October is National Bullying Awareness Month and that's mostly a good thing because it reminds us that bullying can be hurtful and can be prevented. But part of "awareness," is being aware that most kids don't bully. In fact, numerous studies have shown that the norm among most American (and other) kids is to treat each other respectfully.
A 2011 study conducted by the Pew Internet & American Life Project for the Family Online Safety Institute found that "Overall, 69% of social media-using teens think that peers are mostly kind to each other on social network sites." Unfortunately, "another 20% say that peers are mostly unkind, while 11% volunteered that "it depends." That's an issue we need to confront, but it's important to realize that about 7 in 10 kids are mostly experiencing kindness, not rudeness and certainly not bullying or harassment.
It's also important to remember that not all rudeness is necessarily bullying. Bullying is typically repetitive and usually involves a power differential. Kids making jokes about each other -even while sometimes not all that kind -- are not necessarily engaged in bullying.
I say this not just to defend our kids but to remind adults that it's actually a mistake to combat bullying by exaggerating its frequency and its impact. Yes it happens and yes it can be bad but the last thing we need is to create the impression that its common because if it's common it must be normal and if it's normal it must be OK. It's not normal and it's not OK.
As Crimes Against Children Research Center Director David Finkelhor recently wrote "Bullying, in spite of the new attention has been receiving, has been on the wane."
Writing in NetFamilyNews, My ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier recently pointed out that "Most kids do not engage in bullying or cyberbullying" and "The prevalence of cyberbullying has been widely overstated." She pointed to a USA Today article that cited research that found "not many students report being bullied online at all." USA Today quoted renounced bullying expert Dan Olweaus saying "There is very little scientific support to show that cyberbullying has increased over the past five to six years, and this form of bullying is actually a less frequent phenomenon."
A 2010 study by Finkelhor and other scholars found that the percentage of youth (2-17) reporting physical bullying in the previous year went down from 22 percent to 15 percent between 2003 and 2008.
The fact that bullying may be going down rather than up is not a reason to stop campaigning against bullying. The fact that it happens at all is terrible and we need to stop it when it happens. But as we educate against bullying we need to remind ourselves, other adults and children that most kids don't bully and most kids -- like most adults -- want to live in a society where people are compassionate with each other.
Contrary to some media reports, there is not an epidemic of bullying and as I wrote a year ago, exaggerating the problem can increase the risk.
For more on the dangers of exaggerating risk, continue to this slideshow from Larry Magid.