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Has the COVID-19 pandemic lessened bullying at school?

Perhaps because of the lack of actual, physical contact due to lockdowns, the results indicated that students reported higher rates of bullying involvement before the pandemic. But with cyber-bullying, it’s a different story altogether.

Photo by RODNAE Productions from Pexels.com

Students reported far higher rates of bullying at school before the COVID-19 pandemic than during the pandemic across all forms of bullying – general, physical, verbal, and social – except for cyber bullying, where differences in rates were less pronounced.

This is according to a study – “School bullying before and during COVID-19: Results from a population-based randomized design” by Tracy Vaillancourt, Heather Brittain, Amanda Krygsman, Ann H. Farrell, Sally Landon, and Debra Pepler – that appeared in Aggressive Behavior.

For this study, the researchers wanted to examine the impact of COVID-19 on bullying prevalence rates in a sample of 6,578 students in Grades 4 to 12 in Canada. To account for school changes associated with the pandemic, students were randomized at the school level into two conditions: (1) the pre-COVID-19 condition, assessing bullying prevalence rates retrospectively before the pandemic, and (2) the current condition, assessing rates during the pandemic.

Perhaps because of the lack of actual, physical contact due to lockdowns, the results indicated that students reported higher rates of bullying involvement before the pandemic than during the pandemic across all forms of bullying (general, physical, verbal, and social), except for cyber bullying, where differences in rates were less pronounced.

Following validity checks, the study actually confirmed previous published patterns, i.e.:

  1. girls were more likely to report being bullied than boys
  2. boys were more likely to report bullying others than girls
  3. elementary school students reported higher bullying involvement than secondary school students, and
  4. gender diverse and LGTBQ+ students reported being bullied at higher rates than students who identified as gender binary or heterosexual.

“Most pandemic studies suggest notable threats to the wellbeing and learning outcomes of children and youth. Our study highlights one potential silver lining – the reduction of bullying,” said lead author Tracy Vaillancourt, PhD. “Reducing bullying is important because it negatively affects all aspects of functioning, both in the immediate and in the long-term. Given the strikingly lower rates of bullying during the pandemic, we should seriously consider retaining some of the educational reforms used to reduce the spread of COVID-19 such as reducing class sizes and increasing supervision.”

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