Bullying Affects a Quarter of High Schools Students

A student survey uncovers the prevalence of bullying.

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About a quarter of high school students were bullied at least once during the 2008-2009 school year, and about 7 percent were bullied online by other students, according to new data released Monday by the National Center for Education Statistics.

Alarmingly, 4.1 percent of students ages 12-18 who were bullied—approximately 289,000 students—reported bringing a gun, knife, or other weapon to school; 7.4 percent of students who were cyber bullied reported bringing a weapon to school.

[Learn why cyber bullying is getting more malicious.]

In October 2010, the Department of Education sent a letter to public schools and universities highlighting the importance of reducing bullying. "Bullying fosters a climate of fear and disrespect," the letter said. It reminded administrators that they are required to respond to bullying that may be motivated by sexual orientation or race. According to the report, schools rely on a combination of security guards and cameras, staff supervision, and inclusion of anti-bullying measures in student codes of conduct to prevent bullying.

Most commonly, students were made fun of or were the subject of rumors. About 5 percent of high school students reported being threatened with harm, and 6.6 percent were pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on. Most of the bullying occurred in school hallways, stairwells, or in the classroom. Less commonly, students were bullied in the bathroom or locker room, in the school cafeteria, or on the school bus.

Younger students were more likely to be bullied than upperclassmen. About 36 percent of middle school students reported being bullied, compared to 25.8 percent of high school students. Twenty-eight percent of freshmen were bullied at least once during the school year compared to 1 in 5 seniors.

High school students were more likely to hide being bullied. Forty-four percent of middle school students reported notifying an adult of bullying; high schoolers notified an adult just over a quarter of the time.

Although fewer students overall reported being bullied online, more of those students responded to bullying: 15 percent of students who had been cyber bullied got into a physical fight because of the bullying, and 17 percent avoided certain parts of their schools out of fear.

[Learn how to keep your teen safe on Facebook.]

Most commonly, cyber bullying victims said hurtful information about them was spread on the Internet, or they received unwanted contact online or unwanted text messages.

Cyber safety expert Parry Aftab says that although many administrators feel they can't get involved with virtual bullying that doesn't occur on school grounds, the Supreme Court's Tinker v. Des Moines decision in 1969 gives administrators some options. The Supreme Court ruled that students' First Amendment rights did not apply if their actions—wearing black armbands to protest the Vietnam War, in this case—disrupted the school environment.

"If administrators have a reasonable suspicion that online actions will have an immediate effect on the kids in the school, they have the ability to discipline it," she says. "If students are threatening each other online, you're interrupting their ability to have an education."

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