Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Is Bullying Really an Issue?

Increasingly, I am asked to speak to parent groups about bullying awareness, prevention, and intervention. Before one presentation last spring, a gentleman came up to me and said that while he appreciated my coming, he wanted me to know up front that he did not believe that bullying is a problem. He went on to say that we have become too sensitive as a society and that our young people needed to toughen up. 
I responded to his comments with a simple question, "How do you know that bullying isn't a problem?" He tilted his head and said, "I guess I don't know."

For the record, bullying is a problem, and we do have the data to support that. The quickest way to see national and state statistics is by looking at results from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, given every two years to our nation's 10th-grade students. The national results from 2015 YRBS results regarding bullying are as follows:

  • 20.2% of American high school students reported being bullied on school property during the 12 months before the survey.
  • 15.5% were electronically bullied, counting being bullied through email, chat rooms, instant messaging, Web sites, or texting during the 12 months before the survey. 

Knowing national and state statistics will confirm that a problem exists. However, we need much more information in order to determine the best course of action to resolve the problem.

Staff and student surveys provide much of this information. Research- and evidence-based programs such as Bully-Free Schools and the gold standard for bullying prevention programs, Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, provide these diagnostic tools. Students from upper elementary to high school and their school staff respond to questions about witnessing bullying, identifying types and locations of incidents, and being targets themselves.

The results from these surveys can be used in several ways. They can help us develop specific action plans, such as to increase monitoring in areas identified as hot spots. The results also provide baseline data for evaluating the effectiveness of the bullying prevention initiative. Most importantly, being able to place student perception next to staff perception reminds us that we can be ignorant of bullying happening right in our vicinity.

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. 
 ~Nathaniel Branden

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