It’s hard to imagine a starker good news/bad news scenario than the one spelled out in a new national study on bullying.
First, the good: The number of students in 6th through 10th grades who reported being bullied at least twice in a month fell from 16.5 percent in 1998 to 7.5 percent in 2010, according to researchers at the National Institutes of Health and the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for the Advancement of Military Medicine.
Bullying is defined in the study as hurtful taunting, exclusion by peers, verbal or physical abuse, spreading false rumors and sexual harassment.
Physical fighting also decreased in that 12-year period, with 18.8 percent of students engaging in fighting in 2010, down from 23.5 percent in 1998.
Now, the bad: The number of students carrying weapons to school jumped to 14.8 percent in 2010 from 12.2 percent in 1998. Among white students, those figures jumped to 15.5 percent carrying weapons in 2010 from 10.7 percent in 1998. African-American students showed a small decrease: 13 percent reported carrying weapons in 2010 versus 13.7 percent in 1998. Hispanic students reported a larger decline, down to 14 percent bringing weapons in 2010 from 17.3 percent in 1998.
The most common weapons, according to the study, are knives, which account for 58 percent of all weapons brought to school. Twenty percent of weapons were guns.
The findings merit our attention — and some soul-searching — just a few days after 22-year-old Elliot Rodger, widely reported to have been bullied since early childhood, stabbed to death three people in his apartment before shooting and killing three more and himself.
Our heads are held firmly, and hopefully forever, out of the sand on the topic of bullying, with anti-bullying initiatives kicking into high gear over the past decade. Forty-nine states, in fact, have laws requiring schools to adopt anti-bullying policies. (Montana does not.)
As Cynthia Lowen, producer and writer of the 2011 documentary Bully told me last year, “Kids are at the eye-rolling stage with bullying. They’re so inundated with messages from the media and school and this huge explosion of awareness over the last few years that it’s like, ‘Ugh, bullying,'” she said.
These latest statistics suggest that the increased awareness may be having a positive effect.
Those weapons, though.
I feel compelled to quote a little Michael Moore, whose weekend Facebook rant (shared more than 98,500 times as of Wednesday) is causing a stir, particularly the part where he suggests swapping out the eagle for a gun as our national symbol.
“We are a people easily manipulated by fear,” he wrote, “which causes us to arm ourselves with a quarter billion guns in our homes that are often easily accessible to young people, burglars, the mentally ill and anyone who momentarily snaps.”
Our young people, it seems, are harassing and shoving each other around a bit less. But they’re still, many of them, living in fear – and arming themselves accordingly.
Shame on us for making that so easy.