It's been a big week in the world of bullying prevention. A new national study,"Trends in Childhood Violence and Abuse Exposure" was released. A headline from an Associated Press story declares,
U.S. Survey Finds Sharp Drop in Children's Bullying
Not to be presumptuous, but I'd like to do a little editing:
U.S. Survey Finds a Sharp Drop in Children'sPhysical Bullying
That's good news in itself and programs, such as Olweus, should feel very encouraged and proud that programs such as theirs are making an impact. This survey is validation to keep up the good work and to continue funding critical programs that make children feel safer at school and thus perform better. According to the story:
The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Justice, found that the percentage of children who reported being physically bullied over the past year had declined from nearly 22 percent in 2003 to under 15 percent in 2008. The percentage reporting they'd been assaulted by other youths, including their siblings, dropped from 45 percent to 38.4 percent.
The term bullying has come to mean more than physical bullying. The headline is dangerously misleading. I want to celebrate with the rest of the bullying prevention advocates but I was a little unnerved by the broad classification of bullying. I have a sense that physical bullying may be on the decline but other forms are not: cyberbullying, including texting and misuse of social networks, and mental abuse including ostracizing and teasing. Also, I'm wondering if kids with conditions, such as Asperger's, are finding that physical bullying is on the decline -- or on the rise. The same question applies to gay teens.
The simple act of adding the word "Physical" to the headline is really important for a few reasons:
• AP stories reach the general public and the general public is a little behind the curve in understanding bullying. It's not "Sid" in Toy Story anymore. It's kids finding new and more efficient ways to belittle their peers.
• Adults may start to dismiss the issue of bullying, assuming it is being taken care of. Marlene Snyder of Clemson was so correct when she said that we can't let up on this effort. Every year, new teachers have to be trained. It's not solved, it's showing signs of promise.
• 15% of kids reporting that they've been somehow physically assaulted is still a lot of kids.
• Bullying is too general a term and kids who are experiencing emotional pain at the hands of peers aren't necessarily thinking this is a problem that is going away anytime soon. They don't know what to call it but it hurts.
• AP is everywhere. Leaving out a critical word in a headline has ramifications forever. We need to draw more decision makers into this issue and it would be tragic if reading this headline somehow diminishes the breadth of the problem.
But here comes another BUT...
If this survey inspires good, smart, devoted people to keep at it because there are tangible results then there is much good that comes out of the attention.
Show this to all the headline writers you know.