New Report: Bullying Is a Serious Public Health Issue

Has your child been bullied?

Posted May 11, 2016

I’m not surprised about how many children the new National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (2016) report estimates is affected by bullying. Between 18% and 31% of children are considered to experience genuine bullying, whether it was verbal, mental or physical. Today’s bullies do anything from pushing someone’s head in the toilet and flushing (yes, this was a story a real-life kid told me) to sending mean texts (i.e. cyberbullying) for usually being different, which we all are.

Having worked with 1000’s of children I can honestly say the majority of them don’t really understand what bullying is. This confusion leads to children blaming themselves when other children tease them, and also a slew of mental and physical health issues (i.e. anxiety, depression, sleeplessness, headaches, stomach problems and more). This report cites the link between these ailments and repeated bullying, which has reached epic proportions. It’s for this reason why it’s now considered “a serious public health issue” as explained in this report.

Changing the conversation

Changing the conversation from anti-bullying to pro-health is what’s needed. This report emphasized that many zero tolerance policies don’t work, and they actually may be harmful. Helping children (bullies, bystanders or those bullied) understand why bullying isn’t a smart choice is our aim under a larger umbrella of nurturing emotional intelligence. Richard Davidson, PhD, a leading researcher, reports that emotional intelligence (EQ) is the single biggest predictor of success in life, so the big question is: Why aren’t we teaching EQ in every classroom?

Change takes time, but it’s time we don’t have. The rates of school violence whether it’s bullying, or situations far worse in the United States keep escalating. I just went to look up a friend at Howard School in California, and found the terrible situation at Howard High School in Delaware where a teen was beaten to death in her school bathroom. Instead of constantly reacting from one tragedy to the next we (as collective change makers) need to be pro-active in helping children early-on gain the skills of emotional and social health.

Of course, there’s not one “cookie cutter” solution. But there are many social and emotional learning (SEL) programs that focus on getting children to develop healthy emotional skills, and interact with others in pro-social ways. In the SEL program I created I also added some lessons around bullying because of the enormity of this issue, and the lack of skills children have in handling these types of situations. Although, I realize SEL programs aren’t the panacea, they do seem like the most logical and pro-active next step in helping eliminate the current epidemic of bullying in America.

Report Recommendations

In the NASEM report, they also recommend using SEL with more intensive programs for children already involved in bullying (as an instigator or target). It also suggests leveraging technology to teach, and collecting more data to pinpoint where the bullying is actually happening in the school so supervision can be increased. Of course, there’s more involved in this report but I wanted to emphasize the enormity of the issue (still) and offer potential pro-active solutions such as social and emotional learning programs, which teach positive behaviors from the get-go. Because when children know better, they do better.

By Maureen Healy

Maureen Healy is an award-winning author and leading voice for children’s emotional health. Her book, Growing Happy Kids, shares how to nurture a deeper sense of confidence and ultimately, happiness in children. To learn more: www.highlysensitivekids.com