October is Bullying Prevention Month

Every year during the month of October, students, teachers, parents, and school administrators unite to raise awareness about bullying. Bullying Prevention Month was first organized in 1999 as an initiative of Love Our Children USA, a non-profit dedicated to ending violence and neglect against children in all its forms. In 2003, Love Our Children founder Ross Ellis created STOMP Out Bullying to focus attention specifically on bullying among youth and in schools.

The primary objectives of National Bullying Prevention Month are:

  • Reducing and preventing bullying, cyberbullying, sexting and other digital abuse
  • Educating against homophobia, racism, and hatred
  • Deterring violence in schools, online, and in communities across the country.

To achieve these goals, organizers at STOMP Out Bullying provide free resources that help all members of every community:

  • Teach effective solutions on how to respond to all forms of bullying
  • Educate kids and teens in school and online about bullying
  • Provide support for those in need and at risk of suicide
  • Create peer mentoring programs in schools
  • Engage in the awareness effort on social media

Before we go any further, we should offer a clear definition of bullying. Most of us know bullying when we see or experience it, but it’s useful to know exactly what we’re talking about.

Bullying Defined

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released a report called “Bullying Surveillance Among Youths: Uniform Definitions for Public Health and Recommended Data Elements” that addressed the need to formulate a working definition of bullying and offer key statistics on both bullying prevalence and the long-term consequences of all forms of bullying.

Here’s how the experts at the CDC define bullying:

“Bullying is any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths who are not siblings or current dating partners that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated. Bullying may inflict harm or distress on the targeted youth including physical, psychological, social, or educational harm.”

Modes of Bullying

The CDC goes on to identify two modes of bullying:

  • Direct bullying is aggressive behavior that occurs in the presence of the targeted individual. Direct aggression includes, but is not limited to, face-to-face behaviors like pushing, hitting, or shoving, as well as verbal or written communication designed to inflict harm or distress on the targeted individual.
  • Indirect bullying is aggressive behavior that targets an individual but does not happen face-to-face. Indirect aggression includes, but is not limited to, communicating false and/or harmful rumors among peers or via electronic media such as texting, instant messages, or social media posts.

Types of Bullying

In addition to the two modes of bullying – direct and indirect – the CDC identifies four distinct types of bullying:

  1. Physical. Physical bullying is the use of physical force by the bullying individual against the targeted individual, including but not limited to hitting, kicking, punching, tripping, pushing, and spitting.
  2. Verbal. Verbal bullying is the use of oral or written communication by the bullying individual toward the targeted individual including but not limited to taunting, name calling, threatening, or making inappropriate sexual comments and/or gestures.
  3. Relational. Relational bullying refers to behavior by the bullying individual designed to damage the reputation or relationships of the target individual. This type of bullying can be direct – i.e. intentionally isolating or attempting to exclude the target individual from peers – or indirect – i.e. spreading rumors, images, or derogatory comments in a public space, whether electronic or brick-and-mortar.
  4. Property Damage. Bullying via property damage is the theft, alteration, or damage, by the bullying individual, of personal property that belongs to the targeted individual. This includes but is not limited to taking property, destroying it in the presence of the targeted individual, or deleting/changing electronic information.

These definitions are important for several reasons. First, they offer a framework within which all forms of intimidation or harassment can be understood. Second, they give students, parents and teachers the vocabulary to label types of bullying – such as relational bullying – that are common, but not immediately obvious, apparent, or visible to an outside observer. Finally, the report itself – see the link above – presents standardized, detailed reporting criteria and methods for identifying, documenting, and reporting bullying.

Next, we’ll offer brief statistics on bullying prevalence and the long-term consequences of bullying behavior.

Bullying in the United States: Prevalence

Data published by the CDC for 2017 indicates that:

  • 20% of high school students reported being bullied in the previous 12 months.
  • 14% of public schools report that bullying happens at least once a week:
    • 28% of middle schools
    • 16% of high schools
    • 12% of combined middle/high schools
    • 9% of elementary schools
  • Cyberbullying is real, and on the rise:
    • 33% of middle schoolers report being cyber-bullied
    • 30% of high schoolers report being cyber-bullied
    • 20% of students in combined schools report being cyber-bullied
    • 5% of students in elementary school report being cyber-bullied

The data on cyberbullying is important to recognize. The last major report on bullying, published in 2014, showed that cyberbullying occurred about half as much as traditional bullying. The data above reveal that cyberbullying is increasing, and may be more prevalent than traditional bullying.

The Consequences of Bullying

Research shows that bullying – both for the bullying individual and the target individual – can have long-term physical, psychological, and emotional consequences. Youth who are bullied are at increased risk of:

Youth who bully others are at increased risk of:

  • Substance use
  • Academic problems
  • Experiencing violence as adolescents or adults

Also, studies show that students who bully others and experience bullying are at increased risk of all the emotional and behavioral problems listed above.

What You Can Do

The first thing any parent, student, teacher, or school administrator can do is convey the message that bullying behavior can cause physical, psychological, and emotional damage to both the bullying individual and the target individual. A comprehensive CDC resource package shows the most effective ways to prevent bullying are:

  1. Promoting safe and healthy home, family, and community environments
  2. Providing quality early education that engages the family
  3. Teaching young children social and emotional skills
  4. Creating mentoring and after-school programs where youth can connect with positive adult role models
  5. Intervening in a bullying incident when it’s occurring.

Education, communication, and support are the most important pieces of this puzzle. However, that last bullet point is essential: data shows that when an adult or peer intervenes in a bullying incident, the incident stops quickly over 60% of the time. Therefore, if you see something, do something: taking action benefits the bullying target, the bullying individual, and the community.