Bullying at school: Five reasons to prioritize prevention

Bullying at school: Five reasons to prioritize prevention

By Liberty Mutual Insurance

The troubling reality of bullying is nothing new, but its growing prevalence and potential lasting impacts have deepened in many ways — making it a crucial priority in school environments today. Here are five reasons schools should keep bullying awareness and prevention top of mind when it comes to risk-management strategy.

1. The incidence of bullying continues

In 2021, 15 percent of high school students were bullied on school property during the school year1 according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) — meaning they’re the victims of unwanted, intentional, and repeated aggressive behavior that involves a real or perceived power imbalance, such as hitting, shoving, teasing, insults, threats, or exclusion. The same report1 shows that in 2021, 16 percent of high school students were electronically bullied, including through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media platforms, throughout the school year.

2. Bullying can have long-lasting effects on students’ health

Mounting evidence suggests that bullying can have long-lasting effects on victims’ mental and physical health — even changing students’ entire educational trajectory. According to the most recent CDC 2 data, bullying may increase students’ risk for anxiety, depression, substance use, and academic problems. Additionally, research from the National Institutes of Health3 indicates that cyberbullying is linked to suicidal thoughts and attempts.

“Although the rate of nonfatal violent victimization at school for 12- to 18-year-olds was lower in 2019 than in 2009, there were more school shootings with casualties in 2021,” National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)  Commissioner Peggy G. Carr says. “While the lasting impact of these crime and safety issues cannot be measured in statistics alone, these data are valuable to the efforts of our policymakers, school officials, and community members to identify and implement preventive and responsive measures.4

By addressing bullying early on, schools could better protect the health and safety of individual students as well as the student population from larger-scale, violent incidents.

3. Litigation naming school defendants is becoming more common

It’s not hard to find media reports across the country detailing lawsuits that accuse school systems of failing to protect students from bullying or failing to act when it occurs. As public awareness of bullying and more widespread understanding of its causes and consequences have grown, so too have legal protections and standards surrounding such charges. Indeed, absence of clearly defined policy and inaction can now lead to both tort and Title IX claims of:

  • Deliberate indifference
  • Peer-on-peer harassment
  • Sexual harassment or discrimination
  • Gender-based or sexual orientation-based harassment
  • Negligent supervision
  • Intentional infliction of emotional distress

These claims, along with the damaging effects of bullying, may only add to potential settlement or verdict amounts if legal remedy is sought.

4. Cyberbullying expands the scope of risk

Cyberbullying — bullying that occurs primarily through the use of social media via electronic devices — is rising right along with the prevalence of student use of technology. According to the National Institutes of Health3, the increased use of the internet by students during the COVID-19 pandemic has strongly impacted cyberbullying trends.

Most victims of cyberbullying are often also victims of traditional bullying4. Because principals, teachers, guidance counselors, and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it can be harder to recognize.

Although all states have laws requiring schools to respond to bullying, not all include cyberbullying nor do they specify the exact role schools should play in responding to bullying that takes place outside of school (such as texts or social media posts after the school day ends). What makes the issue more challenging for schools is addressing off-campus student misconduct. The school should respect an alleged perpetrator’s legal rights while also maintaining an environment that protects other students and encourages learning.

5. Effects on attendance have an economic cost

When children don’t go to school to avoid getting bullied, school absences may result in reduced funding for public school systems in states that use daily attendance numbers to calculate state aid. Schools that receive funding based on children’s presence rather than based on total enrollment will have lower revenue when children miss school for any reason.

Assessing your risk management approach

To be effective, bullying awareness and prevention should be woven into the entire school culture and curriculum. Creating positive environments that are driven by civility, peer respect, belonging, and connectedness can help reduce the risk that bullying behaviors take hold. Staying protected with the right insurance program should also be a key part of your risk mitigation strategy.

For more on how Liberty Mutual Insurance supports schools and helps them manage risk, visit our public entities page.


1 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2011-2021 (cdc.gov) – February 2023

2 Fast Fact: Preventing Bullying | Violence Prevention | Injury Center | CDC

3 Cyberbullying linked with suicidal thoughts and attempts in young adolescents | National Institutes of Health (NIH)2022

Press Release – New NCES Data Show Increases in School Shootings and Cyberbullying in K–12 Schools Over the Last Decade – June 28, 2022 (ed.gov)

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