Bullying Prevention

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MA Releases Bullying Prevention Guide for Schools

Nearly one in four Mass. Students report being bullied while at school.

BOSTON — The Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) today released a comprehensive guide to prevent bullying in Commonwealth schools. The new guide includes background on the different forms that bullying takes and provides a road map for administrators and teachers to implement successful bullying prevention programs for their students.

Direct from the Field: A Guide to Bullying Prevention, was released at a roundtable discussion on the topic of bullying hosted by JRI Health, the Justice Resource Institute’s health division which serves the health needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth.

“Our kids deserve to grow up in an environment that is free from harassment and violence,” said DPH Commissioner John Auerbach. “The consequences of bullying can last a lifetime, but all too often it is treated as a rite of passage. Bullying is not an inevitable part of growing up and we need to do more to stop it. No guide alone can change a culture of bullying, but we hope this guide will help by providing administrators, teachers and students with practical advice on what works and what doesn’t work in preventing bullying,” Commissioner Auerbach added.

In 2005, nearly one in every four Massachusetts middle or high school students surveyed reported being bullied at school during the previous year. Gay, lesbian and bisexual youth were significantly more likely to report being bullied and were also more likely to have skipped school because they felt unsafe.

The release of the guide comes on the heels of a number of high profile bullying incidents that have taken place nationally and here in Massachusetts. In February, Lawrence King, a 15 year-old gay student from California was killed while working at his computer at school by a 14 year-old classmate. Friends of both students say King was a frequent target of bullying at school. In early April, eight teenage girls in Florida were charged in the brutal beating of a 16 year-old classmate when the assault was posted on the video hosting website YouTube.

Closer to home, law enforcement officials in Lynn are investigating the allegation that bullying led to the partial paralysis of an 11 year-old student after he was pushed from behind down a flight of stairs while at school. In Mansfield, a 16 year-old student was charged with assault and battery after he attacked another student with a trash can in the school cafeteria.

Don Gorton, one of the authors of the guide and the past chair of the Governor’s Task Force on Hate Crimes, said that the release of the guide is an important step for the state.

“We thought it was important to develop a guide that would give school personnel ideas that they could put to work in their classrooms, hallways and throughout the school environment.” Mr. Gorton said. “The material in this guide will prove very relevant to schools because it was developed with the input of teachers and administrators.”

Grace Sterling Stowell, Executive Director of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender Youth (BAGLY) said that while many young people experience the pain of bullying, the burden can be especially hard on GLBT youth.

“All young people need feel safe to learn and to develop to their full potential,” Ms. Sterling said. “We know that in school settings, kids who are perceived as different are often targeted by bullies. This includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth. We also know that gender variant youth are most at risk.”

Commissioner Auerbach said that the Department would send copies of the bullying prevention guide to every school district in the Commonwealth. A copy of the guide can be found by visiting the DPH website at www.mass.gov/dph, or by calling the DPH’s Division of Violence and Injury Prevention Program at 617-624-5463

Quick Facts on Bullying

In the 2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey (MYRBS), roughly one in four students (24%) reported being bullied at school in the past year. Being bullied included being repeatedly teased, threatened, hit, kicked, shunned or excluded by another student or group of students. 22% of males and 26% of female high school students reported being bullied in the 12 months before the survey. The MYRBS also found that students receiving special education services were significantly more likely to have been bullied (38% vs. 22%). They were also more likely to have skipped school because they felt unsafe (8% vs. 4%). (2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey)

In one national on-line survey, the reason most frequently reported by victims of bullying for being harassed was the student’s appearance. 4 in 10 teens reported that students are frequently harassed for the way they look and their body size. The next most cited reason for frequent harassment was sexual orientation. One third of teens reported that they are frequently harassed because they are perceived to be lesbian, gay or bisexual. Over a third of students experienced physical harassment at school on the basis of sexual orientation and more than a quarter on the basis of their gender expression. (GLSEN, 2005 National On-line Survey “From Teasing to Torment: School Climate in America – A National Report on School Bullying”)

These statistics are mirrored in Massachusetts. Students who either identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, or reported any same sex sexual contact, were significantly more likely than other students to have been bullied (44% vs. 23%). They were also more likely than other students to have skipped school because they felt unsafe (13% vs. 3%). (2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey)

Bullying has profound health and well-being consequences for young people.

Kids who are bullied are 5 times more likely to become depressed.( Bullying Prevention Is Crime Prevention, A Report by Fight Crime; Invest in Kids, 2003).

Students who were bullied at school at least once in the past year were more likely than their peers who were not bullied to have considered or attempted suicide (24% vs. 9% and 12% vs. 5% respectively) (2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey).

There are significant associations between violence-related behaviors and experiences and academic achievement. Students who experienced violence were less likely to succeed academically. (2005 Massachusetts Youth Risk Behavior Survey)

There are also implications for the bullies themselves. Nearly 60% of those who researchers classified as bullies in grade 6-9 were convicted of at least one crime by age 24; 40% of them had 3 or more convictions by age 24. Bullying is an early warning sign of anti-social behavior that is not limited to school settings, but continues in other settings and into adulthood. (Bullying Prevention Is Crime Prevention, A Report by Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, 2003).

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