Although much has been done to address the problem, bullying still remains a prevalent and serious problem. Just how bad is bullying in U.S. schools? StopBullying, a federal government website management by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, shares some compelling statistics that reveal the extent to which bullying is still a problem in America:
- Nearly a third of U.S. students in grade 6-12 reported being bullied (about the same number of young people who admitted to bullying others)
- About half of children in grades 4-12 reported being bullied at least once during the past month
- The majority of young people (70.6 percent) say they have seen bullying in their schools
- Approximately 40 percent of school staff report seeing bullying once a week or more
Who are the victims of school bullying? According to the CDC, youth with disabilities, learning differences, sexual/gender identity differences or cultural differences are often most vulnerable to being bullied. Unfortunately, only about 20 to 30 percent of students who are bullied notify adults. That’s why it’s important to recognize the signs of bullying so you can intervene while positive outcomes are still possible. Some of the signs to look for that may indicate a child is being bullied in school include:
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork and not wanting to go to school (faking illness to stay home)
- Changing in eating habits, including skipping meals or binge eating (children may come home from school hungry because they did not eat at lunch)
- Avoidance of social situations
- Decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Unexplainable injuries
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
This infographic reflects information up to 05/28/2018. Percentages and amounts are subject to change.
Effects of bullying on academic achievement
One of the most impactful consequences of bullying is how it makes victims perform in school. In one sample study, children who suffered chronic levels of bullying during their school years had lower academic achievement and less confidence in their academic abilities than their peers.
UCLA psychologists conducted a study with 2,300 students in 11 Los Angeles-area public middle schools and asked participants to rate whether or not they get bullied on a four-point scale. They found that a one-point increase on the four-point bullying scale was associated with a 1.5-point decrease in GPAfor one academic subject (e.g., math).
Authors of the study concluded that students who are repeatedly bullied participate less in class discussions and may get mislabeled as “low achievers” because they do not want to speak up in class for fear of getting bullied.
Effects of bullying on health and well-being
Children who experience bullying, either as a victim or as a bully, are also at an increased risk for poor psychological health. Surprisingly, children who report both being bullied and bullying others (sometimes referred to as “bully-victims”) have the highest rates of negative health outcomes, according to the CDC. One study found four categories of negative health conditions in victims and perpetrators of bullying:
- Low psychological well-being, including states of mind that are generally considered unpleasant but not acutely distressing, such as general unhappiness, low self-esteem and feelings of anger and sadness.
- Poor social adjustment, including feelings of aversion toward one’s social environment, particularly dislike for school, isolation and absenteeism.
- Psychological distress, including high levels of anxiety, depression and suicidal thinking.
- Physical unwellness, including clear signs of physical disorder evident in medically-diagnosed illness and psychosomatic symptoms.
The negative consequences of bullying are far-reaching, even life-changing, for everyone involved—targets, bullies and bystanders alike. That’s why we need more mental health professionals who understand the effects of bullying, as well as the underlying causes of these behaviors, and are specifically trained and educated to intervene in children’s lives.
Strategies and interventions for addressing bullying include assisting victimized children to develop self-protective assertiveness skills and working with bullying children grow awareness of the consequences of their behavior. In addition to school counselors, other careers for those seeking to help prevent bullying include behavioral interventionists, behavioral therapists, child safety awareness educators, and community service managers.
If you want to expand your role as a student advocate or are thinking about a new career working with children, a master’s degree in school counseling may provide you with the tools, knowledge and skills needed to have a positive impact. Programs that focus on developmental counseling and psychology may be particularly useful if you wish to address the causes and consequences of bullying.
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