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Bully study hype? Do 80% in high school really see bullying weekly?

The anti-bullying movement got an injection of new, shocking statistics to work with in a dosomething.org online survey that suggests 80 percent of high school students see bullying incidents each week. But considering the uncertainties of what bullying really is, this may not be a fair snapshot of the life of American teens.

By Correspondent / October 18, 2012

A new bullying study suggests 80 percent of American high school students see cases of bullying each week, adding to the anti-bullying movement momentum. Vicki Carlson, owner of Ink & Thread, shows an anti-bully t-shirt she designed to sell in West Branch, Mich., Sept. 27, 2012.

Detroit Free Press/AP

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There’s a new study out today about bullying in American high schools, and at first glance, the numbers from this one are shocking:

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Correspondent

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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Scouring data from more than 50,000 teens across the country, researchers with DoSomething.org, a social action organization for young people, found that more than 80 percent of American high school students see bullying every week. Only a tiny percentage – three percent – said that bullying at their school was “not an issue at all,” and fully half of teens said they rarely or never see their peers intervene. (This despite almost everyone saying that the best way to combat bullying is to have other students, rather than teachers or parents, intervene.)

Also, contrary research by the Pew Internet and American Life Project and other cyberbullying studies, the DoSomething.org survey found that the most commonly reported location of frequent bullying was online: more than two out of three students reported frequent online bullying. (In contrast, 67 percent of teens in Pew research reported that bullying and harassment happens more offline.)

All in all, it is a grim look at the state of teenage life in our country’s high schools.

But before the hand-wringing gets too intense, let’s take a closer look at “The Bully Report.” Because as we have written here before, there is a lot of hype surrounding the growing anti-bullying movement, and it’s all too easy to get wrapped up in sound bites.

First of all, not even the study authors are suggesting that the data garnered from this massive survey is scientific. The numbers come from a Facebook app that DoSomething.org launched in partnership with the movie "Bully" – a film that has received its own share of controversy for what some advocates say is a simplistic, and even reactionary, way of portraying a complicated topic.  (Take a look at some of our earlier posts about the ambiguities of the growing anti-bullying trend.)

DoSomething.org designed the Bully App to be active for eight weeks, with hopes that 15,000 people would take part. More than 21,000 people installed the application and graded their schools within the first 10 days. The organization decided to let the data keep coming in, and within five months, 183,525 people had used the app to report on their experiences and perceptions with bullying.

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