The troubling reality of bullying is nothing new, but its growing prevalence and lasting impacts have deepened in many ways – making it a crucial priority in school environments today. Here are five reasons schools should keep bullying awareness and prevention top-of-mind when it comes to risk-management strategy.
The incidence of bullying continues
Today, one in every five youths ages 12 to 18 is bullied at school, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) – meaning they’re the victims of unwanted, intentional, and repeated aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance, such as hitting, shoving, teasing, insults, threats, or exclusion.
And while government data finds that reported levels of bullying have slowly but steadily decreased over the last decade, other more recent measures show there’s cause for concern.
Last year, for example, more than half (52.3%) of students said they had been bullied at school in the past 30 days, compared to 38.6% in 2016 – a 35% increase, according to a nationally representative survey of thousands of students ages 12 to 17 conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center (CRC), founded by researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and Florida Atlantic University.
Bullying can have long-lasting effects on students’ health
Mounting evidence suggests that bullying can have long-lasting effects on victims’ mental and physical health– even changing students’ entire educational trajectory. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bullying may increase students’ risk for anxiety, depression, substance use, and academic problems.
Unfortunately, bullying can also result in more tragic outcomes like self-harm, suicide, or other violent acts. In fact, a recent study of adolescents visiting emergency departments with suicidal ideation, individuals who reported cyber bullying were 11.5 times more likely to have suicidal ideation while those reporting verbal bullying were 8.4 times more likely.
Another report on targeted school violence at K-12 schools conducted by the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC) says that in the incidents studied, the majority of school shooters were bullied. NTAC found that 80% of attackers were bullied by their classmates and for more than half of the attackers (57%), the bullying appeared to be persistent, lasting for weeks, months, or years.
By addressing bullying early on, schools could better protect the health and safety individual students as well as the student population from larger-scale, violent incidents.
Litigation naming school defendants is becoming more common
It’s not hard to find media reports across the country detailing lawsuits that accuse school systems of failing to protect students from bullying or failing to act when it occurs. As public awareness of bullying and more widespread understanding of its causes and consequences have grown, so too have legal protections and standards surrounding such charges. Indeed, absence of clearly defined policy and inaction can now lead to both tort and Title IX claims of:
- Deliberate indifference;
- Peer-on-peer harassment;
- Sexual harassment or discrimination;
- Gender-based or sexual orientation-based harassment;
- Negligent supervision; and
- Intentional infliction of emotional distress.
These claims, along with the incredibly damaging effects of bullying, may only add to potential settlement or verdict amounts when legal remedy is sought.
Cyberbullying expands scope of risk
Cyberbullying – bullying that occurs through smartphones, computers, or other electronic devices – is rising right along with the prevalence of student use of technology. Whether it’s via email, texting, or social media, 17.4% of students said they were a target of cyberbullying in 2019, compared to 16.5% in 2016, according to CRC findings. And reports of cyberbullying are highest for middle schools (33%), followed by high schools (30%), combined schools (20%), and primary schools (5%), according to NCES data.
While the percentages of students reporting cyberbullying are a bit lower than other forms of bullying, cyberbullying presents unique challenges – not the least of which are the evolving nature of technology, the potential for anonymity, and the viral nature of online postings. In addition, because principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it can be harder to recognize.
Although all states have laws requiring schools to respond to bullying, not all include cyberbullying nor do they specify the exact role schools should play in responding to bullying that takes place outside of school (such as texts or social posts after the school day ends). What makes the issue more challenging for schools is addressing off-campus student misconduct. The school must respect an alleged perpetrator’s legal rights while also maintaining an environment that protects other students and encourages learning
Effects on attendance has an economic cost
According to the CRC, approximately 5.4 million students skip school at some point during the year due to bullying. Not only does this take a toll on academic success, but it can also lead to significant costs for schools.
According to research by the University of Texas at Austin, evidence shows that such bullying-related absences may result in reduced funding for public school systems in states that use daily attendance numbers to calculate state aid. For example, the study found that California alone loses an estimated $276 million a year from students who avoid coming to school because they feel unsafe.
Assessing your risk management approach
To be effective, bullying awareness and prevention must be woven into the entire school culture and curriculum. Creating positive environments that are driven by civility, peer respect, belonging, and connectedness can reduce the risk that bullying behaviors take hold. Staying protected with the right insurance program should also be a key part of your risk-mitigation strategy. Learn more about Liberty Mutual’s risk control services designed specifically for educational institutions.
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