle to focus, or become anti-social may also be the recipients of physical bullying–even if there aren't any other outward signs.
If you think your child or student is being bullied physically, talk to them in a casual manner about what's going on before school, during class, during lunch or recess, and on the way home from school. Ask them if anyone has been, or is being, mean to them. Keep your emotions in check, and stay calm and caring in your tone, or your child may shut off and not tell you what's happening. If you find that physical bullying is occurring, contact the appropriate school officials, or law enforcement officers – there are anti-bullying laws at the local, state and federal levels. Do not confront the bully, or the bully's parents, on your own.
- Verbal – Verbal bullying involves putting down others and bullying them using cruel, demeaning words. Verbal bullying includes name calling, making racist, sexist or homophobic remarks or jokes, insulting, slurs, sexually suggestive comments, or abusive language of any kinds. Verbal bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying.
So how do you know when a child is being verbally bullied? They may become moody, withdrawn, and/or have a change in their appetite. They may be straight forward and tell you that somebody said something that hurt their feelings, or ask you if something someone said about them is true.
Verbal bullying can be difficult to address. The best way to deal with verbal bullying is to build childrens' self confidence. Confident kids are less susceptible to verbal bullying than those who already struggle with poor self esteem and self image. Students should be taught in the classroom to treat everyone with respect and that there is never an excuse for saying something mean or disrespectful to someone else.
- Social – Social bullying is a common form of bullying among children and students. It involves exclusion from groups, spreading malicious rumors and stories about others, and generally alienating people from social acceptance and interaction. Next to verbal bullying, social bullying is one of the most common forms of bullying.
Social bullying can be one of the hardest forms of bullying to identify and address – but it's just as damaging as other forms of bullying, and the effects can last a long time. Children being bullied socially may experience mood changes, become withdrawn, and start spending more time alone. Social bullying is more common among girls than boys.
The best way to identify social bullying is to stay close to your kids and maintain an open line of communication. Talk to them nightly about how their day went and how things are going in school. Focus on building their self esteem and get them involved in extracurricular activities outside of school such as team sports, music, art and other activities where they develop friendships and interact with others.
- Cyberbullying – Cyberbullying is the least common type of bullying, but it can be just as damaging as other forms of bullying. It includes any type of bullying that occurs via the Internet or through electronic mediums. The most common types of cyberbullying include:
- Text message bullying
- Picture/video clip bullying via mobile phone cameras
- Email message bullying
- Bullying through instant messaging
- Chat-room bullying
- Bullying via websites
Cyberbullying can occur 24/7, so the best way to combat cyberbullying is to monitor Internet usage and limit time spent on social media websites. Children need to know that if they encounter cyberbullying they shouldn't respond, engage, or forward it. Instead, they need to inform their parents or a teacher so the communication can be printed out and taken to the proper authorities. When cyberbullying includes threats of violence or sexually explicit content, law enforcement should be involved.
Where Does Bullying Occur?
The majority of bullying occurs at school, outside on school grounds during recess or after school, and on the school bus – or anywhere else students interact unsupervised. Bullying may also occur at home between siblings or in the community where kids congregate. Cyberbullying takes place online and via digital communication devices.
According to one statistically significant study, middle school age students experienced bullying on school grounds in the following locations:*
- classroom (29.3%)
- hallway or lockers (29%)
- lunchroom/cafeteria (23.4%)
- gymnasium (19.5%)
- bathroom (12.2%)
- recess playground (6.2%)
* Bradshaw, C.P. (2007). Bullying and peer victimization at school: Perceptual differences between students and school staff. 36(3), 361-382.
Anti-bullying Laws and Policies
Currently, there aren't any Federal anti-bullying laws. However, state and local lawmakers have taken steps to prevent bullying and protect the physical, emotional and psychological well being of children. To date, 49 states have passed anti-bullying legislation. When bullying moves into the category of harassment, it then becomes a violation of Federal law. Criminal code as it relates to bullying by minors varies from state to state. The map below shows the states that have established anti-bullying laws, anti-bullying policies, and both anti-bullying laws and policies.
What Can We Do To Make Schools Safer?
