Bullying is a widespread phenomenon, considered to be a serious problem by students, parents and staff from many school communities. Painful memories of bullying experienced during childhood may continue well into adulthood.
According to bullying prevention expert Les Parsons (Bullied Teacher: Bullied Student (2005)), international studies have found that anywhere from a third to three-quarters of students have been involved in bullying situations. In Gray’s Guide to Bullying (2004), Carol Gray reports that some 160 000 students in the United States miss school each day due to bullying. In their 2005 study, Dr. Tanya Beran and Dr. Leslie Tutty from the University of Calgary report that half the students in their study had been bullied and that the students in Grades 1-3 were bullied as frequently as the students in grades 4-6. Various studies have also found that 80% of bullying in schools is never reported.
Those who bully, those who are targeted, and those who witness bullying, are all susceptible to long-term, social and emotional problems. Researchers frequently discover a correlation between being bullied and depression and suicide. Between 1980 and 1997, the suicide rate in the United States for all 10-14 year-olds increased 109% (Les Parsons (2005)).
An increase in the use of electronic media has provided a new platform for bullying. According to a recent study by the York Region Parent Health Connection in Ontario, 60% of all students use chat rooms and instant messaging, 25% report receiving bullying messages, 16% admit to posting threatening messages, 14% have been threatened on the Internet, and 44% possess an email account without their parents’ consent. Targets of cyberbullying are often reluctant to report the abuse in case their parents restrict or severely supervise their computer time.
Homophobia is frequently used to drive a wedge between the targets of bullies, whether heterosexual or homosexual, and their peers. A typical secondary student hears anti-gay slurs an average of 25 times a day. Among gay and lesbian youth, 80% report being verbally abused and 17% physically attacked. Gay and lesbian youth comprise 30% of all teen suicides (Les Parsons (2005).
In the face of so much and so many different types of bullying, some schools have had difficulty finding effective solutions.