Updated May 01, 2012
While many states have enacted anti-bullying laws and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services conducts its own ongoing anti-bullying effort, the U.S. Department of Justice has been busy examining the actual impacts of bullying on truancy and scholastic achievement, and how schools can best support bullying victims.
In its report Bullying in Schools: An Overview, the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) reported that the common tendency of parents and school administrators to trivialize the potential long term impacts of bullying only serves to perpetuate the problem.
In the most extreme cases, notes the OJJDP, bullying victims suffer life-changing harm that cannot simply be "outgrown," including shooting, physical beatings or other types of harassment that may even cause them to escape through suicide.
Also See: Childhood Bullying Often Leads to Violent Life: Report
"Parents and schools across the country worry about the devastating harm bullying can cause, and we share this concern for our nation's children," said Jeff Slowikowski, OJJDP's Acting Administrator. "This new study highlights the impact of bullying and recommends effective anti-bullying strategies that schools can implement to keep students safe."
Why They Did the Study
The OJJDP-funded study that resulted in Bullying in Schools: An Overview examined the connection between bullying and truancy -- intentional unauthorized absence from school - low academic achievement, and whether or not school-organized extracurricular activities intended to prevent bullying or support bullying victims really worked.
What 'Bullying' Means
Over the years, "bullying" has become a far more complex issue than, "Give me your lunch money or I'll kick your …" For purposes of its report, Bullying in Schools: An Overview, the OJJDP applied a widely accepted definition of bullying as intentionally doing harm to another person repeatedly over time. That "physical harm," according to the OJJDP can take several forms, including:
- Physical victimization (contact or threatening gestures);
- Verbal victimization (name-calling or taunting);
- Indirect victimization (such as intentional exclusion from a group); and
Based on the premise that bullying leads to truancy and truancy leads to "negative outcomes" for America's young people, like dropping out of school, illegal drug use and other criminal activities, OJJDP researchers interviewed 1,000 sixth graders. One set of questions determined whether the students had been bullied by their peers and, if so, how. A second set of questions was used to evaluate the students' behavioral, cognitive and emotional engagement with their school. Basically, did bullying prevent them from attending school and learning?
Surprisingly, the researchers found that while it is a contributing factor, bullying does not directly cause truancy or impede learning. As long as schools respond to and support them, bullying victims will attend school and work to succeed academically on a par with other students. However, noted the report, there are no one-size-fits-all anti-bullying solutions for schools. The researchers found that "bullying in a box" programs - "generic, pre-fabricated anti-bullying curriculums" - tend to be ineffective substitutes for student-focused programs specifically tailored to address bullying at the individual schools.
What Victims Need
According to the OJJDP, no matter what actions schools take to intervene in incidences of bullying or to assist the victims, it must be taken immediately. Delay, says the OJJDP, only tends to enforce the victim's feeling of isolation from other students and teachers. In assessing what bullying victims need from their schools, the OJJDP listed the following:
- A feeling that school provides them a "place of refuge" from bullying where "they can feel safe, appreciated, and challenged in a constructive way."
- The support of responsible adults who provide them with examples of appropriate behavior.
Indeed, among the bullying victims interviewed for the report, those who felt they could depend on at least one adult for support tended to succeed in school, even during the worst bullying.
- Confidence that staying in school, despite being bullied, promises them a better life ahead.
Based on their findings presented in Bullying in Schools: An Overview, the authors offered several recommendation of how U.S. schools could best address bullying and fulfill the needs of bullying victims. Among these recommendations were:
- Implement bullying prevention programs in the earliest grades;
- Reduce the "impersonal" climate of daily interactions between students and adults often found at larger schools, which leads to a feeling of anonymity among bullying victims;
- Offer supportive mentoring programs tailored for the environment and setting of the individual school (The researchers recommended that mentoring bullying victims be made part of the job descriptions of every adult in the school.);
- Provide students with opportunities to perform community service programs; and
- Take steps to ease the transition from between elementary and middle school, when students go from a relatively safe one-room -- one-teacher environment, to class changes with several teachers and daily exposure to more students.