Dealing with feelings of school safety, and specifically addressing school bullying, requires a multi-pronged approach. One of the first steps in preventing bullying is teaching students about it and discussing what their rights are at the school. There are multiple ways to do this. The internet and library can be used by students to research bullying, what it looks like, how to prevent it, and how to respond. Of course, learning about bullying also requires for school staff to step up. It's important to have presentations on what bullying looks like and teach students about how it can hurt others. Schoolwide presentations and classroom discussions can both be used as a means of teaching students about just how bad bullying can get.
Teachers might also want to use alternative approaches to exploring bullying. For instance, in some cases, teachers can turn to creative writing to help students express how they feel when they get bullied. Poems, sketches, and stories can all be written that explore bullying and its effects. This creative exploration doesn't have to be limited to writing. Artistic works can also be created that explore the bullying phenomenon. What's important is that teachers give students the space to explore their feelings on the matter and guide discussions around the topic.
Of course, responding to bullying requires more than just exploring the feelings of students. Concrete actions need to be taken to prevent bullying before it starts and stopping bullying when it happens. To that end, staff training is an incredibly important part of stopping bullying. It's important for not only teachers but all members of a school's staff to be familiar with the policies regarding what to do when they see bullying. Teachers may often step in to address bullying in their classrooms, but other members of staff may be at a loss about what to do when they witness bullying happening. For this reason, it's important that administrators review school policies toward bullying with all members of the staff.
It's also important to be aware of the school climate and how students feel about going to the school. For this reason, it's important for administrators to occasionally perform a schoolwide assessment. These assessments can range in frequency and in what they cover so long as the assessment accurately gauges how the student body is feeling about bullying at that time. A simple survey may be able to pick up on feelings of fear that are circulating around the school. Administrators may even be able to pick up on hot spots around the school where bullying is happening if they ask students to provide information about parts of the school they feel unsafe at. In this way, administrators can at least learn about where to concentrate staff so that bullying goes down.
Stopping bullying goes beyond just what happens within the wall of a school though. It's also important for teachers and administrators to engage with parents and the surrounding community. It's important to reach out to parents to discuss what's happening at the school and what they can do to help. Sometimes, this may mean having conversations with the parents of students who have been bullied. In other cases, it may mean that administrators and teachers hold conferences with students who have bullied. Keeping an ongoing level of communication between the school and parents is one of the most effective means of addressing these problems early, rather than letting them get out of control. This can be particularly helpful when bullying is spotted, since it may mean the bully is having troubles at home that their parents can address.
Within the community itself, schools can partner with groups like mental health specialists and other neighborhood associations. These groups can provide services, from counseling to role models, that might help to curb bullying behavior or inspire students who have been bullied. Community members can be introduced into the school in such a way that students form powerful partnerships with these people. Bullies can learn from older individuals and see how their behavior will lead them down the wrong path. The bullied can be shown how to respond to bullying and take advantage of school resources so that they don't have to feel scared. Even simply introducing a local police officer into the school for a one day discussion may help to change how students feel about bullying.
When bullying does happen, it's important that schools not avoid addressing the issue. With all members of staff aware of the consequences of bullying, it's important for them to step in and intervene the minute that they see something dangerous happening. If two students look like they're arguing or about to get violent, steps need to be taken to separate the students immediately. Once the two students have been separated, staff need to make sure that everyone is safe. If anyone's become hurt, then they need to be treated immediately. At every step in a bullying incident, it's important to remain calm and document everything that happened.
What staff doesn't want to do is ignore the problem. Ignoring bullying leads to tragedy, with students sometimes going so far as to harm themselves if they feel nobody is helping them get beyond the bullying. A bullied child should be allowed to speak in private about what they saw so that they don't feel pressured by the bully. A bully and the bullied also shouldn't be forced to make up immediately after an incident has happened. This may actually make the bullied feel worse. Instead, they need to be allowed to have time apart while an investigation gets underway. In only a few rare occurrences should the police be brought in, but don't hesitate to get law enforcement if there's a threat of serious injury. If a weapon is involved, sexual abuse is occurring, or some sort of severe physical injury has happened, it's important to get professional help right away.
10 Steps to Combat and Prevent Bullying
Bullying is becoming an epidemic. So how do we stop it? There have been many suggestions over the years, yet bullying is still on the rise. Below are 10 basic, yet proven, steps you can take to combat and prevent bullying in your school, community, and even at home.
- Step 1 - Be Aware and pay attention.
