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Back to School 2016: Bullied USA, A Look at State Anti-Bullying Laws and What's Working

Adia Harris, Contributing Writer


This article is part of our September Back to School 2016 theme. Each article focuses on a different aspect of mental health in the school context.


October is National Bullying Prevention Month, but for many kids around the country, an onslaught of victimization, ridicule, and outright physical abuse has already begun with the beginning of a new school year. Often an indomitable aggressor unbound by time or place, the prevalence of bullying behavior afflicting our nation’s youth is an astounding reality.

A Call For National Concern

Every seven seconds a child in the U.S. will be bullied. Every day 160,000 kids will miss out on their education because of fear of torment. Despite a deserving future ahead, bullied kids and adolescents are up to nine times more likely to take their own lives. And yet, there are no national laws against bullying behavior.


All 50 states have passed anti-bullying legislation, with Montana being the last to adopt such a law in 2015. However, a close look at statistics on state bullying legislation and policy suggests bullying is a complex issue because laws don’t always effectively address the right problems, and they can be complicated to interpret.

The politics of bullying are further complicated by the fact that the definition of bullying and the behaviors-prohibitive legislation enacted varies from state to state, and can range from teasing to the already criminal acts of assault. Currently, estimates on the number of states with cyberbullying laws ranges from 18 to 49.

What works?

Even with anti-bullying legislation, criminalization of behavior too recently viewed as a schoolhouse rite of passage often creates more controversy than impactful change. Most schools nationwide have anti-bullying programs, but only eight percent of implemented programs are evidence-based and rarely incorporate metrics for success.

So what proves effective in practice?

In recent years, more schools and school districts have increasingly begun to look outside of state legislation for more holistic approaches like peer conflict mediation and prevention.

Here are two highly recognized programs that have had success nationwide:

  • The Olweus® Bullying Prevention Program, adapted from an anti-bullying study by Norwegian psychologist Dr. Dan Olweus, was piloted in South Carolina in 1990 and is most-researched and best-known program in the country. With a multi-level approach, the program engages students, school administration, and their community in identifying bullying specific to their environment to develop long-term prevention strategies like regular meetings and role-playing exercises, where all parties hold a proactive position in prevention.
  • No Place for Hate® is an anti-bullying call to action initiative run by regional chapters of the global Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), Anti-Defamation League. Open to all K-12 educational institutions, the initiative provides a unique framework for schools to propose and implement their own anti-bullying programming to receive global recognition as a No Place for Hate® designated institution.

Measurable success of any anti-bullying programming is a combined product of whole communities collectively assessing the social climates to identify bullying behaviors that exist in order to implement action-based initiatives that empower all members with a sense of accountability.


Here a few anti-bullying resources:

StopBullying.gov - Resources for evidence-based anti-bullying campaigns

Community Matters - Information and materials for climate-based programming

Bullying Prevention In Urban Schools -Fact Sheet


Engel, P. (2013). 11 Staggering Facts About Bullying In America. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.businessinsider.com/staggering-facts-about-bullying-in-america-2013-10

Clark, B. M. (n.d.). 49 States Now Have Anti-Bullying Laws. How's that Working Out? Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.governing.com/news/headlines/49-States-Now-Have-Anti-Bullying-Laws-Hows-that-Working-Out.html

A, A. (n.d.). Reality Check: Do Bullying Prevention Programs Work? Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.takepart.com/article/2013/12/17/against-bullying-assessing-school-programs

T. (n.d.). Violence Prevention Works from Hazelden Publishing. Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://www.violencepreventionworks.org/public/index.page

No Place For Hate – Southeast Region. (n.d.). Retrieved September 09, 2016, from http://atlanta.adl.org/npfh_/npfh/

Bullying Prevention in Urban Schools Strategies for Success. (n.d.). Retrieved September 9, 2016, from http://www.safeschools.info/content/BPUrbanSchoolsGuide2014.pdf


Chandra C.Comment