Updated January 01, 2011
Research done in 2003 by the National Institutes of Health indicated that both childhood bullies and their victims are more likely to become involved in violent activities later in life. Now, the U.S. Department of Education reports that 46 of the 50 states have enacted anti-bullying laws.
According to department's the report Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies (2011), the impetus for state legislatures to enact childhood bullying laws came in response to public reaction to the 1999 Columbine High School shootings and a rising rate of bullying-related suicides among school age children.
Between 1999 and 2010, the legislatures in 46 states enacted more than 120 bills either creating or amending education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in their schools. During 2010, alone, 21 new bills were passed and state governors signed eight more into law through April 30, 2011. Currently, only four states (Hawaii, Michigan, Montana, and South Dakota) are without specific bullying laws. In absence of bullying laws, the states of Hawaii, Michigan, and Montana have adopted model anti-bullying policies to be used in their schools.
Also See: Federalism: Powers of the States and Federal Government
Laws in 45 of the 46 states with bullying laws mandate that their school districts adopt bullying polices. However, the report notes that the bullying laws of three states (Arizona, Wisconsin and Minnesota) prohibit bullying without defining what behavior is prohibited.
The report Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies (2011) presents a detailed analysis several of the bullying laws and policies adopted by the states and how they compare with the definitions and standards for dealing with bullying developed by the Department of Education.
What is Bullying?
According to the Department of Education, "bullying" is typically defined as repeated acts of aggressive behavior during which the bully willfully attempts to inflict harm on the victim through an imbalance of power. Bullying can involve direct physical contact, verbal attacks intended to cause emotional harm, or "indirect" actions of social aggression intended to embarrass the victim or damage their personal relationships or social standing.</p>
While bullying has no age limit, Department of Education research shows that direct physical forms of bullying are more common during elementary and middle school, gradually declining during the high school years. Incidents of verbal and indirect bullying tend to increase through adolescence, ages 13-19.
Away from the schoolyard, an increasing number of childhood bullies are reaching out and touching their victims from the safety of their computers and cell phones through a modern phenomenon known as "cyberbullying."
What is Cyberbullying?
The report shows that 36 states have amended their education laws to prohibit cyberbullying or bullying using electronic media. Typically, these laws define cyberbullying as, "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices." Indeed, many well documented cases of childhood suicide have been tied to the effects of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying poses a particularly problem to schools, because it typically occurs in off-campus settings. As a result, schools are challenged to enforce their cyberbullying polices without overreaching their legal and constitutional authority. Despite the possible constitutional implications, 13 states have enacted laws or policies giving their school districts jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if that behavior results or could result in a hostile school environment.
How Prevalent is Bullying Today?
While there is no way to accurately count incidents of bullying and most go unreported, regular surveys conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics keep track of how often school administrators deal with bullying-related problems on their campuses. According to the findings of these surveys; about 39% of middle school administrators and 20% of administrators at the elementary and high school level reported that bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis. Nineteen percent of middle schools and 18% of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyberbullying, either at school or away from school.
"Bullying in schools has become widely viewed as an urgent social, health, and education concern that has moved to the forefront of public debate on school legislation and policy," notes the report. "Increasingly, elected officials and members of the school community have come to view bullying as an extremely serious and often neglected issue facing youths and local school systems."