U.S. Education Department survey: School bullying on the decline

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education announced survey results showing that school bullying is on the decline. Here’s a snippet of an Associated Press piece (via the Boston Globe):

The Education Department announced survey results Friday that found 22 percent of students age 12 to 18 said they were bullied in 2013. The figure, down 6 percentage points from 2011, is the lowest level since the National Center for Education Statistics began surveying students in 2005.

Could it be that a combination of public education, legal and policy responses, and greater attention by educational stakeholders is making a difference?

Research support

Buttressing these efforts is a growing body of research. For example, the American Psychological Association’s membership journal, American Psychologist, is devoting an issue to a collection of articles examining 40 years of research on school bullying:

A special issue of American Psychologist® provides a comprehensive review of over 40 years of research on bullying among school age youth, documenting the current understanding of the complexity of the issue and suggesting directions for future research.

. . . The special issue consists of an introductory overview . . . by [Shelley Hymel and Susan Swearer], co-directors of the Bullying Research Network, and five articles on various research areas of bullying including the long-term effects of bullying into adulthood, reasons children bully others, the effects of anti-bullying laws and ways of translating research into anti-bullying practice.

Implications for adult and workplace bullying

I dearly hope that this is firm trend. We know that bullying of school-age children can have lasting effects going well into adulthood. Furthermore, kids who become aggressors will sometimes continue those behaviors in family and workplace settings as they grow older.

In terms of looking at school anti-bullying efforts as a whole, perhaps we’re seeing the cumulative effect of many different initiatives. This would make sense. Bullying is not a purely individual phenomenon, and it requires multiple, intersecting, interacting responses to reduce its frequency.

Moreover, those of us in the workplace anti-bullying movement can draw lessons from measures to prevent and respond to bullying in other social contexts. School and workplace bullying have similarities and differences, but ultimately we’re talking about variations on a theme.

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