Bullying in Schools: A Growing Problem? Americans Think So

NEW YORK, N.Y. – While its pertinence shifts from time to time, bullying never seems to fade from the media entirely, and maybe for good reason since most Americans believe the problem isn’t going away. Six in 10 adults (60%) agree bullying in schools today is more common than when they were in school, with women more likely than men to feel this way (65% vs. 53%, respectively).

Nearly 3 in 4 adults (73%) say they have some experience with bullying in school (grades K-12) – whether they were the victim, the instigator, or are simply aware of someone else’s ill-treatment. Millennials and Gen Xers are more likely than older generations to have experience with bullying (84% and 81% vs. 66% Baby Boomers and 47% Matures).

Around 4 in 10 adults each say they recall being personally bullied (43%) or know of someone else it happened to (40%) while in school. But it appears some adults may not want to fess up to their own wrong-doings as just 1 in 10 (10%) admits they bullied someone else while in school. Those who were bullied themselves are three times as likely as those who weren’t to say they bullied someone else (16% vs. 5%, respectively).

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll® of 2,219 U.S. adults surveyed online between February 17 and 22, 2016.

Bullying in the digital age

About 1 in 5 adults (21%) who were bullied or witnessed it say they experienced cyber bullying. Moreover, nearly 9 in 10 (86%) adults agree technology has made it easier to bully someone. Unsurprisingly, Millennials are much more likely to have experienced cyber bullying than any other generation (39% vs. 14% Gen Xers, 10% Baby Boomers, and 8% Matures). This number jumps to an astounding 60% when looking at younger Millennials ages 18-24. Women, more so than men, agree technology is making it easier to bully someone (88% vs. 84%, respectively).

Sticks and stones

Among those who experienced bullying, nearly all (98%) encountered face-to-face bullying – either verbal (88%) or physical (68%). Women are more likely than men to have verbal experiences (92% vs. 83%, respectively), while men are more likely to have physical ones (78% vs. 58% women).

With verbal bullying the most prevalent form, it comes as little surprise that many believe this is still on the rise. Two-thirds (66%) of all adults agree children today are more likely to bully each other verbally/emotionally than when they were in school.

However, this hardly means that physical bullying is going away any time soon. Just 35% of all adults agree children are less likely to bully each other physically today than when they were in school. Interestingly, Millennials are more likely than any other generation to agree with this sentiment (46% vs. 34% Gen Xers, 29% Baby Boomers, and 28% Matures).

The rhyme or reason

According to those who have experience, the most common reasons for bullying are physical appearance (62%) and social awkwardness (54%). Other top reasons include:

  • Race/ethnicity (34%)
  • Unusual qualities (32%)
  • High level of intelligence (27%)
  • Behavioral or emotional disorder (27%)
  • Physical disability or illness (25%)
  • Socioeconomic standing (25%)
  • Sexual orientation (23%)
  • Intellectual disability or cognitive impairment (21%)
  • Sexual history/reputation (18%)
  • Not confirming to gender stereotypes (18%)
  • Gender identity (14%)
  • Alcohol/drug use history/reputation (8%)

What should be done?

Most shockingly, while nearly half of adults (46%) say they personally witnessed bullying while they were in school, just one quarter (26%) say they helped someone who was being bullied.

Six in 10 adults (61%) agree overprotecting school age children from bullying could be bad for their ability to stand up for themselves. However, most still think something needs to be done as only 26% believe a good strategy for handling bullying is to ignore it.

Men, more so than women, are fans of the “tough love” approach to addressing bullying.

  • 65% of men agree overprotecting school age children from bullying could be bad for their ability to stand up for themselves, compared to 57% of women.
  • Nearly 3 in 10 men (29%) say ignoring bullying is a good strategy, compared to only about 1 in 4 women (24%).

Interestingly, nearly half of adults (47%) say they would rather find out their child is being bullied than that they are a bully.

 


Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online, in English, within the United States between February 17 and 22, 2016 among 2,219 adults. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online. 

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words “margin of error” as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll® #24, April 7, 2016

By Allyssa Birth, Senior Research Analyst, The Harris Poll