Friday, May 19, 2017

New Study Finds That Bullying Remains High at School, But Has Declined Over Time

A new study on bullying at school offers both good and bad news.  The bad news is that bullying remains a constant aspect of daily life for many students at school.  Anywhere from 13 to 29 percent of students report being bullied in the last month.  Half of students indicated that they have witnessed bullying in the last month.  The good news is that these numbers are down from prior years.  Also, the vast majority of students feel safe at school, notwithstanding the prevalence of bullying.  The study explains:

This study examined the prevalence rates of 13 bullying-related indicators in a population-based sample over 10 years. Survey data from nearly one-quarter of a million students indicated that bullying has remained a prevalent, although declining, experience for school-aged youth. Specifically, 13.4% to 28.8% of students reported experiencing bullying in the past month, and approximately half of the students reported witnessing bullying. These estimates are consistent with recent bullying-prevalence reports, and they add to the current literature with the inclusion of a younger sample of youth. Despite these fairly high prevalence rates, the covariate-adjusted results for 10 of the 13 indicators suggested things may be getting better, as indicated by a reduction in bullying prevalence and related attitudes. The effect sizes of the change were in the small-to-moderate range (ranged 0.04–0.67) when comparing the first and last years’ data.

Some forms of victimization were commonly and consistently experienced across years (eg, relational). The prevalence of cyberbullying was consistently <10% and is comparable to the National Center for Education Statistics and the Bureau of Justice Statistics data. Based on previous research, it was hypothesized that cyberbullying might increase, but consistent with the other forms of bullying, cyberbullying also decreased. However, given the rapid change of technology and new social media platforms used by youth and increasingly at younger ages, the nature and quality of cyberbullying may change; therefore, future studies should examine cyberbullying in greater detail (eg, broader definitions). Physical, verbal, and relational bullying experiences dropped ∼2% each year to below 10% in the most recent year. Rates of perpetration reduced by 1% to 2% per year and dropped below 10% in recent years. Furthermore, witnessing bullying also decreased significantly across the decade.

Approximately 80% of students reported feeling safe and like they belong at school across the decade. Interestingly, ratings of safety, but not belonging, improved significantly over time. There were clear differences regarding bullying and climate across school levels. For example, high schools showed the most improvement across time; although this is promising, bullying peaks during middle school, so additional supports may be necessary during these school years. Although the yearly changes for all of the outcomes were small, some of these changes were fairly substantial across 10 years, as indicated by the effect size estimates comparing the first and last years (average d = 0.325). Notably, the most recent years evinced the greatest improvements in school climate and reductions in bullying. This could be due to the increase in bullying policies over the past decade as well as the simultaneous increase in effective evidence-based programming aimed at reducing school-based bullying. These factors could be associated with further decreases in bullying in years to come, so it will be important to continue to surveil these indicators over time.

The significant associations between school-level covariates and the change in bullying indicators were limited and not consistent across outcomes. Given the small magnitude of the covariate estimates and the large number of outcomes examined, readers should be cautious in the interpretation of the trends regarding school-level covariates.

Although this study possesses strengths such as the population-level sampling, the large sample size, the broad age range surveyed, and the longitudinal nature of the data, some limitations should be noted. For example, student data across years were not linked, given the anonymous nature of the survey, which limited the analyses that could be conducted. The anonymity was, however, an essential part of maximizing response rates and may have contributed to students being more candid in their responses; given the sensitive nature of the data collected, anonymity decreases the chances of response bias related to social desirability, which could otherwise be a threat to validity. Although the data collection and sampling procedures were consistent across the 10 waves of data collection, the district leadership has placed greater emphasis on the collection of data in recent years; this may have contributed to a slight uptick in the number of students participating in the survey in the last year of the data collection. However, the weighting procedure allows for generalizability of the sample to the full population of students within these schools. The use of sampling weights was a strength of this study, although we were somewhat limited in the number of variables we had to use as weights; therefore, we relied largely on basic demographic information that was available at both the student and school levels. This is a common approach in large-scale survey research.

Although this study addresses the prevalence of bullying-related indicators over a decade, it does not shed light on what accounts for these changes. Information related to particular school efforts, programs, or initiatives to which reductions in bullying or related attitudes could be attributed was not assessed and, therefore, could not be examined. Future research is needed to systematically examine the implementation of antibullying programs and policies and the impact of these efforts.

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