Bullying on the Decrease?

Excuse my end-of-year rush but I don't want to forget about Harvard's Shorenstein Center's recap of recent bullying studies. Anyhow, it gives me a chance to assign some Summer Reading. If you haven't done so before, check out the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy. They gather up recent research and do mini-reviews on timely topics but before you get too excited most are not in-depth. Think of them as a quick update, the empirical equivalent of a snack-size Kit Kat.

Back to the bullying. So the reason I mention it, the results of a new study surprised me. Sure, the data was pulled from a national adolescent health survey from the WHO and that doesn't always make stellar methodology but here are the findings:

There was a steady decrease in the proportion of students who reported they were bullied at least twice per month, from 13.7% in 1998 to 10.2% in 2010. 

Physical fighting decreased between the years 1998, when 23.4% of students reported fighting, and 2006, when 18.4% reported fighting. There was no change between 2006 and 2010. 

So bullying and fighting decreased. Here's the bad news, carrying weapons to school is on the rise at least among White students. I didn't read the actual study but I'm curious about online bullying. I find it hard to believe it's decreased so I wonder how or if it was captured here. I suspect it wasn't specifically accessed. I'm emailing the authors to find out for sure and to get a copy of the paper.

Part of the reduction may be due to a narrow definition of bullying. According to the Shorenstein report the authors defined it as "hurtful taunting, intentional exclusion from social activities, verbal or physical aggression, spreading false rumors and sexual harassment." 

“[It] is not bullying when two students of about the same strength or power argue or fight. It is also not bullying when a student is teased in a friendly and playful way.” (the study definition)

So although psychologists and academics often define bullying in this manner, if a study is a self-report survey that asks students if they are bullied, they might perceive a greater number of encounters and behavior as bullying and report higher levels. I've never thought of sexual harassment as bullying mainly because it has its own legal definition and academic literature.

Another meta-analysis showed anti-bullying programs appear to reduce bullying by about 20%. So that's reassuring but it almost seems to good to be true. Is anyone else surprised school programs have taken a good whack out of bad behavior? I'd know more but I don't feel like shelling out $39.95 to read the whole study.

I could download Season 3 of Revenge for the same amount of money.

Or I could buy 4 copies of Emily Bazelon's book on bullying and pass it out to my friends or the school administrators.

Or I could vaccinate 2 kids for polio, measles, pneumonia and diarrhea at Shot At Life.

What should I do?


Andrea Riley said...

Hmmm, I recommend you not buy S3 of Revenge so you don't get caught in the same face-palm situation I did with S3 Scandal where you buy and then it gets added to Netflix a few days later. I can't vouch for the Emily Bazelon book, so...I think vaccinating 2 kids is the way to go.

Polly Palumbo, Ph.D. said...

So glad I'm not the only one sucked into Scandal!