July 20, 2021
by Patricia Tomasi
A new study published in the Journal of Aggressive Behavior looked at school bullying before and during COVID-19 using a population-based randomized design.
“The study compares bullying rates before the pandemic and during the pandemic in elementary and high school students,” study author Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt told us. “We wondered if the COVID-19 infection control measures would have an impact on the prevalence of bullying. In particular, we thought that rates would be lower because students were supervised more and were organized into smaller cohorts.”
Researchers were guided by recent reports showing declines in bullying rates during the pandemic and by studies that have consistently shown that increased supervision is associated with lower bullying rates.
According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, one out of every five students has reported being bullied and more male students report being bullied rather than female. As for rumors, it’s the female students that report being the victim of this behavior rather than male students. Over forty per cent of students who were bullied say they believe the bullying would reoccur.
Types of bullying include being called names, being made fun of, being the subject of rumors, being shoved or pushed or tripped or spit on and being excluded from activities on purpose.
As for where the bullying occurs, most students say in the stairway or hallways at school followed by in class, in the cafeteria, outside on school property, and online or by text, in the bathroom or locker room, and on the school bus. Over forty-five per cent of students who were bullied ended up notifying an adult at school about the situation.
“I have been studying bullying for the past 20 year so it made sense to examine bullying during this global event,” Dr. Vaillancourt told us. “We know about how the pandemic has affected children’s mental and physical health, their levels of physical activity, and the like, but we know very little about how it has impacted their social lives.”
Students were randomized at the school level into one of two conditions: Examining bullying rates before the pandemic and examining bullying rates during the pandemic. Researchers then compared the prevalence rates across the two conditions and examined differences in rates by gender expression, sexual orientation, age, and ethnicity as a validity check. They specifically looked at whether the anti-Asian rhetoric during the pandemic was associated with increased bullying of students of Asian descent. (Note the results did not differ for students of Asian descent).
“We found similar patterns of findings that are in the literature which points to the validity of our findings,” Dr. Vaillancourt told us. “ i.e. girls being bullied more than boys, boys bullying more than girls, younger students being more involved in bullying than older students, and gender diverse and LGTBQ+ students being bullied at very high rates.”
The striking finding, however, was that researchers found a reduction of almost 20% in bullying victimization rates during the pandemic.
“I was not surprised by finding lower rates of bullying during the pandemic but I was very surprised by the magnitude of the difference between pre-pandemic rates and pandemic rates,” Dr. Vaillancourt told us. “For the past 20 years that I have studied bullying, using similar methodology to assess prevalence, I have never seen such a dramatic reduction.”
Dr. Vaillancourt believes the results mean that we need to really consider increasing the supervision of students. She said teachers are asked to do so much already so it behooves schools to consider hiring monitors for breaks/recess to help keep students safe.
About the Author
Patricia Tomasi is a mom, maternal mental health advocate, journalist, and speaker. She writes regularly for the Huffington Post Canada, focusing primarily on maternal mental health after suffering from severe postpartum anxiety twice. You can find her Huffington Post biography here. Patricia is also a Patient Expert Advisor for the North American-based, Maternal Mental Health Research Collective and is the founder of the online peer support group - Facebook Postpartum Depression & Anxiety Support Group - with over 1500 members worldwide. Blog: www.patriciatomasiblog.wordpress.com