Graph of the Week: Cyberbullying & Other Dangers of High School

Graph of the Week: Cyberbullying & Other Dangers of High School

In education circles, concerns about cyberbullying are widespread. As mobile devices and computers continue their march into the classroom, it's easy to predict that these worries will continue to grow. 

But how prevalent is cyberbullying? Is there any data to back the perception that it is rampant in our schools?

We learned this week that it is hard to find unbiased data on cyberbullying online. After a bit of searching, however, we found that the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) keeps basic statistics on the phenomenon in their Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System

According to the survey, which was last run in 2013 and surveyed over 13,000 US high school students, 15% of students have been cyberbullied in the past year. Surprisingly, this figure represents a statistically significant decrease from the 16% of students bullied electronically in 2011.

To put these numbers in perspective, 20% of students reported being bullied "non-electronically" in 2013; this figure was stable from 2011 to 2013. Meanwhile, 35% of students reporting drinking alcohol in the past 30 days, while 34% reported that they were sexually active.

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To be clear: Just one student being cyberbullied is too much cyberbullying. But is it possible that only 15% of students are bullied electronically? 

Several argument can be made that suggest that the percentages reported above may be smaller than reality. It is difficult to define cyberbullying, meaning that in this case, the survey's definition is almost certainly different from the respondent's definition. Additionally, much of cyberbullying depends on the mindset of the bullied student; one person's jocular camaraderie is another's bullying. Finally, the stigma associated with being bullied will drive some victims to not report (though a similar argument can be made for many of the other behaviors in the survey).

Based on this data, should resources that combat cyberbullying be reallocated to thwart teen drinking or to teach sex ed? No--One high level data set is not nearly enough to make this sort of decision. What this data does tell us is that we news consumers (and producers) should be wary: Cyberbullying may grab headlines, but other high school dangers have not abated.

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