Bullying is a persistent and pervasive problem affecting children and adolescent from preschool through college. Though recent data suggest that bullying has declined slightly in recent years, 38 percent of students nationwide still report either bullying others or having been bullied in their lifetime. In Northeast Ohio, bullying rates reach as high as 41 percent, exceeding the national average. Perhaps of even greater concern, students who are bullied in Northeast Ohio appear to report their harassers to adults less frequently. Nationwide, 36 percent of children bullied report having told an adult, while only 23 percent of children bullied in Northeast Ohio did so.
These troubling statistics have spurred a number of investigations examining the steps schools and families are taking to address bullying. WKSU, the public radio station of Kent State University, recently aired a series titled “Mean Kids,” examining the problem of bullying in Northeast Ohio, with a focus on the concerning case of Mentor High School. The school boasts an internationally recognized anti-bullying program, but despite these efforts, between 2005 and 2008, five Mentor High School students have committed suicide, all allegedly, “bullied to death.”
Ohio does have anti-bullying laws designed to combat these behaviors in schools, but identifying and prosecuting bullies is a difficult process. This process is further complicated by the increasing use of technology as a medium for bullying. Bullies no longer “wait in the ally with a baseball bat,” but take advantage of cell phones and internet access to harass their victims. The tragic consequences of this trend were recently illustrated by a Rutgers University freshman’s suicide, which he committed after his intimate encounter with another student was broadcast over the internet, allegedly by his roommate and another acquaintance. This is only one of many ways in which bullies may use technology to harass their victims.
This trend also makes bullying particularly difficult to identify and address. Cyberspace may allow bullies to act anonymously, and both computers and cell phones allow for bullying of schoolmates outside of the school environment. As a result, schools have difficultly determining when and how to intervene when bullying is discovered. Though a number of anti-bullying programs are currently used to combat bullying in schools, it appears that many schools still lack the mechanisms for addressing the serious problem of bullying.