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Bullying and Harassment at School (see data for this topic)

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Why This Topic Is Important
Bullying is considered a significant public health problem (1, 2). National estimates indicate that between 20 and 30 percent of children and youth are bullied at school each year, with certain vulnerable groups at even higher risk, including students with disabilities and LGBTQ youth (1, 2). This aggressive behavior, which may be physical, verbal, or social—and may occur in person or online—can have long-term harmful effects (1, 2). In addition to the risk of physical injury, victims of bullying are at risk for depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, physical health problems, substance abuse into adulthood, low academic achievement, and poor social and school adjustment (1, 2).

Any involvement in bullying, whether as a bully, victim, or witness, is associated with negative outcomes (1, 2). Youth who bully others are more likely to experience depression and engage in delinquent and suicidal behavior than non-bullies, and those who report being both a bully and a victim are at even higher risk for suicidal behavior (1, 2). Further, youth who only witness bullying are more likely to report feelings of helplessness and other negative feelings than those who have not witnessed bullying (1, 2). Even the fear of being bullied or harassed may disrupt a child's ability to excel in school and life (2).
For more information on bullying and harassment at school see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

2.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:
Policy Implications
Bullying and harassment at school have come under closer scrutiny by schools and policymakers in recent years (1, 2). Bullying is pervasive in schools nationwide and can have lasting harmful consequences on child health and well being (1, 2, 3). Although any student can be a victim, certain groups are at higher risk for being bullied or harassed, such as LGBTQ youth and students with disabilities (1, 2).

California has enacted laws to address bullying and cyberbullying, and state and federal policies provide guidance on effective school discipline strategies (4, 5). In particular, schools are required to use alternatives to suspensions and expulsions, as overuse of these practices has not resulted in safer schools or reduced victimization (3, 4). State and federal policies also encourage schools to teach students social and behavioral skills and to create positive, supportive school environments (4). Comprehensive strategies that focus on building protective factors (e.g., social skills, caring relationships with adults, student connectedness to school, etc.) and addressing bullying in tandem with other negative behaviors, such as substance use and violence, are most likely to succeed (1, 3, 6).

Policy and program options that could prevent and address bullying/harassment at school include:
  • Incorporating anti-bullying efforts into comprehensive, well-coordinated school-wide systems supporting student needs and creating positive school climates, as supportive school atmospheres are linked to lower bullying rates and other positive outcomes (1, 3, 6)
  • Engaging all school stakeholders—leaders, teachers, students, families, community members, and others—to develop and disseminate shared anti-bullying mission statements, codes of conduct, school policies, and bullying reporting systems (3, 6, 7)
  • Providing training for staff (e.g., teachers, coaches, counselors, nurses, administrators, etc.), students, parents, and others on how to deal with bullying incidents, focusing in particular on empowering bystanders to prevent bullying (3, 6)
  • Following state and federal law, implementing prevention-oriented school discipline policies that are clear, fair, consistent, and promote a positive learning environment; such policies should be based on a tiered system of appropriate responses to misconduct that keep students in school when possible, and should include clear, equitable classroom behavior management practices (4, 8)
  • Ensuring that school policies and practices are responsive to diverse cultural norms and focus on reducing harassment of vulnerable populations, including youth with disabilities and LGBTQ youth; this may involve staff training, student support, information sharing, and public position statements (3, 6)
  • Ensuring that anti-bullying efforts address the wide array of settings where incidents may occur, e.g., hallways, restrooms, buses, routes to and from school, and online (1, 3, 7)
  • Providing opportunities for students to develop social and behavioral skills (such as self-regulation, problem solving, relationship building, and decision making) and to build connections with adults that foster supportive relationships and high expectations (1, 3, 6)
  • Encouraging social media companies to publish anti-bullying policies and to implement, evaluate, and strengthen methods of preventing and addressing bullying online (1)
Find more policy ideas and information at the California Department of Education's School Health Office and the U.S. government's Also see Policy Implications on under School Climate, Pupil Support Services, and School Attendance and Discipline.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016). Preventing bullying through science, policy, and practice. National Academies Press. Retrieved from:

2.  National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. (2014). The relationship between bullying and suicide: What we know and what it means for schools. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from:

3.  American Educational Research Association. (2013). Prevention of bullying in schools, colleges, and universities: Research report and recommendations. Retrieved from:

4.  Public Counsel. (n.d.). Fix School Discipline: Toolkit for educators. Retrieved from:

5.  Cyberbullying Research Center. (n.d.). Bullying laws in California. Retrieved from:

6.  David-Ferdon, C., & Simon, T. R. (2014). Preventing youth violence: Opportunities for action. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. Retrieved from:

7. (2021). How to prevent bullying. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved from:

8.  Morgan, E., et al. (2014). The school discipline consensus report: Strategies from the field to keep students engaged in school and out of the juvenile justice system. Council of State Governments Justice Center. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to a 2017-2019 survey of California students, more than one in four youth in grades 7, 9, and 11 had been bullied or harassed at school in the previous year, and more than one in five had been cyberbullied by other students. During the same period, school staff reports that bullying and harassment among students was a moderate or severe problem ranged from 20% of responses from elementary school staff to 44% of middle school staff reports, down from 28% and 52%, respectively, in 2011-2013. In each grade level, estimates of bullying and cyberbullying tend to be higher among girls than among boys. Across all types of bullying and harassment, gay, lesbian, and bisexual students and those with low levels of school connectedness are more likely to be victimized than their straight and more connected peers.

When students are bullied or harassed at school, it is most often for reasons of bias (related to disabilities, gender, race/ethnicity or national origin, religion, or sexual orientation). In 2017-2019, an estimated 26% of California 7th graders, 23% of 9th graders, 22% of 11th graders, and 13% of non-traditional students had been bullied or harassed in the previous year for bias-related reasons. The prevalence of bias-related bullying and harassment varies widely depending on region, reason for bias, and group affected. For example, Asian youth statewide were more than twice as likely to have been bullied or harassed for reasons related to their race/ethnicity or national origin when compared with their Hispanic/Latino counterparts, according to 2017-2019 estimates. Among California youth identifying as gay, lesbian, and bisexual, almost half (44%) had been bullied or harassed because they were, or were thought to be, gay or lesbian, with county-level percentages ranging from 17% to more than 60% across regions with data.