U.S. Bullying Report Card: Has Anything Gotten Better In The Last 5 Years?

We've seen celebrities wear their "You can sit with us" t-shirts, we've worn pink shirts on anti-bullying days, and laws tackling student harassment have been passed — but day after day, heartbreaking stories of bullied children continue to make headlines. It's enough to make any parent wonder: have bullying rates in the United States improved in the last five years, or are things actually getting worse for American children?

The numbers, it seems, are a bit contradictory. In July, the U.S. Department of Education released a report on bullying trends across the country, which analyzed students' self-reported levels of bullying every two years, from 2004 to 2013. Students aged 12 to 18 reported any incidents in which they'd been bullied while they were at school or on their way to school.

While 2016 statistics weren't available, bullying rates actually decreased from 2007 to 2013. The percentage of kids who reported being bullied in 2013 was only 22 percent, compared to a higher rate of 32 percent in 2007 — a number that successively decreased every year after that. (Throughout all the years in which students were surveyed, it's interesting to note that female students reported higher rates of bullying than male students did — and a study published in Social Psychology of Education found that women often can carry the psychological effects of bullying into young adulthood.)

However, an important thing to note is that the U.S. Department of Education's report didn't take into account any bullying that occurred off of school premises. While playground bullying may have decreased in recent years, cyberbullying seems to be on the rise, if a recent Boston-based study is anything to go by. When 16,000 Bostonian high school students were studied over six years, rates of cyberbullying increased from 14.6 percent in 2006 to 21.2 percent in 2012, according to The Boston Globe. (Numbers from the Cyberbullying Research Center put this even higher in 2016, with 33.6 percent of middle- and high-school students reporting incidences of cyberbullying.)

Even if bullying is slowing down at school, parents and educators need to be aware of increases in cyberbullying and the fact that at least two in ten children are being bullied at school — likely more, considering that some students won't report bullying. Even if parents don't think their child is being bullied, they should talk to their children about it, reach out to educators to discuss school policies, and get involved in ending bullying. The more everyone knows about the issues at hand and works to prevent them, the closer we'll get to eliminating bullying in schools.