Suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescent children between grades 6-12 in California, arguably due in part to bullying, a form of interpersonal violence that has emerged as an important public health issue in the United States (Burgess, 2006). Since 1999, 43 states have passed laws requiring schools to adopt policies addressing bullying (Serabstein, 2007). However, the inconsistency in application of anti-bullying policies across the country has led to uncertainty as to whether these programs are successful in achieving their intended outcomes. Several supporters of anti-bullying policy legislation, including the American Medical Association (AMA), Bullybust, and the National Parent Teacher Association, work toward bringing awareness to the issue of bullying and supporting prevention efforts to reduce victimization and violence. Each organization uses its influence to support this public health issue by providing resources for students, parents, and educators for addressing bullying incidences effectively and creating a culture of supporters inside and out of school. Anti-anti-bullying organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), stresses that schools do not need to adopt “anti-bullying” policies to prevent bullying, because school officials already possess authority to prohibit student intimidation. However, current school-based anti-bullying programs are not practically effective in reducing bullying or violent behaviors in the schools. An analysis of the current policy on school bullying in California and two alternative policies was conducted, anticipated outcomes were projected along with a budget prediction for policy implementation and sustainability. Each policy was also evaluated independently for effectiveness, equity, and social acceptability. The policies received a rating of low, moderate, or high in each respective category. BULLYING
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death in California (see Figure 1.), behind accidents and homicide, of people aged 10 to 24 resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007). Even more specifically is the fact that suicide is the third leading cause of death for adolescent children between the ages of 10 and 14 arguably due in part to bullying, a form of interpersonal violence, that has emerged as an important public health issue in the United States (Burgess, 2006). According to Dan Olweus, who is widely recognized as the father of bullying research, bullying is aggressive behavior that: (a) is intended to cause harm or distress, (b) occurs repeatedly over time, and (c) occurs in a relationship in which there is an imbalance of power or strength (AMA, 2002; Olweus, 2003; Sherer, 2010; Srabstein, 2007;). Researchers conducting the first nationally representative survey in the U.S. estimated that nearly 6 million children in grades 6 through 10 were involved in moderate or frequent bullying during the school term in which they were surveyed (Nansel et al., 2001). It has been estimated, based on data obtained in 1998, that 30% of U.S. adolescents in grades six through ten were involved in bullying incidents, sometimes several times per week, as bullies and/or victims (Srabstein, 2007). Thirteen percent of students were implicated as bullies; almost 11% indicated that they were victims of bullying, and 6% were both victims and bullies (Srabstein, 2007). to passive victims) (Veenstra, 2005). BULLYING AND ADOLESCENT SUICIDE 4
Youth who are bullied, or who bully others, are at an elevated risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides (Baldry & Winkel, 2003; Srabstein, 2007). Figure 2 graphs the percentage of U.S. high school students reporting considering, planning, or attempting suicide in a 12 month period in 2009 (CDC, 2012). Figure 2. National Suicide Statistics at a Glance
Percentage* of U.S. High School Students Reporting Considering, Planning, or Attempting Suicide in the Past 12 Months, by Sex, United States, 2009 BULLYING AND ADOLESCENT SUICIDE 5
In the United States of America and around the world, suicide is one of the most serious symptoms of psychopathology (Kim, 2008). National Suicide Statistics at a Glance (CDC, 2012)
Smoothed, Age-adjusted Suicide Rates* per 100,000 population, by County, United States, 2000–2006 *All rates are age-adjusted to the standard 2000 population. Figure 3. U.S. Suicide Rates 2000-2006
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Researchers at Yale School of Medicine have found signs of an apparent connection between bullying, being bullied, and suicide in children. It is therefore essential that researchers work to identify the causes and correlates of these outcomes among this vulnerable population (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010) to support school personnel in finding solutions to discourage and prevent bullying. Even when murder or suicide is not the outcome, bullying can leave lasting emotional and psychological scars on children (Barone, 1997). Media reports of children driven to suicide following bullying at school have highlighted the serious negative mental health consequences of bullying. Although these cases are very rare compared to the rates of children bullied at school, they highlight the need for awareness among parents/caregivers, educators, and health professionals (Herba, 2008).
There have been several high-profile cases involving teenagers taking their own lives in part because of being harassed and mistreated over the Internet (Apollo, 2007; Halligan, 2006; Jones, 2008), a phenomenon recently termed cyberbullicide—suicide indirectly or directly influenced by experiences with online aggression (Hinduja & Patchin, 2009). Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. BULLYING AND ADOLESCENT SUICIDE 8
Patchin, of the Cyberbullying Research Center, sampled 4,441 teens, ranging in age from 11 to 18, from a large school district in the southern U.S. In this study, the researchers defined cyberbullying as “when someone repeatedly makes fun of another person online or repeatedly picks on another person through email or text message or when someone posts something online about another person that they don’t like”. According to their results, cyberbullying victimization rates have varied in the past few years, ranging between 18.8 percent in May 2007 and 28.7 percent in Nov. 2009 with a mean of 27.32 percent based on 7 different studies from May 2007 through Feb. 2010 (Hinduja & Patchin, 2010).
