Bullying: Time to be proactive in curbing this hate

There's rarely a day that goes by that we don't hear about a bullying or cyberbullying incident. We don't need surveys or statistics to tell us that children are dying from bullycide and parents are struggling for ways to help prevent this peer cruelty.

One survey of 5548 kids said the top reason kids stop bullying is “If the child knew their parents disapproved and how their mom and dad would think about them if they bullied someone.” 

Over the past decade, the link between bullying and suicide has been raised. You have likely read several of the shocking news reports of the tragic loss of a young person’s life. The death of a young person by suicide is indeed a tragic event that leaves parents wondering how did this happen and what could have been done to prevent it?

In response to such events, national campaigns, bullying prevention programs and anti-bullying laws and policies –aimed at getting bullied children the help they need has been established. Currently, there aren’t any federal anti-bullying laws but state and local lawmakers have become more vigilant in taking steps in the right direction. This help is aimed at preventing bullying and to protect the physical, emotional and psychological welfare of our children. To date, 49 states have passed anti-bullying legislation.

Bullying behavior is prevalent and cuts across every socio-economic, racial/ethnic and cultural lines. Bullying has become an epidemic and is an unfortunate experience that many of our young people are forced to endure during their formative years. Bullying often occurs in our communities, schools and sadly-even in our homes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other violence prevention partners have devoted substantial time and energy into learning more about the relationship between bullying and suicide. The goal is to use this knowledge to save lives and prevent future bullying.

In recent years, a series of bullying-related suicides has drawn global attention to the connection between bullying and suicide. According to studies by Yale University, suicide is the third leading cause of death of youth between the ages of 12 and 18 and American high school students report that over the course of one year, 14% had seriously considered suicide, 11% made plans for how they would end their lives and 6% actually attempted to commit suicide.  For every suicide among young people, there are at least 100 suicide attempts. Youth who are bullied are between two to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims. According to statistics reported by ABC News, nearly 30% of students are either bullies or victims of bullying.  Overall, about 25% of students K-12 have experienced harassment or bullying based on disability, sexual orientation, religion, gender and/or race.  All in all, about 160,000 children stay home from school on any given day because they are afraid of intimidation or an attack from bullies.

The implications of bullying are quite chilling because 75% of school-shooting incidents have been linked to bullying and harassment.  Statistics suggest that revenge (due to bullying) is the number one motivator for school shootings in the U.S. What’s even more startling is that over 64% of students who are bullied say they do not report it because they do not feel schools respond adequately.

Know the enemy.

There is no universal definition of bullying. However, it is widely agreed upon that bullying is a subcategory of aggressive behavior characterized by hostile intent, imbalance of power and repetition. Bullying is the activity of repeated and aggressive behavior intended to hurt another individual either physically, mentally or emotionally. When most people think of bullying, they envision some kind of physical intimidation but bullying can take on many forms such as emotional and psychological damage as well as physical intimidation and harassment. There are four general forms of bullying: physical, verbal, social and cyber-bullying. Most bullying behavior occurs at school, either on school grounds or on the school bus. Bullying may even occur at home between siblings or in the community.

The first and most important step to combating and preventing bullying is paying close attention to the warning signs. Many victims feel alone, isolated and humiliated. If left unaddressed, depression, eating disorders, post traumatic stress disorder and even thoughts of suicide may occur.  For this reason, it is important that parents and teachers realize that bullying is not a rite of passage and it will not make victims stronger but instead bullying has lasting consequences and should be dealt with swiftly and effectively.

Bullying Statistics

Here are federal statistics about bullying in the United States. Data sources include the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2019 (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice) and the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).

How Common Is Bullying

About 20% of students ages 12-18 experienced bullying nationwide.
Students ages 12–18 who reported being bullied said they thought those who bullied them:
Had the ability to influence other students’ perception of them (56%).
Had more social influence (50%).
Were physically stronger or larger (40%).
Had more money (31%).

Bullying in Schools

Nationwide, 19% of students in grades 9–12 report being bullied on school property in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The following percentages of students ages 12-18 had experienced bullying in various places at school:

Hallway or stairwell (43.4%)
Classroom (42.1%)
Cafeteria (26.8%)
Outside on school grounds (21.9%)
Online or text (15.3%)
Bathroom or locker room (12.1%)
Somewhere else in the school building (2.1%)

Approximately 46% of students ages 12-18 who were bullied during the school year notified an adult at school about the bullying.


Among students ages 12-18 who reported being bullied at school during the school year, 15 % were bullied online or by text.

An estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Types of Bullying

Students ages 12-18  experienced  various types of bullying, including:

Being the subject of rumors or lies (13.4%)
Being made fun of, called names, or insulted (13.0%)
Pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on (5.3%)
Leaving out/exclusion (5.2%)
Threatened with harm (3.9%)
Others tried to make them do things they did not want to do (1.9%)
Property was destroyed on purpose (1.4%)

Understanding Five Types of Bullying

1. Verbal bullying . Perpetrators of this type of bullying use words or statements to intentionally cause a target pain or distress. Name-calling, making fun of the person, and delivering put-downs, racial slurs, hurtful comments, taunts, threatening statements, or insulting are all forms of verbal bullying. The intent is to use verbal means to belittle, demean, and hurt another person. Many adults say that verbal abuse has the least serious consequences on kids, but new research shows otherwise. Students with special needs are the most frequently targeted with verbal taunts for their differences in appearance or abilities. If taunts are discriminatory or aimed at insulting a child’s race or culture, the bullying is sometimes called prejudicial bullying.

2. Physical bullying. This form is using physical power like pushing, socking, slamming, punching, hitting, slapping, shoving, grabbing, or spitting to gain control over targets and cause harm. Physical bullying is the easiest form of bullying to identify, yet it is actually the least common type on school campuses.

3. Relational aggression (sometimes called emotional or social bullying). This is an insidious form of bullying that often goes unnoticed because it is more covert, subtle, or manipulative in nature, and the methods are cold and calculated. The intent is to emotionally harm another child by attacking their relationships with other people. Shunning, excluding, or ostracizing a child from his or her friends; spreading rumors or mean gossip; threatening to stop talking to a friend (giving “the silent treatment”); creating situations to publicly humiliate a child; and trying to ruin someone’s reputation are ways that young people engage in relational aggression to try to increase their own social standing.

4. Electronic bullying (also called cyberbullying). Using any electronic device (such as a cell phone, camera, tablet, or computer) and/or the Internet to say or send mean or embarrassing statements about a person constitutes cyberbullying. While many people believe that electronic bullying is the most common type of bullying today, studies find the opposite: fewer students are bullied electronically than in person. Two large national surveys found that a higher percentage of students reporting in-person bullying than cyberbullying.

5. Sexual bullying. Also called sexual harassment, this form of bullying consists of intentionally saying or doing repeated harmful, humiliating, lewd, or disrespectful statements or actions that are sexual in nature. It could include name-calling (“slut” “whore”), vulgar gestures, uninvited touches, bra-snapping, or crude comments about someone’s appearance, sexual development, or sexual activity. Many states include statutes ruling that sexual harassment is against the law.

The 6R's of Bullying Prevention

1. Rules. Establish an anti-bullying policy and expectations for respect.

2. Recognize. Teach stakeholders how to recognize bullying.

3. Report. Create procedures to report bullying.

4. Respond. Teach student witnesses to respond to bullying.

5. Refuse. Help targets refuse provocation and cope with victimization.

6. Replace. Help students replace aggression with acceptable skills.

The bullies, meanwhile, need help just as much as the bullied. It’s easy to demonize them, but we should all realize that 1) they’re troubled, and 2) they may just be our kids. A recent study showed that most children bully others at some point. Over a third of kids surveyed said they bullied at a moderate level throughout school. And bullies suffer from their misdeeds: just like their victims, they have an increased risk of depression and suicide; in addition, they are more likely to be convicted of crimes in adulthood.

The problem of bullying doesn’t end with graduation, either: a recent survey showed that 37% of American workers reported being bullied on the job. These adult bullies’ assaults may be more subtle, but being terrorized emotionally can wreak even more long-term havoc than being punched. Workplace bullying has been found to be more emotionally damaging than sexual harassment, possibly because sexual-harassment victims have more recourse. Verbal and psychological abuse can cause workers to spiral into depression and even leave their jobs. Some states are pursuing anti-bullying legislation to protect workers, but just as in schools, a bullying environment is often seen as part of the workplace culture. It’s how things are, and if you can’t take the heat, you know where to go.

It’s this acceptance of bullying that leads to its pervasiveness. The culture has to see bullying as a problem of society, not just a youthful problem that will go away. We need to look at systemic reasons why people are perpetrating violence.

The increasing problem of workplace bullying shows how true this is. Bullying doesn’t go away: it changes. And no matter when it occurs, it can have a devastating effect on all parties.

Never doubt the emotional impact bullying can have on a child or teenager. We frequently talk about the rise of incivility in our country, not only with young people, but adults alike, isn't it time to be proactive in curbing this hate?

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