Oct. 05 2015

The First Step to Reducing Bullying Among Teens

Bullying is one of the most common forms of peer aggression in schools, but only 15 years ago, not a single state had an anti-bullying law on the books. Today, following national tragedies like the Columbine massacre and the suicide of Rutgers student Tyler Clemente, all 50 states have passed anti-bullying legislation.  

The first comprehensive study of these laws' rates of success in reducing bullying among youth has just been published. Mark Hatzenbuehler, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences, with colleagues at the University of Iowa College of Public Health and the CDC published a study in JAMA Pediatrics looked at the policies in 25 states. They also analyzed survey data on bullying from almost 62,000 students in grades 9 through 12 to see how experiences varied in the states that had passed legislation with at least one U.S. Department of Education-recommended guideline. Their principal finding was that teens in these states were 24 percent less likely to report bullying and 20 percent less likely to report cyber-bullying.

One of the more surprising results was that the link between the anti-bullying legislation and bullying was not moderated by gender, school grade, or race/ethnicity. This is good news, according to Hatzenbuehler, because that means that anti-bullying laws are equally protective for boys and girls, for racial/ethnic minority and non-minority students, and for 9th through 12th graders.  

“We now know, for the first time, that anti-bullying legislation works,” said Hatzenbuehler. “This is an important step because it shows that anti-bullying laws have an important role to play in reducing bullying. It also sets the stage for future research that will help us better understand how to create laws that are maximally effective in reducing bullying, and help identify which specific components of these policies and in which combination, are most effective in reducing bullying and why.”

Finally, further research should lead to a better understanding of whether these laws are effective in reducing disparities in bullying victimization. For example, while we know that certain groups — including LGBT youth, overweight/obese youth, and youth with disabilities — are at heightened risk for being bullied, we have yet to determine if anti-bullying laws are effective in protecting them. October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to galvanize national efforts and build on the progress state legislators have made.