National reports highlight kids’ experiences with bullying, cyberbullying and feeling safe at school

Large numbers of young people report missing school because they’ve been targets of hurtful behaviors.

You may be among the many adults who have expressed concerns about issues of bullying and cyberbullying in the lives of young people. In this year’s annual National Poll on Children’s Health (conducted by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital), adults rated bullying as their second highest concern. Considering how much time many young people spend online, it’s not surprising that adults rated internet safety as their fourth highest concern. 

Hearing directly from the young people in your life about their experiences with bullying and cyberbullying is an important aspect of understanding the prevalence and effects of these kinds of negative behaviors. It can also be helpful to explore the findings of national surveys that highlight kids’ experiences with these issues, along with research about their impacts. For example, the U.S. Department of Education recently published a national report about students’ experiences with bullying and cyberbullying. A total of 21.5 percent of young people ages 12 to 18 reported they had been bullied at school, on the school bus, or going to or from school. The rates were highest for sixth-graders (27.8 percent) and lowest for twelfth-graders (14.1 percent), and the most common behaviors were being made fun of, called names or insulted, and being the subject of rumors. A total of 6.9 percent of students reported being cyberbullied. Unlike the rates of bullying experiences which decreased for kids in higher grades, rates of cyberbullying experiences had the same level (5.9 percent) for both sixth-graders and twelfth-graders. 

The most recent report of youth risk behaviors published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) included rates of bullying and cyberbullying for teens in grades 9 to 12. A total of 19.6 percent reported they had been bullied on school property (with a rate of 25.3 percent for Michigan youth), and 14.8 percent reported they had been electronically bullied (with a rate of 18.8 percentfor Michigan youth). The differences between the cyberbullying rates in this report compared to the U.S. Department of Education report might be related to the different ages involved and differences in how cyberbullying was defined. 

Both in-person bullying and electronic bullying experiences can have significant effects on those involved, and these impacts may extend beyond childhood and adolescence and into adulthood for some young people. Growing evidence indicates that being bullied, cyberbullied or both significantly affects how safe a young person feels at school and can result in absenteeism that may jeopardize their educational success. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescence delved deeper into the CDC’s youth risk behavior survey data to look for connections between bullying, cyberbullying and feelings of safety at school. Among students who had been targets of bullying or cyberbullying, 15.5 percent indicated they had missed school at least once during the previous 30 days because of safety concerns (compared to a rate of 4.1 percent among students who weren’t bullied or cyberbullied). Considering that over 16 million adolescents are enrolled in secondary schools across the country, this percentage represents more than 600,000 students who missed school because they didn’t feel safe due to their experiences with bullying and cyberbullying.

While these studies reflect issues of safety within school settings, it’s important to recognize that school staff aren’t the only adults responsible for addressing the issues. All community adults have roles to play in supporting schools’ efforts to prevent bullying and cyberbullying. One way is to be willing to initiate conversations with kids about their experiences with these issues. Another is to be prepared to provide support for those who have been targeted and those who may be carrying out these hurtful behaviors. If you’re involved with a youth group (such as 4-H, Scouts, Boys and Girls Club or a faith community group), look for ways to include an intentional focus on having the group create a safe setting and healthy relationships.

Michigan State University Extension provides opportunities for adults to learn more about ways to support the health and wellbeing of young people – including ways to prevent bullying and cyberbullying. These efforts are part of the Be SAFE: Safe, Affirming and Fair Environments initiative, which includes a curriculum designed to help adults and youth work in partnership to create positive relationships and settings.

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