The first and more important step to combating and preventing bullying is being aware that it's a problem and paying attention to warning signs. Parents and teachers must know the warning signs and proactively look for them. The most common warning signs that bullying is occurring and may be a problem include unexplained physical injuries such as cuts, scrapes or bruises, a change in eating habits, anxiety and fear of attending school, avoidance of social situations, and becoming withdrawn, distant or isolated. However, many students who are being bullied try to hide the fact that it's occurring. For this reason, parents and teachers must engage students on a daily basis, encourage open conversation, and pay close attention.
- Step 2 - Recognize it is a problem and don't ignore it.
Bullying is happening in every elementary school, middle school and high school in the United States – and it's getting worse. Bullying is extremely damaging to the emotional, physical and psychological well being of the person getting bullied and those who see it. It causes immediate and lasting effects. It is never harmless. Whenever a student feels the least bit threatened – even if it seems like harmless teasing – take it seriously, assure the student being bullied you're there for them, and that the incident will be taken care of.
- Step 3 - Act immediately.
When you recognize someone is being bullied do something immediately. Don't ever take the attitude "kids will be kids" or "It isn't a big deal". Yes, kids will be kids but bullying, in any form, is a very big deal. Bullying can affect kids for a lifetime. If you're not sure bullying is occuring, intervene anyway and politely remind students of proper behavior, respect and edicate. If you're a teacher, always refer to the anti-bullying policy at your school.
- Step 4 - Remain calm and stay in control.
Intervene, but don't get involved. Don't start arguing with the students. Be respectful and show them what proper behavior is through your example. If physical bullying occurred, make sure no one is hurt. Send bystanders on their way and take the students involved in the bullying to an appropriate place.
- Step 5 - Don't try to sort things out on the spot.
Before you attempt to figure out what happened, separate everyone involved – including witnesses and bystanders – to a safe place where they can be spoken with on a one-on-one basis. Don't allow the students involved to speak with one another, and don't start asking bystanders what they saw at the scene of the incident. Removing all parties involved to a safe place, where they can be questioned alone, will ensure they can tell their side of the story without being concerned about what the other students think or say.
- Step 6 - Don't try and resolve bullying on the spot.
For the sake of the student who was being bullied, and the bystanders, it's important that bullying be dealt with responsibly and according to a school's anti-bullying policy. Making the bully apologize right then and there, and having the person who was bullied shake hands with the bully and make up, just emboldens the bully and makes others feel unprotected from the torment repeatedly administered by the bully. Any bullying should be dealt with by the proper authority and consequences should be administered in accordance with the school's anti-bullying policy. Anything less will not prevent future occurrences and help students feel protected and secure.
- Step 7 - Bystanders need to be held accountable.
Anyone encouraging bullying, or egging a bully on, needs to be held accountable. Students have a responsibility to stop bullying and/or report it immediately. Students need to be taught that any form of bullying is unacceptable and they should report any incident of bullying, teasing, or harassment to an adult or teacher right away.
- Step 8 - Don't pass judgement in haste.
Make sure to hear all sides of a story before coming to any conclusion or passing judgement. It may be that the person who appears to be the bully may in fact be the bullied student retaliating against the bully. In some cases, the person crying for help may actually be the bully. Or an incident may simply be the result of an emotional, psychological or medical condition. Keep an open mind and don't make any assumptions. Wait for all stories to be told, and all facts to come out, before making a judgement.
- Step 9 - Seek professional help if needed.
If an incident of bullying is beyond your comfort level or scope of expertise, don't hesitate to enlist the services of a professional or a colleague with more experience. Don't give advice if you're unsure what advice to give. It may be a good idea to refer students involved in bullying to the principal, nurse, school psychologist, counselor, social work, or even a law enforcement officer.
- Step 10 - Get trained on how to handle situations that involve bullying.
If you're a teacher, counselor, advisor or anyone else who works in a professional capacity with students, you need to learn the correct methods for addressing bullying.
Quite obviously, bullying can be a massive problem. Although it has declined over time, it still affects so many students that it leaves a negative impact on our schools. Student grades start falling and students themselves stop attending school altogether. However, schools can address this by collecting data on what's happening inside of their halls. Partnerships can be formed with community members that inspire students to better behavior or inspire them to find help when they need it. By adopting multiple strategies to bullying, schools can position themselves so that they deal with bullying before it has resulted in anything tragic.