Report: Cyber-bullying on the rise at middle, high schools

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Teenage bullying on smart phone

If you needed any evidence that cyber-bullying is a growing problem for schools and tweens/teens, look no further.

A new study from the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics indicates that more than 25 percent of the middle schools and high schools surveyed reported problems with cyber-bullying on their campuses.

The report, entitled “Crime, Violence, Discipline, and Safety in U.S. Public Schools,” was published on July 27.

It looked at incidents of violence at nearly 3,600 public schools during the 2015-16 school year.

Cyber-bullying has increased significantly since the last report was conducted in 2009. In fact, the new report said it’s the leading daily disciplinary problem for middle and high-schoolers.

How bad is it?

  • 25.6 percent of middle schools surveyed said they had problems with cyber-bullying on campus, and 14.5 percent percent said that cyber-bullying was affecting the “social environment” at the school.
  • In 2009, 18.6 percent of middle schools surveyed said they had cyber-bullying challenges, and 9.8 percent said it was impacting the social environment at the school.

Even more surprising, the problem is as bad on middle-school campuses as it is at high schools, the study indicates.

  • 25.9 percent of high schools surveyed said they had problems with cyber-bullying during the 2015-16 school year and 15 percent of those surveyed reported that it impacted their school’s social environment.
  • In 2009, 17.6 percent of high schools reported incidents of cyber-bullying, with 9.9 percent saying it impacted their campus’ social environment.

What is cyber-bullying?

The Dept. of Education’s study defined cyber-bullying as when “willful and repeated harm is inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, or other electronic devices.”

Increase in on-campus violence

At the same time cyber-bullying is increasing, schools are reporting an uptick in threatening and violent behaviors on campus, according to the new report.

During the 2015-16 school year, 13.4 percent of middle schools and 14.3 percent of high schools surveyed said there were incidents on their campus where one student threatened another with violence with the use of a weapon. That’s up from 10.3 percent and 10 percent (for high schools in 2009).

Different approaches to the problem

Lonely student being bullied by her peers. (Thinkstock)

Dr. Gary Slutkin, founder of Chicago-based Cure Violence, believes the best way to prevent school violence is to literally treat it like a disease.

His non-govermental organization uses an epidemiology-based model to treat community violence like a public health crisis.

“Violence is picked up by watching behaviors and then copying them,” Slutkin said.

He believes violence among teens are best addressed by looking at root behaviors. That includes paying attention to changes in eating habits, over or under exercising, sexual excitement, or the onset of smoking, drinking or drug use.

“It’s crucial we get to these adolescents at those critical moments, at least start a conversation with them,” he said.

He said, “We need to change courses and understand what’s going on medically. Because there’s a lot of anger there.”

Prepubescent teens, which includes middle school aged children, are most at risk for allowing their behavior and social anxieties to boil over into violence because they haven’t developed healthy ways of managing anger and stress, yet, Slutkin said.

Parents and schools are also trying to combat the threat of cyber-bullying in other ways, including taking pledges to not give their children smart phones until at least 8th grade, or affixing teen crisis hotline numbers on school ID badges.

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