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Prevalence of School Bullying in Santa Barbara: How Parents Can Help

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

Public school students in most school districts in California take the California Healthy Kids Survey every year. This is a confidential, anonymous self-report survey that asks elementary and secondary school students about safety at school, support, academic involvement, substance use, and mental health issues.

Many of the questions ask students about their experiences of bullying and harassment on school property. Below are some highlights of the data taken from the survey administered to Santa Barbara high school students in 2018-2019:

  • More than 40% of students in Santa Barbara, on average, feel their school is “safe”. However, about 30% describe their school as being “neither safe nor unsafe.”
  • 24% of 10th graders experienced harassment in 2018/2019.
  • 22% of 11th graders experienced harassment in 2018/2019
  • 17% of 12th graders experienced harassment in 2018/2019
  • On average, 11% of high schoolers have had rumors or mean lies spread about them at least once.
  • An average of 19% of high schoolers have had sexual jokes, comments, or gestures made to them.

Spotlight on High School Freshmen

In general, high school freshmen report bullying more often than students in any other grade.

  • 25% of 9th graders said they’ve experienced bullying in the 2018-2019 school year
  • During the past year, 16% of freshmen have been pushed, shoved, slapped, hit, or kicked by a peer on school property who “wasn’t just kidding around” at least once.
  • 13% has been afraid of “getting beaten up.”
  • 14% had their property stolen or deliberately damaged at least once
  • 20% of freshmen and juniors say they were cyberbullied at least once in the past year.
  • 5% of freshmen have been bullied four or more times.

Here are the reasons they cite as to why they were bullied:

  • 24% of freshmen say they were made fun of because of their looks or the way they talk.
  • 11% of them say they were bullied because of their race or national origin.
  • 7% say it’s because they’re gay or lesbian, or someone thought they were.

Why School Bullying is a Problem

Adults always need to take bullying and harassment seriously. Evidence shows that adolescents and teens who experience bullying have higher rates of social isolation, anxiety, depression, behavior disorders, and substance use disorders. Additionally, youth who bully others are at increased risk of substance use, academic problems, and violence as adults.

What Parents and Teens Can Do About Bullying

If you’re a teen who’s being bullied, read our article here on How to Stop Your Bully. If you’re the parent of a child who’s being bullied, or bullies others, it’s important to take action. Read our article here about why some kids bully others, and what you can do about it. Or continue reading this article – we’ll briefly summarize both those articles for you now.

When Peers Bully Your Teen

Data shows that most bullying occurs at school, so that’s where we’ll start: with bullying that occurs in school.

Teens bullied at school can take these steps:

  1. Ignore the bully. Bullies thrive on the reaction they get from the person they bully and the peers who witness the bullying. Therefore, when a teen comes face to face with their bully in the hallway or classroom, ignoring the bully completely – as if they don’t exist – can defuse the situation.
  2. Walk away. After ignoring the bully, walking away defuses the situation completely. This applies inside a classroom, too.  If bullying happens during class, they can get up and move. If the teacher asks why, they can tell the teacher exactly why: bullying. This brings us to our next tip.
  3. Involve teachers and administrators. Most schools these days take bullying seriously. Teens who feel they may lose the respect of their peers by involving adults in the situation should understand that in the long run, the benefits of involving adults far outweigh the drawbacks – and those peers who judge them for seeking support were most likely not positive peers in the first place.

It may be difficult for a teen to take these steps, but they work. The third point is critical. Bullies tend to stop bullying when teachers and administrators know about it. This is especially true when their parents get a call from the Assistant Principal for Discipline. Also, it’s important to note that peers can prevent bullying as much as adults can. Evidence shows that when peers step in, bullying often stops immediately.

When Your Teen Bullies Others

Parents who learn from other parents or school administrators need to take it seriously. There are three initial steps to take:

  1. Acknowledge the behavior is happening and it needs to be addressed.
  2. Accept the fact that your teen may need help and support to work through the issues that cause them to bully.
  3. Engage with all relevant parties. That means teachers, parents, school administrators, but most importantly, their child.

Next, parents of a child who engages in bullying should look at bullying as a behavior that needs to be modified. The most effective way to stop bullying involves collaboration between parents, the school, and your child.

Here’s what parents can do if they find out their teen bullies others:

  • Communicate. Talk openly and honestly and make it clear bullying is not acceptable.
  • Reassure. Parents should remind their teen that they’re on their side and support them. They don’t support the behavior, but they support the child in working through and past the behavior.
  • Find the Cause. Validate their emotions and try to find the root emotions that cause the bullying, then work on developing productive coping strategies.
  • Develop an Action Plan. Parents should be clear about consequences or outcomes if the bullying continues: they may revoke privileges such as screen time or access to their phone or the internet.
  • Teach Social and Emotional Skills. Prioritize empathy, compassion, and understanding of how their actions affect others. These are the building blocks of positive peer relationships.

If a teen has serious problems handling emotions like anger or has difficulty controlling harmful impulses, then parents should consider seeking the support of a mental health professional, such as a licensed and credentialed child psychologist or psychiatrist. They can determine if a mental health disorder is at the root of the bullying behavior – and if that’s the case, they can offer the help and support they need.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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