Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Just How Prevalent Is Bullying?

The headline from an August 16, 2016 Detroit Free Press article reads: Study: Michigan Worst State for Bullying in U.S. The study, from WalletHub.com, had used several different metrics to determine that Michigan had the biggest bullying problem in the nation, metrics that included estimates of the cost of truancy, bullying prevalence, bullying impact and treatment, and anti-bullying legislature.

Teasing out the issue of prevalence gives us three basic questions:  How widespread is the bullying problem? As children get older, how does bullying change?  At what age does bullying peak?

  1. Last year, 20.2% of American high school students reported being bullied on school property and 15.5% reported being cyberbullied. In Michigan, 25.6% reported being bullied on school property and 18.8% reported being cyberbullied (2015 Youth Risk Behavior Survey). In other words, one of every five American teens and one of every four Michigan teens are bullied.
  2. Bullying changes with age, growing in frequency through elementary and middle school and decreasing in high school. Incidents of verbal, social and cyberbullying become more frequent as children age, while physical bullying decreases(SAMSA/PREVNet). Furthermore, girls engage in social (relational) bullying behaviors earlier than boys. Because bullying behavior changes with age, intervention and prevention efforts must reflect these changes to be most effective.
  3. Finally, bullying peaks as children move into adolescence. Puberty, social skill development, and school transitions "provide the opportunity for both positive social interactions and social deception" (SAMSA/PREVNet).  As physical bullying decreases, other more social forms of bullying increase. With 28% of American middle school students reporting bullying incidents, while only high school students report 20.2%, it appears that bullying peaks in middle school. (stopbullying.gov)
We have clear evidence that bullying remains a major issue for 20-28% of our children/young people. With this sense of urgency, we might consider spending more time being responsive and proactive in intervention and prevention, instead of waiting for yet another discouraging headline.

Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic. ~Steven Covey

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