Thursday, May 4, 2017

10-Year Study Suggests School Bullying Is Decreasing

School bullying is trending downward, contradicting the public’s perception that bullying is on the rise, according to a large-sample, decade-long study published this week in Pediatrics, coinciding with National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week.

The study, led by Tracy Evian Waasdorp, Ph.D., M.Ed., who holds joint appointments as a research scientist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, investigated bullying among school-aged children from 2005 to 2014. A total of 246,306 students in grades 4 to 12 from 109 Maryland schools within a large public school district completed the anonymous online survey. Survey questions included whether the student had experienced bullying in the past month, and if so, the type of bullying experienced; whether they had seen others bullied; and how safe they felt at school.

Using longitudinal linear modeling to analyze changes over time, the researchers found that while bullying remains prevalent in schools—13.4% to 28.8% reported experiencing bullying in the past month and one-half reported witnessing it—10 of the 13 bullying-related indicators measured suggested positive improvements.

Physical, verbal, and relational (having rumors spread) bullying experiences decreased 2% each year to below 10% in 2014. Cyberbullying (via email and blogs), perpetuating bullying, and witnessing bullying also significantly decreased over the 10-year period. Additionally, in 2014, 88% of students reported “feeling safe” and 79% reported feeling “like they belong” at school; 71% said adults were now helping more to prevent bullying.

“Although this study addresses the prevalence of bullying-related indicators over a decade, it does not shed light on what accounts for these changes,” Waasdorp and colleagues wrote. “Future research is needed to systematically examine the implementation of antibullying programs and policies and the impact of these efforts.”

“[W]e must also be relentless in seeking additional improvements, both in encouraging schools to mount antibullying programs and in supporting individual pediatric clinicians responding to patients who report bullying,” Stephen S. Leff, Ph.D., and Chris Feudtner, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., of The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia wrote in a related editorial. “[B]ullying remains one of the largest influences on child development and health, academic learning, and feelings of safety at school. In cases where patients demonstrate signs of anxiety, depression, or social withdrawal, clinicians should routinely ask screening questions as to whether their patient is the perpetrator or victim of bullying, because these symptoms often accompany peer victimization.”

For related information, see Preventing Bullying and School Violence, by Stuart W. Twemlow, M.D., and Frank C. Sacco, Ph.D.

(Image: iStock/FatCamera)