A look at data on bullying policy in 25 states

Students who lived in states with an anti-bullying law that includes at least one US Department of Education-recommended legislative component had lower odds of reporting bullying and cyberbullying compared with students in states whose laws had no such provisions, according to an article published by the American Medical Association in JAMA Pediatrics.

Currently, 49 states have anti-bullying laws in place, although there has been very little empirical examination of their effectiveness.

Mark L Hatzenbuehler, PhD, of the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, and coauthors used data from 25 states to evaluate the effectiveness of anti-bullying legislation in reducing students’ risk of being bullied and cyberbullied.

Data on anti-bullying legislation came from the US Department of Education, which had recommended a framework for anti-bullying laws that was disseminated to schools across the country. In a 2011 report, the DE reviewed the extent to which state anti-bullying laws adhered to those recommendations and found substantial heterogeneity across state policies.

The report identified 16 components divided into four broad categories

  1. definitions of the policy
  2. district policy development and review
  3. mandated procedures
  4. strategies for communication, training and legal support.

Policy variables from 25 states were linked to data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System on bullying and cyberbullying.

The final study sample included 59,472 students in 9th through the 12th grades in public and private schools. The authors report students in states with at least one DOE legislative component in the anti-bullying law had 24 percent lower odds of reporting bullying and 20 percent lower odds of reporting cyberbullying.

Through this research, it was determined that three individual components of anti-bullying legislation were consistently associated with decreased odds of being bullied and cyberbullied:

  • statement of scope
  • description of prohibited behaviors
  • requirements for districts to develop and implement local policies

The authors caution they can only infer about associations—correlations—between anti-bullying policies and rates of being bullied, because the data were cross-sectional and they cannot test causal associations.

“Bullying is a multifaceted phenomenon that requires a multi-pronged approach. Although anti-bullying policies by themselves cannot completely eradicate bullying, these data suggest that such policies represent an important part of a comprehensive strategy for preventing bullying among youth,” the study concludes.

This study was supported in part by a grant from the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention at Columbia University and a Research Core grant from the University of Iowa Injury Prevention Research Center. Both centers were funded by the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.