Whether it’s traditional in-person bullying or cyberbullying, studies have found that continuous aggression can cause serious mental health problems for teens and tweens that can persist into adulthood. Tthis is a serious problem for our nation’s students.

A mental health epidemic

Data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that 22 percent of students ages 12-18 were bullied during the 2012-2013 school year, meaning they experienced physical violence, taunts, social exclusion, or other aggression either in the physical world or online.

A 2009 study, which included a nationally representative sample of more than 7,000 U.S. adolescents in grades 6 to 10, found that 13.6 percent experienced cyberbullying at least once during a two-month period.  Cyberbullying is a serious threat because it’s often hidden from plain sight, leaving victims more likely to feel isolated, dehumanized and helpless. 

Additional research from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that victims of cyberbullying reported higher levels of depression than those who were physically bullied or taunted.

“We need to start raising awareness in students as early as middle school to build the skills they need to take positive steps to against bullying.”

Empowering the peers

In order to fight bullying, we must emphasize that bullying is more than an interaction between bully and victim. Bystanders can help either by creating a diversion, finding a trusting adult or helping the victim safely get away from the bully. An estimated 70 percent of students have witnessed bullying at school — a group the curriculum hopes to nudge off the sidelines.

In the coming years, we need to reach out to teens to educate them about spotting the signs of bullying and learning tactics to intervene. Just as we teach teen drivers to appreciate the responsibility that comes with learning to drive a vehicle, we must also raise awareness of the potential of bullying to cause harm to others.

Teens who are informed can better protect themselves and others from cyberbullying by being careful about what they post on websites and social media. We need to start raising awareness in students as early as middle school to build the skills they need to take positive steps to against bullying.