Ten-year trends in bullying and related attitudes among 4th- to 12th-graders in Maryland (USA)

29 November 2017

A recently published study by researchers at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Virginia, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia examined the prevalence of different forms of bullying and related behaviors across 10 years among 4th to 12th graders. It summarized data regarding 13 self-reported indicators of bullying and related behaviors and attitudes collected from more than 246,000 students at 109 Maryland schools between 2005 and 2014.

Overall, the reported prevalence of bullying decreased across the 10 years of the study, with the greatest improvements in school climate and reductions in bullying occurring in the most recent years. The rates of self-reported frequent bullying victimization showed a sharp decreased from 28.5% in 2005 to 13.4% in 2014; similarly, victimized by being pushed, hit, threats, cyberbullying, and having rumors spread decreased significantly over the 10 years. The prevalence of witnessing bullying decreased from 66% in 2005 to 43% in 2014. Approximately 80% of students reported they felt safe and that they belonged at school, illustrating that ratings of safety increased over time. This study has deliberately focused on trend analysis over the period of ten years and elaboration on reasons behind the decreasing trend has not been included in the study. However, based on the knowledge of the context, the researchers have concluded by introducing two candidate reasons most probably influencing the observed trend.

Taken together, the analyses indicated that 10 of the 13 indicators positively changed significantly, thereby suggesting improvements in the schools, as indicated by a reduction in bullying prevalence and related attitude; the effect sizes of the change were in the small to moderate range (ranged .04 to .67) when comparing the first and last year’s data.

These findings suggest that there have been some improvements when it comes to bullying and school climate between 2005 and 2014. Although a systematic analysis of reasons contributing to the observed trend has not been part of the research framework, it is believed that the increased strong focus on the topic of bullying within society and assigning mandated spaces to monitor and respond to reported cases have directly contributed to the sharp decrease of bullying prevalence.   

Although these findings are promising, it is important to emphasize that a large proportion of youth are still experiencing bullying and the current prevalence rates continue to be of great concern. Nevertheless, with greater attention given to bullying in recent years, it is encouraging to see that there may be some improvements.

This article was prepared based on the contribution made by Tracy Evian Waasdorp, Elise T. Pas, Benjamin Zablotsky and Catherine P.Bradshaw, at the request of UNESCO to make available data evidence on the SDG Target 4.a.2. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and should not be attributed to UNESCO.

As the world moves forward on the implementation of the Education 2030 Agenda, UNESCO is committed to monitoring the progress towards the achievement of Target 4.a.2 focusing on School based Violence and Bullying. UNESCO has published its School Violence and Bullying Global Status Report as the reference for prognosis and response framework.