We’ve seen a troubling increase in suicides related to bullying in recent years. Jama Pediatrics published a study that found that young adults who had been bullied were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide than other individuals their age. And suicide isn’t the only negative behavior that increases in those who have been bullied. Other destructive behaviors are more likely to occur within this group of young adults as well. The following information details the statistics related to bullying deaths, personal stories behind the numbers, some of the reasons for the increase, and what we all can do to prevent these tragedies from happening in the future.
Statistics Related to Bullying Deaths
According to bullyingstatistics.org suicide is already the third leading cause of death for young people. A study out of Great Britain stated that approximately 50 percent of suicides among young adults is related to bullying. Even though many experts are quick to point out that the relationship between bullying and suicide is complex, there is little doubt there is some correlation between bullying and the incidence of violence, including suicide and school shootings. Bullying can be so devastating to some young people that they either kill themselves or attempt to take the lives of others. Approximately 75 percent of those who commit school shootings have been bullied or harassed in some way.
The targets of bullying are often those individuals who are either considered different or weaker than their peers. Gay, lesbian, and overweight students report being bullied more often than other students. Psychiatric Times has reported that some studies suggest that there is a stronger association between bullying and suicide with females. Girls who are bullied or are bullies are at a higher risk of attempting suicide. According to the American Association of Suicidiology, suicide in the 10 to 14 age group has increased more than 50 percent during the last three decades.
The Human Toll Behind the Statistics
Behind the numbers are personal tragedies that seem to be occurring at an alarming frequency. In September 2013, 12 year-old Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide by jumping from a cement silo in Lakeland, Florida. She had been the victim of both face to face and cyber-bullying. Aggravated stalking charges were filed against two girls who had reportedly harassed Rebecca for over a year. The charges were eventually dropped, however, with insufficient evidence being cited as the reason.
Rehtaeh Parsons was a 17 year-old Canadian when she tried to commit suicide in April, 2013 by hanging herself. She didn’t die right away, however. Rehtaeh ended up on life support, which she was taken off of on April 7, 2013. But because of what happened to her, officials in Canada enacted a law that allowed victims to get protection from cyber-bullying and also to be able to sue any perpetrators. Rehtaeh had been bullied for more than a year after an alleged sexual assault.
Tyler Clementi was a freshman at Rutgers University when he jumped to his death from a bridge in September 2010. Clementi had secretly been put on video during a sexual encounter. In light of this young man’s situation the Tyler Clementi Higher Education Anti-Harassment Act was enacted. This legislation requires that universities and colleges that receive federal student aid must enact an anti-harassment policy.
Some individuals involved in these cases point out that bullying wasn’t necessarily the only factor in some of these deaths. Some of these young people did have other personal problems that weighed on them. But whether the bullying was the direct cause that lead to the suicide or not, there’s evidence to support that it was definitely a serious issue that these young people faced.
What makes these cases even more disturbing is that for every young adult who commits suicide because of bullying, there are certainly many more who attempted suicide or who’s suicides where not proven to be directly related to bullying. And as the statistics bear out, even bullying that doesn’t end in suicide can have devastating, long lasting effects on millions of young people’s lives. In light of the serious consequences of bullying, getting to the root causes of why this is happening and happening more frequently is something of great importance.
Why the Increase?
Even one bullying death is too many, but what are the reasons behind the apparent increase? Cyber-bullying deaths seem to be at least part of the problem. According to the National Crime Victimization Survey that reflects the 2011 school year, nearly 28 percent of students aged 12-18 reported that they had been bullied while at school. The National Center for Education Statistics reported that 9 percent of the same age group had been cyber-bullied.
While the cyber-bullied group is significantly lower than those who had been bullied at school, in some ways cyber-bullying can be much more devastating. Bullying at school will often occur one on one or in front of a small group of people. Online bullying is potentially for the whole world to see. This aspect of cyber-bulling can be overwhelming for many young adults. A child can switch schools or even move in extreme cases and start over if the bullying is limited to a school environment. Once something is posted online many young people may literally feel that there is no place to hide and that their chance for a happy life is hopeless.
Advanced technology obviously plays a role in the increase of bullying. Over 70 percent of teens now own smart phones, with most having access to Internet connections at their fingertips. This makes it extremely easy to bully another individual instantly and repeatedly. The overwhelming and far-reaching nature of cyber-bullying may also be why there are more female bullying deaths than those that occur in males. Online bullying has been reported by approximately 23 percent of females while only reported by 11 percent of males.
An increasingly sexualized society has also been pointed out as a probably cause of the rise in bullying. Children are increasingly being accused of being promiscuous, and in some cases, are made fun of for being sexually naive. Children are being forced to deal with sexually charged situations at younger and younger ages. Mentally and emotionally these kids simply are not able to cope with the strain.
What Can Be Done?
There are several steps that school officials, parents, and young people can take to help stop bullying in their communities. The first is to be aware of what is going on with the kids in your environment. Adults need to pay attention to the interactions between the young people they are responsible for. The cliche “nip it in the bud” may seem quaint, but it can go a long way in stopping bullying before it gets out of control. According to dosomething.org 25 percent of teachers see nothing wrong with bullying and will proceed to intervene less than 5 percent of the time. Both parents and teachers need to be educated and aware of the bullying problems in their environment and of the potential consequences.
When it comes to cyber-bullying, parents and teachers must take proactive measures. Adults must know the sites that their children visit when going online. Installing parental control features will enable an adult to see where their children are going when online. Parents or another trusted adult should “friend” the child on social media sites. Some parents may feel uncomfortable doing something like this, thinking that it is too intrusive. But it’s really no different than asking to meet friends that your child is spending time with or seeing where they actually go to spend time. This is not out of the bounds of parenting, especially if the children aren’t even in high school yet.
It’s also important to make sure our kids are savvy when it comes to technology. Make sure your child doesn’t give out any passwords to friends. Kids should know they should never open an unidentified message. Make sure they understand that anything they post online can potentially be read or seen by anyone. They need to know that many times information that is intended to be private doesn’t remain private for long once it’s on the Internet. This means any photos or messages they send out should remain “PG.” A good rule of thumb is that anything a young adult wouldn’t want their parents or grandparents to see shouldn’t be sent out over the Internet. Finally, young people need to know that as soon as any type of harassment or intimidation has occurred that they need to inform a trusted adult immediately.
Putting an end to bullying and the suicides that are too often the result of it will take a concerted effort among parents, schools officials, and young people. If each of us will take the time to learn the signs and have the courage to get involved we can help put an end to devastated and lost lives.