School Bullying Has Decreased During the COVID-19 Pandemic, but Schools Should Prepare for Its Return
Remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted many facets of students’ school experiences. Although many parents, educators, and other stakeholders have sounded the alarm on the potential negative learning and mental health outcomes, the shift to virtual schooling may have also benefited some students—particularly those who have experienced bullying by their peers. Nationally representative data for 2020 and 2021 are not yet available, but several smaller data collections suggest that bullying significantly decreased during the pandemic. As students return to in-person schooling, school leaders must take active steps to prevent a resurgence of bullying behaviors.
Recent data from the Cyberbullying Research Center show that, in 2021, 23 percent of 13- to 17-year-old students reported experiencing bullying and 7 percent reported bullying others. These rates represent a significant decrease from 2019, when 51 percent reported experiencing bullying and 12 percent reported bullying others. Additionally, by studying trends in Google search data, a team of Boston University researchers found that searches for bullying and cyberbullying dropped approximately 30 to 40 percent in Spring 2020—the time of the transition to remote learning. Notably, as American schools have returned to in-person learning, bullying search trends are returning to their pre-pandemic levels.
These studies parallel other data collected by Child Trends, in partnership with the DC Office of Human Rights, which oversees implementation of Washington, DC’s bullying prevention law. For school year 2020-2021, DC schools recorded just one-tenth the number of reports of bullying as the year prior (152 in 2020-2021 vs. 1,344 in 2019-2020). Some respondents to the data collection noted that their relative inability to track bullying during remote learning might explain some of the reductions, while others observed that the virtual classroom limited the amount of unsupervised interaction between students.