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State Anti-Bullying Laws Can Reduce Bullying, Cyberbullying

Laws particularly effective if they include a description of how bullying is defined

FRIDAY, Oct. 9, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- States that get tough on bullies by enacting anti-bullying laws appear to reduce bullying and cyberbullying among high school students, a new study suggests. The report was published online Oct. 5 in JAMA Pediatrics.

Mark Hatzenbuehler, Ph.D., co-director of the Center for the Study of Social Inequalities and Health at Columbia University in New York City, and colleagues reviewed data on 63,635 high school students. The teens came from both public and private high schools. Students from 25 U.S. states were included in the study. The investigators then matched this information to anti-bullying guidelines from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and state laws on bullying. The researchers looked at 16 components in four categories. These included: definitions of the anti-bullying policy; the school districts' policy development and review; mandated procedures to deal with bullying; and strategies for communication, training and legal support.

The researchers found that rates of bullying and cyberbullying varied by state. The state with the lowest rate of bullying (among those studied) was Alabama, with just 14 percent of teens reporting bullying in the past year. South Dakota had the highest bullying rates at nearly 27 percent. Slightly more than 15 percent of teens reported cyberbullying during the past year. Again, Alabama had the lowest rate, with 12 percent of teens reporting cyberbullying. South Dakota had the highest rates at nearly 20 percent. Students in states with at least one DOE legislative component in the anti-bullying law showed 24 and 20 percent lower odds of reporting bullying and cyberbullying, respectively, compared with students in states whose laws had no DOE legislative components.

"Three individual components of anti-bullying legislation were consistently associated with decreased odds of exposure to both bullying and cyberbullying: statement of scope, description of prohibited behaviors, and requirements for school districts to develop and implement local policies," the authors write.

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