Bullying: No “Rite of Passage”

September 1, 2016

An image of four schoolchildren wearing backpacks.
HRSA launched the first federal anti-bullying campaign in 2004.
Today, all 50 states have adopted anti-bullying policies or regulations.​

The consequences of bullying extend into adulthood and can be more severe than physical violence and other forms of child mistreatment, Acting HRSA Administrator Jim Macrae said in a recent C-SPAN broadcast.

Not only are bullied young people more likely to suffer low self-esteem, depression and loneliness, but entire classrooms, schools and communities can be affected -- and children ​​who bully others also are likely to experience emotional and mental health problems themselves, Macrae said.

"In particular, we know that some youth are disproportionately impacted by bullying: children with special health care needs, who may have cognitive challenges such as autism, as well as people in the LGBT community," Macrae said at an August 12 Bullying Prevention Summit hosted by the U.S. Department of Education. "About one third of kids who are LGBT are still being bullied in school."

He joined speakers from the Department of Justice, NIH and advocacy groups calling for re-doubled efforts to eliminate acceptance of bullying as a benign "rite of passage." Nationally, the CDC and DOE estimate that about one in five kids are affected each year.

"It is a collective community issue," Macrae said, calling bullying a "public health" concern.

HRSA Administrator Jim Macrae speaking at the Anti Bullying Summit on CSPAN television.
Jim Macrae spoke at the Bullying Prevention Summit​ on Aug. 12.

Even as cyber-bullying has become pervasive - on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms – a widening body of evidence suggests that the consequences, including long-term brain development problems, are more pernicious than previously understood.

"We need to empower our health care providers," Macrae said, "when kids are coming in for their annual physicals, to ask the sorts of questions that raise the issue."

Meanwhile, HHS agencies have stepped up prevention efforts.

SAMHSA, for example, has created a Know Bullying phone app for parents and educators, and maintains a crisis prevention hotline; the NIH has funded a wealth of bullying-related research studies; and HRSA for the first time included bullying prevalence as one of 15 national performance measures for Maternal and Child Health Block Grants last year.

In turn, 17 states and jurisdictions have followed suit.

"We'll be working with these states over the next several years on … how they can reduce the percentage of youth who are actually bullied," Macrae said, to "create momentum for other states to take this on as an issue."

Archived presentations​ from the Summit are available via C-SPAN. Jim Macrae's remarks begin at 9:48.

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