Bullying — whether it be in classrooms, at playgrounds, or on social media — is still a persistent problem around the globe, particularly in the United States, despite the existence of zero-tolerance policies.

It's a serious public health concern, as bullying has been linked to long-term physical and mental health problems later in life.

More often than not, bullies are kicked out of schools as a form of punishment, but a new report suggests that expulsion will not help solve the issue.

Bullying Still Plagues The Country's Classrooms

Researchers from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) said in a report published on May 10 that suspending and dismissing bullies do not stop them from continuing the act.

After decades of research on bullying, NASEM found the following for kids and teens aged 5 to 18 years:

1. Eighteen to 31 percent are still repeatedly threatened, insulted, pushed around, or bullied in person by peers.

2. When it comes to online bullying, 7 to 15 percent of teens and kids receive online harassment.

3. Children and adolescents who are obese, disabled, gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender have higher likelihood of getting bullied. A November 2015 study even revealed that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who took medications such as Adderall or Ritalin were two times as likely to experience emotional and physical bullying.

4. Those who are part of racial, religious, and ethnic minorities are also targeted.

5. Kids who are bullied find it difficult to sleep, experience headaches, stomach trouble, anxiety, and depression, or turn to drug abuse that could extend into adulthood. Suicide attempts among kids have been found to increase, although it may or may not be attributed to bullying.

Facing The Issue Head-On

The problem with zero-tolerance policies, the report said, is that they have never been shown to effectively reduce bullying. These policies may even discourage students from reporting the act.

Programs that urge bystanders to stop bullying whenever they see it have shown promise, but asking the students to resolve bullying through forced apologies or peer mediation may backfire, the report said.

"You would never put an abuser face to face with a victim and tell them to work it out," said Deborah Temkin of Child Trends who reviewed a draft of the NASEM report.

Parents of kids who are bullied often want bullies to be punished. Stomp Out Bullying CEO Ross Ellis said parents want bullies to face consequences.

However, this is not as easy as it seems. Ellis said a parent had called them to arrest a 3-year-old for bullying, which he described as "ridiculous."

Ellis said parents have to understand that the bully, which could be anyone's kid, needs help as much as the victim.

Dr. Frederick Rivara, the chairman of the committee that compiled the report, agrees.

"We need to understand that this is a public health problem faced by a third of our children," said Rivara, adding that bullying has a massive effect not only on the academic performance of kids, but also on their physical and mental health.

What's more, bullies themselves are negatively affected by their own behavior. Research suggests that bullies are more likely to be depressed, at higher risk for poor social and psychological outcomes, and are likely to engage in dangerous activities such as theft and vandalism.

How To Prevent Bullying

How can bullying be prevented? The NASEM report identified programs that could effectively stop bullying.

One of these is to turn away from zero-tolerance policies and instead switch to Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS). This is a program that has been proven to work, with a track record in 20,000 schools nationwide.

Rivara said zero-tolerance policies decrease a child's chances of getting better and getting a job, but with a different program, the behavior can be cut off and the child can receive help.

Another idea is to extend the reach of programs beyond schools and within homes. Starting a conversation about bullying with the goal of providing emotional support could help kids open up about their experiences, developmental psychologist Catherine Bradshaw added. Family members could then help kids cope or figure out how to handle the situation.

Photo: Sarita Robinson | Flickr

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