School of Public Health

Washington Study Urges Schools to Take a More Preventative Approach to Bullying

UW Epi News
Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Bullying, which has often been dismissed as merely kids being kids, is a “serious public health problem,” according to a new report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Zero-tolerance policies, such as automatic suspension or expulsion, are ineffective in combating bullying, the report found. Such policies fail to provide skill training or replacement behaviors for youth that are suspended and may in fact lead to underreporting because the consequences are perceived as too severe.

Dr. Frederick Rivara, chairman of the committee that wrote the report and a professor of epidemiology and pediatrics at the University of Washington, cautioned that bullying has significant short- and long-term physical and psychological consequences. Both victims and their bullies can experience anxiety, depression, and alcohol and drug abuse into adulthood, along with a wide range of other health problems.

Until recently, most bullying was confined to the schoolyard or other places where children congregate. However, the abundance of new technologies has led to a complex environmental of digital - or cyber - bullying through chat rooms, email, and social media.

The programs that appear to make the most concrete difference in reducing bullying, the report found, are those that focus on preventive and interventional measures that include social and emotional skill-building for all students, along with targeted interventions for those at risk for being involved in bullying.

“Bullying has long been tolerated as a rite of passage among children and adolescents, but it has lasting negative consequences and cannot simply be ignored,” Rivara says. “This is a pivotal time for bullying prevention, and while there is not a quick fix or one-size-fits-all solution, the evidence clearly supports preventive and interventional policy and practice."

The report, titled "Preventing Bullying Through Science, Policy, and Practice," received widespread media coverage. Read the story from The Seattle Times.