Dr. Adrienne Duke, Alabama Extension Specialist and Assistant Professor, Human Development and Family Studies
In a recent article, the state of Alabama was listed as having the12th lowest bullying incident rates in the country. At first glance this appears to be an excellent finding. However, while the numbers appear to be low, researchers, parents, and teachers know that most bullying goes unreported.
Bullying incidence rates are based on reported and recorded occurrences. "In the state of Alabama, the law omits the word "bullying," making it one of two states that does not include "bullying" as a part of the law. Instead bullying is defined as harassment. Therefore, if youth do not report that they are being harassed, administrators cannot accurately assess the frequency or scope of bullying in their schools, says Alabama Extension Specialist Dr. Adrienne Duke. "Furthermore, even when youth report a bullying incident, it may not be recorded by school officials as harassment, but be categorized as something else. Thus, the report is not included in the data from which bullying rates are estimated, resulting in numbers that appear lower."
In a study done by the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance (2010), researchers report that there are seven types of bullying that go under-reported. They are: bullying that involves making fun of the victim or calling the victim names, social exclusion, spreading rumors about the victim and forcing the victim to do things he or she did not want to do. Cyberbullying is also a form of bullying more likely to go under-reported.
Under-reporting also occurs because adults and youth confuse reporting and tattling, says Duke, who is also an assistant professor in Human Development and Family Studies at Auburn University. "Reporting is when a child is trying to help others out of trouble because they are getting hurt or hurting someone else. Tattling is when a child is trying to get others in trouble whether or not they are being hurt or hurting someone else. Accusing youth of tattling when they are attempting to report an incident not only affects reporting numbers, but creates an environment where youth do not feel protected."
Understanding the difference between reporting and tattling can help adults be more supportive. Encouraging youth to report incidences of bullying can help parents and school personnel better protect youth. Understanding and protection will increase as individuals gain knowledge about what bullying behaviors are and what they aren't. Programs like the Be SAFE anti-bullying curriculum have been developed to assist youth, parents, and school personnel to increase their capacity to recognize, report, and respond to bullying in their communities. Talk to the Family and Child Development agent in your county to find out more.
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