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Bullying and Harassment at School (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Bullying is considered a significant public health problem (1, 2). National estimates indicate that more than a quarter of middle and high school students are bullied at school each year (1). This aggressive behavior (which may be physical, verbal, or social — and in person or online) can have long-term harmful effects (1, 2). In addition to the risk of physical injury, research shows that victims of bullying are at risk of depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, physical health problems, low academic achievement, and poor social and school adjustment (1). Any young person can be bullied, but certain groups are more likely to be victimized, such as students with disabilities and LGBT youth (1, 2, 3).

Any involvement in bullying, whether as a victim, a witness, and/or as a bully, is associated with negative outcomes (2, 3). For example, youth who bully others are more likely to do poorly in school, drink alcohol or use cigarettes, and engage in delinquent or suicidal behavior than non-bullies (1, 2, 3). In addition, those who report being both a victim and a bully have the highest risk of suicidal behavior among any group involved in bullying (3). It is important to note that bullying may not cause suicidal behavior, but it is one of several risk factors that appears to increase the chances of such behavior. Even youth who only witness bullying are more likely to report feelings of helplessness and other negative feelings than those who have not witnessed bullying (2, 3). Further, the fear of being bullied or harassed may disrupt a child’s ability to excel in school and life.

For more information on bullying and harassment at school see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1. American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from:

2.  Hertz, M. F., et al. (2013). Bullying and suicide: A public health approach. Journal of Adolescent Health, 53(1), S1-S3. Retrieved from:

3.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Retrieved from:

Policy Implications
Bullying and harassment at school have come under closer scrutiny by schools and policymakers in recent years (1). Bullying is pervasive in schools nationwide and can have lasting negative consequences on child health and well-being (2). Although any student could be a victim, certain groups are at higher risk of being bullied or harassed, such as LGBT students, youth of color, and students with disabilities (1, 2).

California has enacted laws to address bullying, and state and federal policies provide guidance on effective school discipline strategies (3, 4). In particular, schools are required to use alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, as overuse of these practices has not resulted in safer schools or improved student behavior (2, 3). State and federal policies also encourage schools to teach students social and behavioral skills, and to create positive, supportive school environments (3). Comprehensive strategies that focus on building protective factors (e.g., social skills, caring relationships with adults, etc.) and addressing bullying along with other behaviors, such as substance use and violence, are most likely to succeed (2, 5, 6).

According to research and subject experts, policy options that could prevent and address bullying/harassment at school include:
  • Incorporating anti-bullying efforts into a comprehensive, well-coordinated school-wide system to support student needs and create a positive school climate, as research shows that a supportive school atmosphere is linked to lower bullying rates and other positive outcomes (2, 7, 8)
  • Engaging all school stakeholders -- leaders, teachers, students, families, after-school program staff, community members, and others -- to develop and disseminate a shared anti-bullying mission statement, code of conduct, school policies, and a bullying reporting system (2, 5, 6)
  • Providing training for students, staff (e.g., teachers, coaches, counselors, nurses, administrators), parents, and others on how to deal with bullying incidents, focusing in particular on empowering bystanders to prevent bullying (2, 5, 7)
  • Following state and federal law, implementing prevention-oriented school discipline policies that are clear, fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keep students in school when possible. These policies should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices. (3, 7, 9)
  • Ensuring that school policies and practices are responsive to the diverse cultural norms of students/families and include a focus on reducing harassment of vulnerable populations, such as youth with disabilities and LGBT youth; this may involve additional staff training, student support, information sharing, and public statements of policy (2, 5, 7)
  • Ensuring that anti-bullying efforts focus on a wide array of settings where incidents may occur, e.g., hallways, restrooms, buses, routes to and from school, etc. (2, 6, 7)
  • Providing students with opportunities to develop social and behavioral skills (such as problem-solving, relationship skills, self-regulation, and decision-making), along with high expectations and support from adults (2, 5, 7)
For more policy ideas and information, see the federal government’s and the California Department of Education. Also see Policy Implications on under School Connectedness, Pupil Support Services Personnel, and Truancy, Suspensions & Expulsions.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Retrieved from:

2.  American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from:

3. Fix School Discipline. (2015). California and federal laws require the use of alternatives to out-of-school discipline. Retrieved from:

4.  Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2015). State cyberbullying laws: A brief review of state cyberbullying laws and policies. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from:

5.  David-Ferdon C., & Simon T.R. (2014). Preventing youth violence: Opportunities for action. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

6. (n.d.). Prevent bullying. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

7.  O’Malley, M. D., & Amarillas, A. (2011). What works brief #7: Harassment and bullying. WestEd. Retrieved from:

8.  Adelman, H. & Taylor, L. (2015). Transforming student and learning supports: Developing a unified, comprehensive, and equitable system. Center for Mental Health in Schools. Retrieved from:

9.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. The Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from:

How Children Are Faring
According to 2011-13 data, over one-third (34%) of all public school students surveyed in California reported being bullied or harassed at school in the past year, but figures differed by grade level: 39% of 7th graders, 34% of 9th graders, 28% of 11th graders, and 31% of non-traditional students. Similarly, 37% of staff at California public elementary, middle, high school, K-12, and non-traditional schools reported that bullying was a "moderate" or "severe" problem at their school.

When youth are bullied or harassed at school, the most common specific reason cited is because of their race or national origin, with 19% of 7th graders, 17% of 9th graders, 14% of 11th graders, and 17% of non-traditional students in 2011-13 reporting at least one bullying incident in the past year for this reason. Among African American/Black students, 28% said they had been bullied due to their race at least once in the past year, followed by 25% of Asian American and 24% of Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander students. Other reasons cited include sexual orientation (10% of 7th, 9th, 11th graders and non-traditional students citing one or more incidents at school in the past 12 months), gender (9%), religion (9%), disability (6%), and “any other reason” (21%).

In 2011-13, 22% of 7th, 9th, 11th graders and non-traditional students in California reported being cyberbullied (i.e., other students spread mean rumors or lies about them on the internet). Higher percentages of girls reported cyberbullying than boys.