Bullying can affect everyone—those who are bullied, those who bully, and those who witness bullying. Bullying is linked to many negative outcomes including impacts on mental health, substance use, and suicide. It is important to talk to kids to determine whether bullying—or something else—is a concern.
Kids Who Are Bullied
Kids who are bullied can experience negative physical, school, and mental health issues. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience:
- Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
- Health complaints
- Decreased academic achievement—GPA and standardized test scores—and school participation. They are more likely to miss, skip, or drop out of school.
A very small number of bullied children might retaliate through extremely violent measures. In 12 of 15 school shooting cases in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.
Kids Who Bully Others
Kids who bully others can also engage in violent and other risky behaviors into adulthood. Kids who bully are more likely to:
- Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
- Get into fights, vandalize property, and drop out of school
- Engage in early sexual activity
- Have criminal convictions and traffic citations as adults
- Be abusive toward their romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults
Kids who witness bullying are more likely to:
- Have increased use of tobacco, alcohol, or other drugs
- Have increased mental health problems, including depression and anxiety
- Miss or skip school
The Relationship between Bullying and Suicide
Media reports often link bullying with suicide. However, most youth who are bullied do not have thoughts of suicide or engage in suicidal behaviors.
Although kids who are bullied are at risk of suicide, bullying alone is not the cause. Many issues contribute to suicide risk, including depression, problems at home, and trauma history. Additionally, specific groups have an increased risk of suicide, including American Indian and Alaskan Native, Asian American, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth. This risk can be increased further when these kids are not supported by parents, peers, and schools. Bullying can make an unsupportive situation worse.
Bullying Is More Than Harassment
Researchers also note that: Equating bullying with harassment is problematic for several reasons, First, the term harassment , which refers to ‘words, gestures, and actions which tend to annoy, alarm, and abuse (verbally) another person’ fails to capture a critical component of the definition of bullying—the power imbalance that exists between the perpetrator and the victim. Second, and perhaps more important, it may cause confusion, as most districts already have policies that prohibit harassment of students based on race, color, national origin, sex and disability. . . . Insertion of bullying into such existing policies may lead to confusion and incorrect assumptions about the nature of bullying (5).
Bullying then is more than harassment and requires different policies as well as different means of describing, identifying and intervening.
Prevalence and Types of Bullying Occurring in Utah Schools
The Utah State Office of Education collaborates with the Utah Department of Human Services, Substance and Mental Health Administration to sponsor the bi-annual SHARP Survey (Student Health and Risk Prevention Statewide Survey). With parent permission data is collected from students in grades six, eight, ten and twelve across our state. Students respond to the following questions regarding safety and school discipline which is a component of a safe school climate.
- During the past 30 days, on how many days did you not go to school because you felt you would be unsafe at school or on your way to school?
- During the past 12 months, how often have you been picked on or bullied by a student on school property?
- My teachers maintain good discipline in the classroom.
- The principal and assistant principal maintain good discipline at my school.
Data for 2009, 2011 and 2013 can be accessed on the SHARP Survey web page at http://www.dsamh.utah.gov/sharp.htm
The most basic unanswered bullying research question: ‘How prevalent is bullying in American schools?’ depends completely on how the term bullying is defined(1). That basic dilemma notwithstanding, many students feel bullied, many parents fear their students are bullied, and many educators are increasingly concerned about issues surrounding bullying in Utah.
An identifier for bullying behavior has been added to the Utah Safe and Drug Free Schools Incident and Offense Reporting Form Other reporting methods include: self-report, peer nomination, teacher nomination, and behavioral observations.
Additional data about the prevalence and types of bullying or relational aggression comes from a survey of students in grades 4, 5, and 6 in 39 elementary schools in Davis School District. The survey focused on behaviors related to relational aggression and was responded to by 3329 boys and 3273 girls. Responses were made to multiple items indicating the following behaviors:
- A large percentage of students are involved in relational aggression either as aggressors, bystanders or victims.
- Relational aggression increases as students move to the higher grades.
- It appears that most students have felt the hurt of relational aggression as seen in the 6th grade where over 70% have said mean things about others.
- Both boys and girls are involved in relational aggression with some differences in the methods they use.
- Research has shown that relational aggression is a stronger predictor of social maladjustment than overt physical aggression.
- Girls who are relationally aggressive are less likely to show empathy for others.
- Both victims and aggressors have a higher incidence of serious mental health problems. (Bullying in Utah Public Schools, report made to Utah State board of Education, February 15, 2006. Appendix C, Behavior Checkup Survey Summary, p. 7)
Finally, data about the prevalence of bullying in Utah is included in a report titled “Estimates of Children Involved in Bullying State by State.” According to this document an estimated 83,350 students in Utah are involved in bullying either as victims, bully/victims, or bullies out of 509,163 school-age children in the state (Bully Police USA).
(1)Furlong, M/J/, Morrison, G.M., and Grief, J/ (2003) reaching an American consensus: Reactions to the special issue on school bullying. School Psychology Review, 32 (3) pp. 456 – 470.