Good news: Fewer teens are being bullied

Claire McCarthy, MD

Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing

Follow me on Twitter @drClaire

New data from the US Department of Education brings some really good news: fewer teens are being bullied. In 2007, 31.7% of students ages 12 to 18 reported being bullied. In 2015, that number was down to 20.8%, a drop of a third.

Other stats were also encouraging:

  • In 2007, 9.7% reported being called a hate-related word, compared with 7.2% in 2015
  • The percentage of teens reporting being bullied at school dropped from 6.6% in 2007 to 4.2% in 2015
  • More teens are telling an adult about bullying: those numbers went from 36.1% in 2007 to 43.1% in 2015.

There are still too many kids getting bullied, so we still have more work to do, but this is a sign that the work we’ve done so far is making a difference. And we have done a lot of work, through educational campaigns, media and social media, as well as tremendous work within schools:

  • Bullying has been clearly described and identified. This makes it easier for everyone to recognize bullying when they see it — and do something. There will always be some gray area, but we have much more clarity than before.
  • There is a clear consensus that bullying is a bad behavior that should be stopped. This has not always been the case. In many situations, bullying behavior was normalized, thought to be part of school and life in general. Now we understand better how harmful it can be. Because of this…
  • Bullying is not tolerated, or at least it is much less tolerated. Youth have learned to call it out — and many schools have strict anti-bullying policies.
  • Educational efforts have given youth and adults strategies to identify and deal with bullying.

Ultimately, what all of this adds up to is a culture shift. Bullying is far from gone, and we need to keep up our efforts, especially in our current political climate, with people taking sides and some hate-related behaviors on the rise. But we think about bullying differently now than we did 10 years ago, and that’s a good thing.

Even more, the efforts against bullying have given us a blueprint for cultural change: bring the behavior out of the shadows, talk about it, educate — and give people tools and resources. Hopefully we can use this blueprint more — we are seeing it now with the #metoo movement — and help make our society a healthier, more welcoming place for all.

Related Information: Harvard Health Online

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