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Bullying facts: Sifting through the hype for a clear picture

Bullying facts are not as straightforward as you might think  because "bully" has become a buzz word in education. Separating normal childhood development from a serious problem is increasingly difficult as the concept of bullying gets spin from interest groups.

By Correspondent / September 24, 2012

Bullying facts are often shrouded in hype. A "Back To School Bully Buster Bootcamp" run by Kyuki-Do Martial Arts in Huntley, Ill., drew a crowd of kids who were taught self-defense moves and how to stay calm in front of a bully, Aug. 2, 2012.



Parents who sent their kids back to school this month have probably already heard a lot about bullying. Not necessarily because their children have encountered a bully, mind you, nor because school administrators suspect that Junior is a bully himself. 

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is a longtime Monitor correspondent. She lives in Andover, Mass. with her husband, her two young daughters, a South African Labrador retriever and an imperialist cat..

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No, they will have likely heard about bullying – and may have even read reports, signed pledges, watched awareness videos, and learned about new school rules  – because across the country “bullying” has become one the buzz-iest buzz words in education – maybe even in American public discourse overall. (Why else would the question of whether a teenage Mitt Romney was a bully become part of a presidential campaign? And the chair of the US House Foreign Relations Committee even recently called China a “bully” to its maritime neighbors. Take that, Beijing.)

RELATED: 5 bullying myths – what you don't know

But what’s actually going on with bullying in America? 

At Modern Parenthood, we’ve been following the daily flow of bullying-related news items from around the country. But we still have questions: How prevalent – honestly – is bullying in American schools? Has online bullying taken over the lives of teenagers? What should schools (and state legislators, for that matter) do to stop bullying? And while we’re at it, what’s the definition of bullying, anyhow?

Turns out the answers aren't as straight forward as you might think.

Over the past few weeks, we've been reaching out to child development experts, educators and bullying researchers to ask them about these issues. We’ve checked out a number of academic studies on bullying, too. (And there are a lot of them.) In future posts, we’ll share some of what we’ve learned – about anti-bullying initiatives, anti-bullying laws, cyberbullying and various other aspects of what turns out to be a sprawling, complicated topic. (For a preview, check out our Top 5 Myths About Bullying.)

Here's the general picture:
Almost everyone we interviewed agrees that bullying is a problem. As the American Academy of Pediatrics stated in its 2009 policy on youth violence prevention, there's a lot of research that connects bullying to other acts of violence, as well as depression, decreased physical health and long-term psychological challenges. Researchers who study bullying often note how surprised they are to interview adults who have crystal-clear, troubled recollections of incidents of bullying that took place decades earlier.

But the extent of that problem, and what to do about it, well ... that's another story.

There has been a significant cultural shift over the past decade in the way we view bullying. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily new:  University of Massachusetts, Amherst Professor Laura Lovett points out that, historically, there have been a number of times  public perception has changed about what is “normal” for children. At the end of the 19th century, for instance, writers such as Charles Dickens and Thomas Hughes start questioning in their literary work the “standard” child-on-child violence at boarding schools, she says, which helps lead to a new cultural sense of childhood as a time of life that should be protected.


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