Study Suggests That Anti-Bullying Legislation Pays Off


A new study published in JAMA Pediatrics suggests that certain state laws have aided in the reduction of bullying and cyber-bullying among teenagers.

A 2013 survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saw around 20% of high school students report being the victim of bullying while on school grounds within the last 12 months.  In a separate question, 15% of those surveyed said they had been cyberbullied within the past year.

Over the past 10 years, many states have implemented prevention policies as a result of an increase in public awareness concerning the health effects of childhood bullying, including anxiety, depression, feelings of isolation, substance abuse, and suicide attempts, reports Ashley Welch for CBS News.

“It’s hard to believe that about 15 years ago, we didn’t have any anti-bullying laws, and now all 50 states have either an anti-bullying law or policy. Even though there’s been a lot of legislative activity related to bullying, surprisingly there has been very little research, if any, on whether these laws are actually effective in doing what they’re supposed to do, which is reduce bullying,” study author Mark Hatzenbuehler, associate professor of Sociomedical Sciences at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, said.

Surveys were completed by around 62,000 students between grades nine and twelve.  Researchers took their responses, and compared them to data from the US Department of Education pertaining to anti-bullying legislation in 25 states.

Researchers found that states that had laws upholding at least one DOE recommendation for anti-bullying policies also had teens that were 24% less likely to report being the victim of bullying and 20% less likely to be the victim of cyber-bullying, reports Lois M. Collins for Deseret National News.

“This is the largest and most comprehensive evaluation documenting the effectiveness of anti-bullying laws in reducing high school students’ risk of being bullied,” Hatzenbuehler said. “This is the first study to indicate that these laws are working.”

The average rate of bullying found in the 25 states used for the study was 20%.  Alabama came in at 14%, the lowest rate, while South Dakota was found to have the highest rate at 27%.

Meanwhile, cyberbullying rates averaged out at 16%, with the lowest rate again found in Alabama at 12%, while South Dakota came in highest at 20%.

Certain legislative components were found to be more effective.  The more specific laws were in their definition of bullying, as well as their wording of where the legislation applied, the more successful the law was found to be by researchers.  In addition, successful laws were found to require school districts to develop and implement their own anti-bullying policies.

Hatzenbuehler said that further research was needed into the topic, as this study did not look into why the laws were effective.  He would like to see additional studies offer information as to how to proactively create legislation that will most effectively reduce bullying.