Is Bullying an Issue at Your School? Find Out By Asking Students.

By Hannah Bartlebaugh

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, which reminds us to talk about bullying: what it looks like, how common it is, what can be done to help prevent it. We know that bullying affects students emotionally, mentally and academically – studies show that students who are bullied are at increased risk for anxiety and depression and that students who bully others are at increased risk for substance use, academic problems, and violence later in life.

As we work to make our schools, classrooms and online forums safe spaces for learning, how are we engaging students? Too often, the voices of students are left out. Students are experts in what goes on in schools; if we are to improve safety and build a more positive school climate and culture, we must ask students directly about their experiences, and really listen to what they have to say.

Recent findings on students’ experiences of bullying from YouthTruth, the nonprofit where I work, highlight the student perspective by looking at feedback from over 180,000 students across the country. We also explored how students of different gender identities experience bullying. The data revealed insights that can help us talk about and address bullying.

  • 1 in 4 students are bullied.
  • Across all students, 26.5% report being bullied. However, not all student groups experience the same prevalence. When examining the data by students’ self-reported gender identity we see that students who do not identify as male or female, but instead identify in another way, are slightly more likely to be bullied than their peers. Forty-four percent of students who identify in another way are bullied, compared to 30 percent of female students and 22 percent of male students.
  • Most bullying happens in person.
  • The most common type of bullying that students reported is verbal (73 percent), followed by social (54 percent). While the narrative around bullying in recent years has often highlighted cyberbullying, both cyber and physical bullying are surprisingly less prevalent in the data.
  • The top three reasons students believe they are bullied include their appearance, their race or skin color, and because other students thought they were gay.
  • Again, when disaggregating by students’ gender identity, we see some slight differences. Male students and students who identify in another way are slightly more likely than their peers to report that they were bullied because other students thought they were gay. Forty-five percent of students who identify in another way and 20 percent of male students report being bullied because of their perceived sexual orientation, compared to just 9 percent of female students.

These findings can help us start local conversations and take action. Here are some steps to get started.

  1. Create avenues for school-wide anonymous feedback. For topics as sensitive as bullying, students may not feel comfortable sharing their experiences. Providing an anonymous avenue for feedback from all students – not just the students who are already engaged – allows communities to gather more candid and accurate feedback, that can actually help you target resources where they are needed most.
  2. Let students know you listened – by taking action. After gathering feedback, use it! Survey data can help you prioritize and monitor changes over time. Let students know that your action steps were informed by the feedback they gave you. Closing the feedback loop helps empower students as co-creators of their school’s culture.
  3. Connect students with resources. There are great anti-bullying resources available online. Take advantage of the resources that fit your local needs such as, PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, the Tyler Clementi Foundation and the discussion guide at the end of Youthtruth’s recent report.

Creating safe schools for all students requires that teachers, administrators and district leaders be aware of the varying rates and types of bullying that different students experience. Understanding the most common reasons that students believe they are being targeted for bullying can help educators guide conversations and interventions. These findings illustrate the powerful insights that adults can glean when they ask students for their feedback. Let’s keep asking – and truly listening.

For more on how to make the most of student feedback, see:

Hannah Bartlebaugh is the Senior Marketing and External Relations Coordinator at YouthTruth. Connect with YouthTruth on Twitter at @Youth_Truth

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