“Researchers found that bullying at any age was associated with worse mental and physical health, increased depressive symptoms and lower self-worth. Participants who experienced chronic bullying also reported increased difficulties in physical activities like walking, running or participating in sports. Those who experienced bullying in the past and were also experiencing bullying in the present showed the lowest health scores.”
Boston Children’s Hospital Study (February 2014)
What once was considered part of growing up continues to be a hot topic to policy makers, administrators, and educators, as well as students and their families. And for good reason; incidents of bullying have demonstrated its potentially devastating effects on students, schools, and communities and have sparked a sense of urgency among State and local educators and policymakers to take action to combat bullying.
The stakes are high – research shows that students who are bullied are more likely to struggle in school and skip class. They are also more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, be depressed, and are at higher risk of suicide. However, coming up with a workable model to prevent bullying is challenging. The approaches vary across states and as applied by school districts. New Hampshire and Vermont, while geographically close, have different takes on bullying prevention.
New Hampshire has an anti-bullying statute, which also covers cyberbullying. This law requires school districts to notify parents of suspected bullying, investigate concerns and complaints, and take appropriate action to stop the bullying. It also requires each district to develop procedures for reporting incidents of bullying and for investigating these reports. Unfortunately, the anti-bullying law in New Hampshire does not have effective tools for enforcement. If a district violates the bullying statute, for example, by not notifying the parents of suspected bullying, the statute states very clearly that the district cannot be sued for this violation.
Vermont also has an anti-bullying statute, which also covers cyberbullying. Vermont law states that it is state policy for all Vermont educational institutions provide safe, orderly, civil and positive learning environments. Under this policy, each school board must develop, adopt and ensure the enforcement of harassment, hazing and bullying prevention policies that must be at least as stringent as the model policy on the prevention of harassment, hazing and bullying of students as developed by the Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Education. Each district must also develop and implement a procedure for reporting complaints of bullying and a procedure to investigate such reports. The policy and procedures must then be made available to students, parents or guardians and staff members. Once a report of bullying has been investigated, the district must then enact remedial action, if appropriate. The remedial action includes some very strong measures, including removal of staff or students. Unlike New Hampshire, there is no language in the Vermont statute that bars legal action against a school district for its failure to enforce its bullying prevention policy.
These differences in approach highlight how policy makers and educators connected to unique locales propose different solutions to similar school-based problems. Through statute, state education regulations, and model policies for school districts, each state has a varied approach to addressing incidents of bullying.
In an effort to provide some consistency in approach, the U.S. Department of Education reviewed state laws and identified 11 key components (Dec. 2010) common among many of those laws and model policies. But the US DOE has not gone so far as to provide a workable model that can be applied across states. There is no federal anti-bullying law.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, efforts to combat bullying are having an impact. Based on data reported in the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, which collects data on bullying by asking students ages 12–18 if they had been bullied at school during the school year, the percentage of students who reported being bullied at school during the school year decreased from 28 percent in 2005 to 21 percent in 2015. However, much of the decline occurred between 2007 and 2013. From 2013-2015, the percentages were relatively unchanged. Read More.
Anti-bullying proponents suggest these statistics may not be accurate because bullying victims often feel alone, and they may not report bullying because they feel that no one would believe them or do anything to help them. They point to alternative statistics that offer some 48% of school aged children report they have been bullied at some point and as many as one-third never tell an adult about their victimization. Based on these varying perspectives, it’s clear that the national picture related to bullying is somewhat unclear. Read More.
Statistics aside, all can agree that bullying can have devastating impacts on students. According to a Boston Children’s Hospital study, “Bullying: Negative impact on a child’s health may remain for years” (17 February 2014), bullying was associated with worse mental and physical health, greater depression symptoms, and lower self-worth over time. The study stressed the importance of early intervention. In order to stop bullying researchers recommend educators intervene and be aware of the need to intervene again, even if the bullying is not ongoing, to address the persistent effects. Read More.
“There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to addressing bullying,” the report concludes. “But providing teachers, parents and clinicians with best-practices that are evidence-based could better assist those at the frontlines helping children cope with this serious problem and lessen the damage it causes.”