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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 between 20 and 30 percent of children and youth are bullied at school each year, with certain vulnerable groups at even higher risk, including students with disabilities and LGBTQ youth (1, 2). This aggressive behavior, which may be physical, verbal, or social—and may occur in person or online—can have long-term harmful effects (1, 2). In addition to the risk of physical injury, victims of bullying are at risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, physical health problems, substance abuse into adulthood, low academic achievement, and poor social and school adjustment (1, 2).

Any involvement in bullying, whether as a bully, victim, or witness, is associated with negative outcomes (1, 2). For example, youth who bully others are more likely to experience depression and engage in delinquent or suicidal behavior than non-bullies (1, 2). 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 (1, 2). 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 (1, 2). Further, the fear of being bullied or harassed may disrupt a child’s ability to excel in school and life (2).
For more information on bullying and harassment at school see kidsdata.org’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23482/preventing-bullying-through-science-policy-and-practice

2.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf
Policy Implications
Bullying and harassment at school have come under closer scrutiny by schools and policymakers in recent years (1, 2). Bullying is pervasive in schools nationwide and can have lasting harmful consequences on child health and well being (1, 2, 3). Although any student can be a victim, certain groups are at higher risk of being bullied or harassed, such as LGBTQ youth and students with disabilities (1, 2).

California has enacted laws to address bullying and cyberbullying, and state and federal policies provide guidance on effective school discipline strategies (4, 5). 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 (3, 4). State and federal policies also encourage schools to teach students social and behavioral skills and to create positive, supportive school environments (4). Comprehensive strategies that focus on building protective factors (e.g., social skills, caring relationships with adults, student connectedness to school, etc.) and addressing bullying in tandem with other negative behaviors, such as substance use and violence, are most likely to succeed (1, 3, 6).

Policy and program 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 (1, 3, 6)
  • Engaging all school stakeholders—leaders, teachers, students, families, community members, and others—to develop and disseminate a shared anti-bullying mission statement, code of conduct, school policies, and a bullying reporting system (3, 6, 7)
  • 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 (3, 6)
  • 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, and should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices (4, 8)
  • 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, including youth with disabilities and LGBTQ youth; this may involve staff training, student support, information sharing, and public statements of policy (3, 6)
  • 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, and online (1, 3, 7)
  • Providing students with opportunities to develop social and behavioral skills (such as self-regulation, problem solving, relationship building, and decision making), along with high expectations and support from adults (1, 3, 6)
  • Encouraging social media companies to publish anti-bullying policies on their websites and to implement, evaluate, and strengthen methods of preventing and addressing bullying online (1)
For more policy ideas and information, see the federal government’s stopbullying.gov and the California Department of Education. Also see Policy Implications on kidsdata.org under School Climate, Pupil Support Services, and School Attendance and Discipline.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice. National Academies Press. Retrieved from: https://www.nap.edu/catalog/23482/preventing-bullying-through-science-policy-and-practice

2.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/bullying-suicide-translation-final-a.pdf

3.  American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from: http://www.aera.net/Publications/Books/PreventionofBullying/tabid/14872/Default.aspx

4.  Fix School Discipline. (2017). Toolkit for educators. Public Counsel. Retrieved from: http://www.fixschooldiscipline.org/educator-toolkit

5.  Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. W. (2016). State cyberbullying laws: A brief review of state cyberbullying laws and policies. Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved from: https://cyberbullying.org/Bullying-and-Cyberbullying-Laws.pdf

6.  David-Ferdon, C., & Simon, T. R. (2014). Preventing youth violence: Opportunities for action. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/pdf/opportunities-for-action.pdf

7.  stopbullying.gov. (n.d.). How to prevent bullying. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from: http://www.stopbullying.gov/prevention/index.html

8.  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. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from: http://csgjusticecenter.org/youth/school-discipline-consensus-report
How Children Are Faring
According to 2013-2015 estimates, more than one in four California youth in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional programs had been bullied or harassed at school in the previous year, and around one in five had been cyberbullied by other students. During the same period, school staff reports that bullying/harassment among students was a moderate or severe problem ranged from 24% of responses from elementary school staff to 45% of middle school staff reports. In each grade level, estimates of bullying and cyberbullying tended to be higher among girls than among boys in 2013-2015. Across all types of bullying and harassment, gay, lesbian, and bisexual students and those with low levels of school connectedness were more likely to be victimized than their straight and more connected peers.

When students are bullied or harassed at school, it is most often for reasons of bias (related to disabilities, gender, race/ethnicity or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation). In 2013-2015, an estimated 29% of 7th graders, 28% of 9th graders, 24% of 11th graders, and 22% of non-traditional students statewide were bullied or harassed in the previous year for one or more bias-related reasons. The prevalence of bias-related bullying/harassment varied widely depending on the reason for bias and the group affected. For example, bullying and harassment for reasons related to race/ethnicity or national origin were twice as common among African American/black (27%), Asian (25%), and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (29%) students when compared with their white counterparts (12%). Among students identifying as gay, lesbian, and bisexual, about half were bullied or harassed because they were, or were thought to be, gay or lesbian.