Education Code section 32260-32262, known and may be referred to as the Interagency School Safety Demonstration Act of 1985was passed by the California Legislature to encourage school districts, county offices of education, law enforcement agencies and youth services agencies to develop and implement interagency strategies, in-service training programs, and activities that will improve school attendance and reduce school crime and violence, including vandalism, drug and alcohol abuse, gang membership, gang violence, hate crimes, bullying, including bullying committed personally or by means of an electronic act, teen relationship violence, and discrimination and harassment, including, but not limited to, sexual harassment (www.crededucation.org, 2007). The LAUSD’s Bullying and Hazing Policy BUL-5212.1 defines bullying & hazing behavior and provides procedures and responsibilities for how school staff, parents, and students are expected to manage and resolve bullying behavior (www.lausd.net, 2012). Stakeholders
American Medical Association (AMA)
The National School Climate Center (NSCC)
For more than a decade NSCC has worked together with the entire academic community—teacher, staff, school-based mental health professionals, students and parents—to improve a climate for learning (2010). The National School Climate Center (NSCC) is an organization that helps schools integrate crucial social, emotional and civic learning with academic instruction to enhance student performance, prevent drop outs, reduce violence, and develop healthy and positively engaged adults. NSCC’s goal is to promote positive and sustained school climate: a safe, supportive environment that nurtures social and emotional, ethical, and academic skills (www.schoolclimate.org, 2010). BullyBust
BullyBust: Promoting a Community of Upstanders is nationwide bully prevention awareness effort launched by NSCC in 2009, BullyBust is designed to help students and adults become “upstanders”—people who stand up to bullying and become part of the solution to end harmful harassment, teasing, and violence in our nation's schools. BullyBust promotes valuable free supports to help schools-in-need put an end to bullying with targeted school-wide and classroom-based efforts. This site includes research-based resources for students, parents, and educators for addressing bullying incidences effectively and creating a culture of upstanders inside and out of school (www.schoolclimate.org). GLAAD
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Defamation (GLAAD) amplifies the voice of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) community by empowering them to share their stories, BULLYING AND ADOLESCENT SUICIDE 11
holding media accountable for the words and images they present, and helping grassroots organizations communicate effectively (www.glaad.org, 2012). GLAAD promotes understanding, increases acceptance, and advances equality. GLAAD started Spirit Day in 2010 as a response to young people who had taken their own lives (www.glaad.org, 2012). Spirit Day is a day to show support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) by wearing purple as a visible stand against bullying. End to Cyberbullying Organization (ETCB)
Founded on May 1st 2011, the “End to Cyber Bullying” (ETCB) is a non-profit organization aimed to combat cyber bullying in this modern age (www.endcyberbullying.org, 2011-2012). ETCB’s mission is to raise awareness, provide a plethora of cyber bullying information, offer compassionate, approachable services, and mobilize students, educators, parents, and others in taking efforts to end cyber bullying. ETCB will work to create a global social networking arena where all users can feel safe and positive (www.endcyberbullying.org). Anti-Bullying Laws in California, specifically in Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), with a student enrollment for 2011-2012 of 664,223 students in Kindergarten through 12th grade, declare that any form, type, or level of bullying is unacceptable, and that every incident needs to be taken seriously by school administrators, school staff (including teachers), students, and students’ families (LAUSD, 2011). Supported by California’s Department of Education (CDE) bullying prevention strategies include implementing a school wide anti-bullying policy, a survey of bullying problems at each school, increased supervision, school wide assemblies, and teacher in-service training to raise the awareness of children and school staff regarding bullying. The CDE also recommends establishing classroom rules against bullying, holding regular class meetings to discuss bullying at school, scheduling meetings with all parents, and having individual discussions with each student identified as either a bully or a target (CDE, 2012). BULLYING AND ADOLESCENT SUICIDE 14
Alternative Policy B (Policy B)
A statewide Non Tolerance Policy including Prevention & Intervention Programs would best support student safety and consistency throughout the State of California. Compared to Zero Tolerance policies which specify which conduct is unacceptable at school and the consequences that will follow for those who engage in the prescribed conduct. As suggested by their name, the policies allow for no exceptions, compromise, or discretion (Rice, 2009). Non Tolerance focuses on education, prevention, and intervention as a reaction to disciplinary problems and it provides an array of strategies to solve the complex problems of disruption and violence (www.safeatschool.ca, 2012). Zero tolerance policies are complex, costly and generally ineffective. Suspension and expulsion may set individuals who already display antisocial behavior on an accelerated course to delinquency by putting them in a situation in which there is a lack of parental supervision and a greater opportunity to socialize with other deviant peers. An approach of Non Tolerance is the best alternative and a holistic approach to remedying bullying activity (www.nasponline.org, 2001). Alternative Policy (Policy C)
Policy C recommends law enforcement involvement up to and including court imposed sentencing, intervention, monitoring or supervision by probation departments. Students identified as being directly or indirectly involved in the perpetration of bullying activities targeting school students, staff, or administrators shall be arrested, charged with a misdemeanor offense for bullying (as to be defined by legislatures at some future date certain), and recommended for expulsion from the school at which the incident occurred whether or not the student is found guilty of the crime of bullying. Student may also be restrained by a court from contacting any alleged victims or witnesses involved in the incident, upon request of any persons involved.