Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences
The primary focus of this study was to examine college students’ views about bullying and to learn about their previous experiences with bullying. Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. They complete a survey assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying and responses to a hypothetical bullying scenario. Participants who reported being bullying in school completed an additional 10 questions assessing their experience. The results demonstrate that college students were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years with a fairly large percentage reporting that the early experience of bullying still affects them today. The majority of college students believe that the prevalence of bullying has increased and also believe it is taken more seriously by parents today. Lastly, participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies.
Keywords: bullying, college students, views, experiences, implications
Bullying: College Students’ Views and Experiences
Bullying is an issue of great concern for today’s youth, parents, and educators. According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics (2011) between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 U.S. students say they have been bullied at school. While there is growing awareness of bullying, it still remains a prevalent and serious problem in today’s schools. Bullying affects all youth, including those who are bullied, those who bully others, and those who witness bullying. Some effects may last into adulthood.
Adams & Lawrence (2011) examined whether those bullied in schools continued to show the effects of being bullied after they enrolled in an institution of higher education. Participants included 269 undergraduate students at a Midwestern state college. Participants completed a 20 item self-report questionnaire that contained questions about their experiences with bullying in junior high school, high school and college. Adams & Lawrence’s study suggests that students who are bullied in high school and/or junior high school continue to be victimized. Participants reported being called names (verbal bullying) being excluded from class activities (relational bullying) and being physically abused (physical bullying) in college. In addition, those who had had been bullied in junior high or high school reported feelings of continued loneliness and isolation. They also reported that they do not know how to fight back when individuals say hurtful things to them. These findings as well as the findings from their previous studies (2006; 2008) support the belief that the effects of bullying are long lasting.
A study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello, (2013) suggests that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood that persist into adulthood. For this study, a sample of 1420 participants from 11 counties in Western North Carolina were categorized as either a bully, a victim, both a bully and a victim, or not exposed to bullying at all. The participants were assessed four times between the ages of 9 and 16 and three times during young adulthood (ages 19 through 26) for the following psychiatric conditions: depression, anxiety, antisocial personality disorder, substance use disorders, and suicidality (including recurrent thoughts of death, suicidal ideation, or a suicide attempt). Victims were 4.3 times more likely to develop an anxiety disorder during adulthood. Bullies who were also victims were 14.5 times more likely to develop a panic disorder and 4.8 times more likely to develop depression. Bullies who were not victims were 4.1 times more likely to develop antisocial personality disorder.
Despite studies that demonstrate the impact of bullying, some myths about bullying still exists. One myth about bullying is that “bullying is not serious; it’s just kids being kids”. Another is that “bullying is a normal part of childhood”. (Stopbullying.gov). More empirical evidence is needed in order to dispel such myths.
It is imperative that all children, parents, educators, and coaches understand that these myths are false. The purpose of this study was to learn about college students’ experiences with bullying in order to understand the long term impact of prior experiences with bullying on college students and dispel the myths about bullying not being serious. The study also examined college students’ attitudes and perceptions regarding the prevalence, causes, and impact of bullying today. Lastly, the study used hypothetical vignette to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied. Additionally, it was the researcher’s hope that the findings from this study would enable educators preparing college students who aspire to work with youth in the future to be better prepared to handle issues of bullying.
Participants for this study consisted of 108 undergraduate students at Manhattan College. Participants were recruited from undergraduate Psychology courses; participation was voluntary. The participants ranged in age from 18-30 years. The mean age of the participants was 19.72 years (SD= 1.54). 35.2% of participants were male and 64.8 % were female. Participants represented 22 different majors with the most common being Psychology (25%), Education (19.4%), and Engineering majors (11.1%). The ethnic background of the participants was 65.7 % Caucasian, 16.7 % Hispanic, 4.6 % African-American and 13% Other.
Participants completed a consent form as well as a 31 item survey, created by the researcher for the purposes of this study. The survey contained three sections. Section A contained 20 statements assessing general attitudes and experiences with bullying. Sample questions in Section A included: “social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today” and “adults take bullying more seriously today”. Section B contained an open ended question posing a hypothetical scenario in which a younger sibling is being bullied; participants were asked how they would handle the situation and what advice they would give in that situation. Section C was solely for participants who personally experienced bullying during elementary or high school. It included 10 statements assessing their experiences. Sample questions in Section C included: “I had the support of an adult when I was bullied” and “I think I was bullied because I different”. Sections A and C utilized a 4 point Likert scale in which participants rated the extent to which they agree or disagree (1= strongly disagree, 4= strongly agree) with the statements presented.
