New data on bullying: 17% report regular abuse [The Washington Post, by Valerie Strauss, 20/10/2010]

New data on bullying released today show that 17 percent of American students report being bullied two to three times a month or more within a school semester, with girls and boys having similar rates.

The information was gleaned from an anonymous survey of 524,054 U.S. students in grades 3 through 12, and it comes when bullying is in the news because of a series of suicides by young gays who had been bullied.

The survey was conducted by Dan Olweus (pronounced Ol-VEY-us), who is considered the founding father of research on bully/victim issues. It is being released by the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

The program for elementary, junior high and middle schools that he created is aimed at preventing and/or reducing bullying and is designed to improve peer relations and make schools safer places. (You can find reports analyzing different bullying programs here.)

Researchers say that the approach, which involves every adult and student in the class and helps teach students how to safely not be bystanders when bullying occurs, has been shown to have the strongest and most long-lasting improvements.

The co-author of the analysis is Susan P. Limber. Here is some of the information released today:

Being bullied

  • 17 percent of students indicated that they had been bullied with some frequency (two to three times per month or more within the school semester).
  • There were similar rates for girls (16 percent) and boys (17 percent).
  • Bullying is most prevelant in third grade, when almost 25 percent of students reported being bullied two, three or more times a month. The rate slowly declines each year through 12th grade, when about 12 percent of boys and less than 10 percent of girls reported being bullied.Bullying others
  • 10 percent of students indicated they had bullied others with some frequency (two to three times per month or more within the semester).
  • Boys (12 percent) were more likely than girls (7 percent) to indicate they had bullied others.How long has the bullying lasted?
  • For students who have been bullied, significant numbers reported being bullied for long periods:
  • 16 percent of girls boys reported having been bullied for about a year.
  • 23 percent of girls and 30 percent of boys said they had been bullied for several years.
  • Bystander behavior
  • When asked what they feel when they see a student their age being bullied, the vast majority of students (83 percent) indicated that they feel sorry for the bullied student (90 percent of girls, 75 percent of boys).
  • Students were asked, “How do you usually react if you see or learn that a student your age is being bullied?” and had the following responses:

    I have never noticed that students my age have been bullied.
    Girls: 24 percent. Boys: 30 percent.

    I take part in the bullying.
    Girls: 1 percent. Boys: 3 percent.

    I don’t do anything but think it is OK.
    Girls: 1 percent. Boys: 2 percent.

    I just watch what goes on.
    Girls: 9 percent. Boys: 14 percent.

    I don’t do anything, but I think I ought to help the bullied students.
    Girls: 30 percent. Boys: 22 percent.

    I try to help the bullied student.
    Girls: 35 percent. Boys: 29 percent.

    More than 40 states have some sort of law that makes bullying illegal, yet, as the statistics show, the harassment of young kids by their classmates remains common.

    Clearly laws alone can’t get the job done. Parents have to be involved, and so do schools.

    A school-wide assembly to discuss bullying won’t work. Schools that are serious about reducing bullying implement programs that involve every adult in the school, from the principal to the janitors, and spend time once a week engaging students in discussion and activities to understand the problem and learn how to deal with it.

    This is not a topic that we hear our education leaders talk about very much, except when someone dies.

    If we want kids to feel safe enough in schools to do well academically, bullying is a topic that should no longer be ignored.