Overview: School Bullying


Children at playgroundAs the safety of U.S. schools has become an important public policy issue, interest in the problem of school bullying has intensified. Research indicates that this type of adolescent victimization occurs frequently, particularly in middle school grades, and can result in serious consequences for both bully and victim. In 2002, a report released by the U.S. Secret Service concluded that bullying played a significant role in many school shootings and that efforts should be made to eliminate bullying behavior. As awareness of harassment, intimidation and bullying in the school setting have grown, state legislatures have been addressing this problem. Consequently, since 2001, all but a few states have enacted legislation of some form to combat bullying.

According to a nationally representative survey conducted by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), approximately 30 percent of American schoolchildren in grades six through 10 have been bullied or have bullied other children "sometimes" or more often within a semester. Bullying generally is defined as aggressive behavior or intentional harm by an individual or group repeated over time that involves an imbalance of power. The act of bullying can take various forms, including physical, verbal and psychological acts. A study conducted in Finland found that boys who frequently are bullied are more than five times more likely to be moderately to severely depressed and four times more likely to be suicidal, while frequently bullied girls are more than three times more likely to be moderately to severely depressed and eight times more likely to be suicidal. In addition, nearly 60 percent of boys who were classified by researchers as bullies in grades six through nine were convicted of at least one crime by the age 24, at which time, 40 percent of them had three or more convictions. Research also indicates that approximately 160,000 students avoid school every day for fear of being bullied.


Ubiquitous technology has given way to cyberbullying, which now is changing the nature of traditional schoolyard bullying. Cyberbullying is defined as cruelty to others by sending or posting harmful material using the Internet or cell phone. Cyberbullying differs from the more traditional forms of bullying in that it can occur at any time, its messages and images can be distributed instantaneously to a wide audience, and perpetrators can remain anonymous, often making them difficult to trace. Although research results vary depending on the age group, definition of cyberbullying, time span and other factors, studies have found that the estimated rate of cyberbullying is between 15 - 30 percent. Research shows that girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying and that the most common method of cyberbullying is through instant messaging, followed by chat rooms, e-mails and messages posted on websites.

The Legislative Response to Bullying

State legislatures continue to articulate in statute that a safe and civil environment in school is necessary for students to learn and achieve high academic standards. Bullying, like other disruptive behaviors, is conduct that disrupts both a student's ability to learn and a school's ability to educate its students in a safe, non threatening environment.

State policies vary widely, although many incorporate at least one, if not more, of the following components to address bullying: statement prohibiting bullying; definition of bullying; state-level support; school intervention strategies; individual reporting and immunity; public school reporting; parental rights; teacher and staff training; prevention task forces and programs; and integrated curriculum instruction.

Additional Resources