A recent spate of suicides linked to bullying at school and in cyberspace (using email, Facebook, and text messages, for example – a form of bullying known as “cyberbullying”) have drawn public attention to this growing problem among teens. The latest data on teens ages 12 to 18 suggest that bullying at school has increased, with the percent of teens reporting having been bullied during school (in school, on school property, on a school bus, or going to and from school) rising from 14 percent in 2001 to 32 percent in 2007. Among these students, about 4 out of 5 report being bullied inside the school building.
This October marks the sixth annual Bullying Awareness Prevention Month, a campaign introduced to raise awareness and inspire action across communities nationwide to prevent and stop bullying however, complementary anti-bullying efforts are most likely needed. The federal government seems to agree. Recently, the U.S. Department of Education gave federal funds to 11 states for activities under the Safe and Supportive Schools competitive grant program, which requires the administration of a survey to measure school climate and the implementation of evidence-based interventions to promote a positive school climate, including school safety, and to combat bullying.
These grants will build upon other recent national efforts. Last summer, the Department of Education hosted the first-ever National Bullying Summit and the StopBullying.gov website was launched. Recently, the Health Resources and Services Administration launched a campaign called “Stop Bullying Now!” This past March, the White House hosted the first-ever White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, weeks after a series of suicides (or “bullycides”) committed as a result of alleged incidents of bullying. The majority of teens involved in these incidents were gay and lesbian, heightening public attention to the problem of bullying of homosexual youth and to the association between being bullied, depression, and suicidal behavior (for more on this, go to GLSEN). Most recently, the Office of Adolescent Health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a series of fact sheets with the latest data on national and state bullying as part of its efforts to support healthy relationships for adolescents.
In this context, it is critical to identify and share approaches that show the most promise for being able to effectively combat bullying in schools. To this end, Child Trends is currently conducting a review of bullying prevention programs to be released in early 2012. It will join similar syntheses of evaluation literature found on Child Trends’ website at www.childtrends.org/whatworks. The bullying synthesis will draw from out-of-school time programs evaluated using intent-to-treat, randomized-controlled trials and present information about programs and practices found to prevent or stop bullying.
Assessments are also important. To intervene most effectively, educators and parents must also be able to identify signs of bullying and assess whether bullying is affecting their students or children. School climate assessment tools that include measures of bullying are available at safesupportiveschools.ed.gov. Hopefully, through ongoing assessment and the implementation of evidence-based programs and policies, the upward trend can be reversed. Only time will tell.
Mary Terzian, Research Scientist