Is bullying on the rise?

It certainly seems to be. Journalists are writing more stories about it. Documentary filmmakers are producing features about it. School boards and administrators are writing new policies to address it. Parents are more concerned about it.

The National Center for Education Studies reported that bullying at schools increased 25 percent from 2003 to 2007. A Massachusetts study found a 50 percent increase in reported bullying from 1983 to 2003. An estimated 160,000 children stay home from school each day for fear of being bullied.

The 2008 National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, a comprehensive study sponsored by the Department of Justice and the Centers for Disease Control, found that more than 60 percent of American children had been exposed to violence within the previous year.

The numbers certainly seem alarming. But it’s hard to know whether the national statistics indicate that bullying is increasing or whether students are simply more willing to report it.

One of the problems with emphasizing the increase in bullying is that it may have the effect of encouraging even more bullying by making it seem more prevalent than it actually is. Sociologists have long warned about a phenomenon known as “misperception of norms,” in which the false belief that a certain behavior is normal will tend to increase the behavior. For instance, college students who believe that a majority of other students drink alcohol regularly are likely to drink more often themselves.

What this means is that simply drawing attention to bullying may not be the best way to prevent it. It is just as likely to cause kids to regard bullying behavior as normal and inevitable.

But just as it is possible to increase bullying by making it seem normal, it may be possible to reduce or even eliminate bullying by making it appear unacceptable.

Skeptics, of course, insist that it is impossible to eliminate bullying. They say it is human nature for some kids to tease other kids; it is just part of growing up. You might be able to reduce it somewhat, but you can’t eliminate it.

But consider an analogy. For decades it was accepted as fact that serious accidents will happen at construction sites, especially when workers are dealing with inherently deadly products, such as electricity. But then Pieper Electric changed the perception. They made it their goal not only to reduce but to eliminate serious accidents at their worksites. And year after year they have achieved that goal. Once again, in 2011, with 625 employees, they reported zero deaths, zero days off from work and zero days of job transfer or restriction due to injury.

How do they do it?

They take safety seriously. They train their employees in the latest safety techniques. They evaluate safety. They reward safety. And they do all of this with a greater purpose. They want to eliminate serious accidents because they care about their employees. They live out their motto: “Our people are our power.”

Of course, Pieper Electric can’t prevent all serious accidents in their community. They can only influence what happens on their worksites.

In the same way, preventing bullying in schools won’t stop all violence against children. But it will stop some, and it will provide a place of safety for children who face violence at home.

Just as an electric company that cares about its employees won’t tolerate unsafe working conditions, a society that cares about its children won’t tolerate bullying in its schools.

Whether or not bullying is on the rise, it happens often enough that adults should get serious about stopping it. It harms the children who are subjected to it, it harms the children who witness it, and it harms the children who do it.

If we care about our kids, we will make their safety our priority. And if it is our priority, it will become theirs as well.

The Ethical Life is a series of reflections on the ways ethical thinking influences our actions, emotions and relationships. Richard Kyte is the director of the D.B. Reinhart Institute for Ethics in Leadership at Viterbo University.

(11) comments


I agree! why bully? what other people think of themselves? perfect? I really don't understand why they love to feel the feeling of others being hurt. This is serious! I am glad and really thankful that somehow, I had stopped the bullying thing with my teen daughter. I was looking for some great answer for that problem and I found out about this great application called SafeTREC. I downloaded the app on my daughter's iPhone and there I can monitor where and what is happening with her. Whenever she presses the panic button, she will be on a conference call with us, even with the 911 dispatcher whenever there's a real time emergency. Help is on the way! After we subscribed to that service, I can see some improvements with my daughter. I can feel that she is not anymore afraid to go party with her friends. thanks to SafeTREC! you can also try them out.


Fight back ! Fight back ! Even if you end up in trouble, fight back !


The bullies themselves are typically very vulnerable and thin skinned. Take Mitt Romney's venture into bullying when Mitt and several of his friends beat up and cut the hair off of another kid they were calling g@y. There is no possible way that Mitt Romney, as a cheerleader, in the 1960's, in the mid-west, was not considered g@y himself by most people during that era. His actions and his interest in the g@y kid almost certainly prove that he was g@y himself. A normal, mid-west kid during that era would not have been so intrigued.

Hey Trib! G@y is profanity?


The goal is admirable but unfortunately the analogy isn't completely applicable. Electric company employees would all naturally work toward the goal of eliminating work deaths and injuries, unlike school bullies who naturally work against the goal to eliminate bullying. And bullies naturally work to sabotage that goal out of adults' sight, as CelticMan pointed out.


The success of the Electric company is to be applauded but to espect the same results from a govt program is not a good analogy. Any attempt by our govt to mandate morality gets tired around the wheel of political correctness, political agendas, and ends up being a mismash of good intentions that goo everything up.


Unfortunately, bullying, is impossible to define. Like pornography. I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. Problem is, we seldom "see" it.
I have to agree with Abe also. When did we become so thin skinned that EVERYTHING offends us? Instead of learning to deal with it, we cry, complain, and call the cops. When did it become the cop's job to settle all our disputes? When did we cease to be men, and turned into a bunch of wimps? OOPS - am I now a bully?




The schools do try to stamp out bullying. It is tough, however. Kids who bully other kids don't do it where teachers, etc. can see. Then, it often becomes a "he said, she said" thing. Probably the biggest problem is that it has become so much easier for bullies to do their thing on a such larger scale, with such a bigger audience.

Also, it has become more acceptable for parents to say, as does "Honest Abe" that free speech is protected. They use this argument against teacher/admin to keep their child from getting punished. "Free speech" is not an argument that something is right, however. Picking on the heavy kid, or the kid with the learning issue, whatever, is not right, even if it is "protected". The best parents understand this, don't tolerate these behaviors at home, which in turn lessens the activity at schools, etc.


When schools encourage students to lift one another up and create a safe environment, they show kids what the world could be like. Out in the workplace, bullying generally is not acceptable and people do not get far if they demean their co-workers. Teach kids to work in teams and back one another up, and find ways to discourage bullying - that may mean consequences for observed bullying. Do not forget silent bullying, often in girls where exclusion tactics are a powerful harm - when "everyone belongs" in some fashion, a school can thrive.


What I'd like to see is kids taught how to have thicker skin. If they're made soft in school, guess what they will be when they're adults?

Already laws are being made "anti-bullying" ... we already have laws against threats and battery ... so, bullying is the inability of someone to take being called fat or ugly? IT'S WORDS. Sticks and stones .............

We need to teach the majority how to have thicker skin and not be so sensitive ... I mean, the military allows gays now, but do we really want laws put in place to help them get there? I'd rather help them toughen up and have fewer laws on the books.

More and more freedoms are taken away, and what some say is bullying, I call free speech. Remember Suzy fatty that was made fun of in high school? Now she's a model. I'm not saying it's right ... but it's free speech even if it's negative, and sometimes a dose of truth may be a good thing.


I am against bullying, but then ANYONE who has ever been bullied will obviously be against bullying, but what I wonder is how schools will classify bullying. Already kids have been made to remove T-shirts which say things like "Jesus saves", because some school administrators believe that such shirts are "hateful". Will these same school administrators call any Christian stance against things like homosexuality as "bullying"? I'm afraid they will, which will simply be an example of public school administrators bullying Christian students for standing up for their beliefs.
The simplist way for a kid to deal with a bully is to take a public stand against them. It's hard for kids to do, but that is the most effective way of ending bullying, because bullys don't like targets which 'hit' back.

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