Study Shows Some Anti-Bullying Laws Effective

Discover how anti-bullying legislation is reducing bullying


Following several high-profile suicides among students who were chronically bullied, states across the nation began adopting anti-bullying laws to curb bullying among students. Georgia adopted the first anti-bullying law in 1999 and Montana was the last state to adopt anti-bullying legislation adding it to the books in 2015. Today, every state in the country now has anti-bullying legislation on the books.

A Closer Look at the Study

Recently, a study on the Associations Between Anti-Bullying Policies and Bullying published in JAMA Pediatrics was conducted to review the effectiveness of these laws. Looking at data from more than 60,000 high school students in public and private schools in 25 states, what they found is that laws that incorporated some of the U.S. Department of Education 11 recommendations were the most effective.

In fact, the study, which is the first to look at the direct effect of these laws on students, found that states with laws that had just one of these recommendations showed 24% fewer reports of in-person bullying and 20% fewer reports of cyberbullying. Some of the recommendations laid out by the U.S. Department of Education include spelling out what constitutes bullying, training staff in bullying prevention and monitoring of the policies to be sure they are enforced.

Meanwhile, some states are experiencing more success with their anti-bullying laws than others. According to the report, students in Alabama saw a significant decline in bullying with only 14% reporting a problem. Meanwhile, in South Dakota 27% of students reported being a victim of bullying.

Overall, the average rate of bullying matched the Centers for Disease Control figures of about 20% of students experiencing bullying.

Interestingly, this number has gone down in the last ten years. For instance, in 2005 28% of students reported being bullied. Lead author, Dr. Mark Hatzenbuehler, a professor at Columbia University, indicates that this reduction is largely due to the effectiveness of the states’ anti-bullying laws.

Future Implications of the Study

Yet despite these new laws, millions of students in the U.S. still face bullying everyday and do not feel safe when they attend school. As a result, more research needs to be done to determine what combination of laws work best for bullying prevention and intervention. For instance, should schools have more authority in addressing bullying? Or should bullies face stiffer penalties?

The study indicates that what does work is for states to effectively define bullying behavior and then require schools to create and enforce anti-bullying policies. These laws empower school administrators to stop the behaviors, while providing some consequences for the worst offenders.

What’s more, earlier studies have shown that the most effective programs also engage parents in the bullying prevention process. These programs also empower students to intervene when they witness bullying and engage them in changing the school’s climate.

The lesson here is that anti-bullying laws are effective and as researchers, lawmakers and educators gain a better understanding of what works, more effective legislation can be developed. When this happens, bullying will become less of an issue in schools. And administrators will be empowered to address the issue. But until then, parents and educators need to be diligent in recognizing the signs of bullying and intervening quickly and efficiently.

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