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October’s Data Digest: Bullying and aggressive behavior

Posted on October 3rd, 2018 in: Blog

This blog post, by our Research Analyst Erin Schwab, is the fourth in a monthly series unpacking data from the 2017 YRBS survey and making connections to out-of-school time programming in Vermont.

Happy October! This month is National Bullying Prevention Month, founded by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006. It is intended to raise awareness about the issue of bullying and its devastating long term effects. Bullying among youth in school has been an issue for a long time, and in the past decade or so technology has increased the ways that youth can bully one another. Electronic bullying, or cyberbullying through text message, social media, or some other kind of cyber message can spread quickly, be anonymous, and follow students even after they leave school property for the day.

We turn again to the results from the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Study (YRBS) to look at bullying in Vermont and its relationship to afterschool participation. Over 20,000 high school students in Vermont answered questions about their levels of participation in “risk” behaviors (such as bullying) as well as “asset” behaviors (such as participation in afterschool activities). On the YRBS, bullying was defined as when one or more students tease, threaten, spread rumors about, hit, shove, or hurt another student over and over again. Electronic bullying was described as bullying through texting, Instagram, Facebook, or other social media sources.

Research has shown that there is a positive link between participation in afterschool activities and bullying prevention. The YRBS data support these findings for high school students in Vermont in 2017.

–> As weekly participation in afterschool activities increased, reported bullying behaviors decreased. The charts and corresponding descriptions below illustrate these findings.

It is worth pointing out the slight increase toward the end of each of the charts below (in the 10 or more hours category). A further breakdown of this data reveals that this slight increase is mainly due to larger percentages of bullying behaviors among students who participated in more than 20 hours per week of activities. Our hypothesis for this is participation in sports and the unfortunate hazing and bullying that happen among athletes which skews our data for the ‘10+ hours’ category. This hypothesis deserves further exploration; but for now, we do see bullying behaviors decrease for students who participate in moderate levels of afterschool activities as compared with those who do not participate in any afterschool activities.

Among students who didn’t participate in any afterschool activities in 2017, 18% were bullied at some point during the month leading up to the survey. Among students who participated in 1-4 weekly hours of afterschool programming, 15% were bullied; among students who participated in 5-9 hours, 13.5% were bullied; and among students who participated in 10 or more hours, 15% were bullied. The chart below depicts these numbers.

–> Students who participated in afterschool activities were also less likely to bully others than students who did not participate in any such activities. Among students who didn’t participate in any afterschool activities, 10% bullied someone at some point during the month leading up to the survey. Among students who participated in 1-4 weekly hours of afterschool programming, 7% bullied someone; among students who participated in 5-9 hours, 8% bullied someone; and among students who participated in 10 or more hours, 9% bullied someone. The chart below illustrates these data.

–> The data also show that participation in afterschool activities is correlated with decreased instances of electronic bullying. Among students who didn’t participate in any afterschool activities, 19% were electronically bullied at some point during the month leading up to the survey. Among students who participated in 1-4 weekly hours of afterschool programming, 15% were electronically bullied; among students who participated in 5-9 hours, 14% were electronically bullied; and among students who participated in 10 or more hours, 14% were electronically bullied.

Bullying, whether electronic or in-person is an all-too-common experience for nearly one fifth of high school students in Vermont. Participation in afterschool activities is positively correlated with reported decreases in bullying behaviors. But without the benefit of a controlled study, it is impossible to know for sure if afterschool participation is the cause of the decreased instances of bullying among high school students in Vermont in 2017. We believe that we can imply some level of causation due to the research.

In addition, we know that the informal environment of afterschool programming can provide supportive opportunities to allow youth to feel safe from peer pressure, build confidence and develop their social emotional learning skills. Does this mean that bullying never happens in afterschool programs? Of course not; we would be naive to think so. But certainly afterschool programs can be intentionally designed to help students develop specific skills for coping with bullying and perhaps refrain from bullying others.

For more information about trainings that Vermont Afterschool hosts with a focus on social emotional learning (SEL) content, contact Sara Forward at saraforward@vermontafterschool.org.

 

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