IRB approval was obtained for this study. Prior to completion of the survey, all participants signed a consent form. Participants completed the survey at the beginning of their class. Participants took about 15 minutes to complete the survey. Upon completion of the surveys, participants were given debriefing forms. Participants were encouraged to visit the Counseling Center at the college if they experienced any emotional upset as a result of completing the bullying survey.
Experiences with Bullying:
Participants’ experiences with bullying were assessed by the survey. Results indicate that 62.9% of the participants experienced bullying during middle or high school and 93% knew someone who had been bullied. A little more than half of the participants (51.50 %) reported having the support of an adult at the time they were bullied and 54.41% believe that they were bullied because they were different. Results also indicate that 67.60 % either agree or strongly agree that the experience of being bullied negatively affected, with 30.9 % reporting that their school performance was negatively impacted because of bullying. Furthermore, 39.70 % reported that the experience of being bullied still affects them today.
Attitudes about Bullying Today:
Participants’ attitudes about bullying today were assessed by the survey. 65% agree or strongly agree that bullying is more prevalent today and 100% of the participants believe that social media and the internet have made bullying more prevalent today and. In addition, 73.1% believe that adults take bullying more seriously today.
The responses to the hypothetical vignette were coded to determine which strategy the participants would use to help a younger sibling who was being bullied. The three most frequently reported strategies were talk to the child (68.5%), report the bullying to the teacher/school (50.9%), and tell the child’s parent (28.7%). The least frequently reported strategies were: tell the child to fight the bully (2.7%), teach the child to fight (3.7%) and older sibling will confront the bully (3.7%)
The results demonstrate that the majority of college students surveyed were impacted by bullying during their middle and high school years and that almost 100% of them knew someone who was bullied. This demonstrates that bullying was prevalent during their earlier educational experiences. Furthermore, the results indicate that a large number of participants believe that they were bullied because they were different. This is an important finding with implications for parents and teachers. Parents and teachers should make an effort to promote sensitivity, tolerance, and acceptance of differences among others. If youth learn to embrace the differences in other people, it may contribute to decreasing the prevalence of bullying.
Most of the participants who experienced bullying believe that being bullied impacted them negatively and some reported that the experience of being bullied had a negative effect on their academic performance. These findings provide important information that can be used by parents and teachers to help students who are victims of bullying. The findings confirm those of a 2013 study conducted by Copeland, Wolke, Angold & Costello which found that bullies as well as the victims of bullying are at risk for psychiatric problems in childhood.
Additionally, almost half of the participants reported that being bullied in middle or high school still affects them today confirming the findings of a study by Adams & Lawrence (2011) which demonstrated that that the effects of bullying are long lasting. The current study not only demonstrates the long term effects of bullying but also contributes to the empirical evidence that can be used to help dispel the myths that bullying is not serious and that it is a normal part of childhood. Bullying is indeed serious; so serious that a child who is bullied during middle or high school may still be affected by it during young adulthood.
Another important finding from this study is that the majority of participants believe that bullying is more prevalent today. In addition, they believe that the internet and social media are major contributors to the increased prevalence. This is essential information for parents. Parents must be aware and well informed about bullying so that they can help their children who may be affected by bullying as either bullies, victims or witnesses. Parents should also exercise caution when allowing their children to use the internet and social media. Parents should teach their children cyber-safety and cyber-responsibility before allowing their children to access the internet and social media, especially unsupervised. In addition, teachers must be well prepared and vigilant in their classrooms so they can identify cases of bullying and provide proper intervention.
The responses to the hypothetical vignettes demonstrate that the participants would help a bullying victim with effective strategies. This is an encouraging finding since the vast majority of the participants consisted of Psychology and Education majors who may be working with youth in the future. When adults respond quickly, consistently, and effectively to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. In addition, if children are confident that the adults in their lives can effectively help, they may be more likely to tell an adult when they experience or see bullying. According to stopbullying.gov, effective response to bullying may help stop bullying behavior over time.
The findings of this study contribute to a deeper understanding of bullying. Nonetheless, more research is needed to address the issue of bullying which has become quite prevalent today. The findings of this study are limited in that the sample size was not very large. Furthermore, the participants consisted of more females than males. The same findings may not exist among male college students. Furthermore, the study did not examine in detail the specific ways that the participants believe bullying still affects them today. Future research should address these limitations.
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