Fewer youth report seeking help when targeted by peer violence

Research shows that most young people don’t turn to others for help after they’ve experienced bullying or dating abuse.

Those who care about the health and well-being of young people hope that kids would immediately turn to them for assistance after being targeted by bullying, harassment or other forms of violence. However, research from the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center indicates that very few youth actually seek this kind of help.

The Institute’s recent study examined technology, bullying and dating violence in the lives of 5,647 middle and high school-aged students. Seventeen percent of the youth surveyed indicated they had been targets of cyberbullying and  41 percent said they were targets of physical bullying. Additionally,  45 percent reported they were targets of psychological bullying. Of the teens who were currently in a dating relationship, 26 percent indicated they had been the targets of digital dating abuse and harassment. Thirty percent said they were targets of physical violence, 47 percent experienced psychological abuse and 13 percent experienced sexual coercion.

The study also asked these young people whether they had sought help afterwards and what kinds of sources they reached out to. Of those young people targeted by bullying behaviors, only one-out-of-six reported seeking help, with the most common help sources listed as parents, friends, school counselors and teachers. The Youth Voice Project study from Pennsylvania State University has explored feedback from young people about ways that educators and peers have been helpful when they’ve experienced bullying. Kids reported that school staff were most helpful when they listened to them, gave them advice and followed up with them afterwards. Helpful peer actions included listening, spending time with them and following up with them – showing that young people have important roles as allies to peers who have been bullied.

The Urban Institute’s study also showed that less than one-in-ten youth who had experienced dating abuse sought help and that those who did so most commonly reached out to friends and parents. A study recently published in the Journal of Urban Health indicated that adolescents’ friends most often provide help by talking with them, offering suggestions, such as telling them to leave their partner or to talk with an adult, or by taking action, such as talking with their friend’s partner directly.  While some of the strategies the youth shared may be helpful, the study’s authors emphasized the need to educate young people about actions like following up with a friend’s abusive partner could pose risks to the victim and help-giver.

Having opportunities to learn ways to prevent and respond to bullying and dating violence is important for both young people and adults. Michigan State University Extension provides several resources related to bullying and harassment and dating violence. For example, Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments, helps youth and adults learn together about issues of bullying including differences between relationship patterns that are healthy and unhealthy. MSU Extension is also offering a series of webinars related to issues including helping kids connect with their emotional resiliency, trauma reactions to bullying (with a particular focus on kids with autism) and strategies for preventing common cyberbullying tactics.

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