What can recent research teach us about bullying?
Bullying is increasingly being studied as people search for a way to stop bullying. Whether it is bullying in schools, cyberbullying, physical or verbal, what we now know is that bullying is not only traumatic for the victim, it causes long term mental harm.
Victims aren’t the ones who suffer. Bullies are also at higher risk for depression, legal problems and more. So let’s take a look at some of the most recent research and discuss what this information might mean for those of us committed to helping kids being bullied.
The first set of statistics comes from Sears’ Team Up to Stop Bullying Website: http://www.sears.com/anti-bullying-statistics/dap-120000000283435
First, notice 98% of all kids polled want teachers to intervene. However, 1 in 4 teachers don’t think bullying is a problem and only intervene 4% of the time. This would explain why 85% of all bullying is consequence free, meaning, the bully got away with it. Is it any wonder why kids stop reporting?
If you have read my book, you understand how important creating consistent consequences are to getting bullying to stop.
When bullies are first challenged, it will likely trigger what is known as an extinction burst. In order for the bully to cycle through the extinction burst to the point that they stop bullying, they need to not be rewarded for their bad behavior ever. This means, their victims need to report them every time and the teachers and administrators need to provide a consequence to the bully every time. It is in everyone’s best interest to do this because bullies who are allowed to get away with it and who become chronic abusers are 60% more likely to have been charged with a crime by age 24 than their peers! They are also more likely to become physically or sexually abusive to their female partners. The social cost of allowing bullies to bully and not making a systematic effort to help them stop is enormous.
If we are going to get bullying to stop, one of the things we need to do is make sure teachers are taught how to recognize bullying, talk about bullying and what sorts of consequences work to retrain bullies to stop. If you are a teacher reading this – resolve to take all reports of bullying serious and work within the school to change the culture so that the overwhelming majority of bullying activity is caught and consequences given.
Another bullying statistic from that same page and it is the fact that 43% of kids are afraid to use the bathroom or locker room because they are afraid of bullying. That’s almost half of all kids! If we know where the problem spots are – we can make sure staff is there to monitor those areas. No child should be afraid to use the bathroom!
The Reporting Problem
The next set of bullying statistics comes from the American Psychological Association – http://www.apa.org/education/k12/bullying.aspx
Basically it comes down to this – 70% of kids will be bullied at some point in their school career. In any given year about 40% of kids are bullied. 10 to 15% of them are chronically bullied. Only about 7 to 10% of the kids are chronic bullies. But here is the kicker 85% of LGBT youth are bullied every year. They are among our highest risk population.
If we can erase the stigma of being bullied, it will help kids find the courage to speak up and report it. Much of the reason why kids don’t report is because they are embarrassed that this is happening to them and they don’t realize or believe anyone can help them because they have been taught – via the statistics above, that nothing can be done because adults don’t intervene or follow up like they should. If we want to increase reporting, help kids feel less alone, we need to start young and make it clear to them, reporting is worthwhile. We need to reward reporting even though this may cause some over reporting.
However, of the two, over-reporting is much preferred over underreporting. Under-reporting allows bullying to occur and children suffer. Over reporting provides an opportunity for teachers and counselors to teach compassionate non-violent conflict resolution. And, if it turns out that bullying is occurring, over reporting will definitely trigger an extinction burst and it will be easier for administrators and teachers to see what is happening and deal with it appropriately. The key is to make sure all allegations are investigated properly and that kids understand the process will be fair to them regardless of what side of the complaint they are on.
The Problem of Popularity
The final bit of research on bullying I want to share is a report on research out of UC Davis – http://healthland.time.com/2011/02/08/do-popular-kids-bully-more/ which looked into the popularity of bullies. It turns out that a desire to be popular is equated with more aggressive behavior, but that this aggression does not equate to popularity, though there is a perception amongst kids that the mean kids are popular. But this is largely a function of the fact that no one is speaking out against them so everyone assumes other people agree with them. And this brings us back to the just how important bystanders are. If bystanders stand up and tell bullies what they are doing isn’t ok – it will stigmatize bullying and kids who are worried about being popular and therefore who are more prone to aggression will have to develop other social skills to achieve their real goal of social acceptance.
What was most interesting about this is that the top 2% and the bottom 2% in the social hierarchy aren’t likely to engage in bullying. And most important for my child, kids that bridge the gender gap, while subject to teasing when younger, become very valuable when they get older and kids are looking for bridges to help them access the other gender for the sake of romance. I liked that bit of the research the best.
Anyway to conclude – we really need to actively make a point to positively reinforce reporting when kids are young and we need staff who take action on these reports so that kids learn a) you can get help when you report and b) kids who bully learn, they can’t get away with it.
Maybe with a little bit of work we can make school bathrooms safer places to be.