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Why Media Matters

The media plays a big role in how youth understand the world and can greatly influence their behavior. How the media reports on cases of bullying, suicide, and other school climate issues can affect how common or “normal” they seem to youth. Careful reporting of these issues can help provide safe environments that prevent bullying.

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Why Does How We Report on Bullying Matter? +

The news media has played a critical role in raising awareness about bullying, its potential effects, and the need for its prevention. Careful reporting on bullying can help build buy-in from communities about the need to collectively address the behavior and to take positive steps to create safer environments.

Unfortunately, when reporting on bullying focuses too heavily on those who are bullied, or when it causally links bullying to behaviors such as school shootings and suicide, it may have unintended, negative effects:

  • Drawing too close of an association between youth suicide or youth violence (such as school shootings) and bullying may wrongly suggest that bullying is solely to blame. The truth is, many factors contribute to suicidal or violent retaliatory behaviors, and it is important to understand all factors to prevent these behaviors
  • Popularizing this association also may contribute to a “contagion effect,” increasing suicide or violent acts by youth who are led to believe that such acts are the normal and common response to bullying. Most youth who are bullied do not become suicidal or violent
  • When the media publicizes the names and pictures of those who have died by suicide or who have engaged in violent behaviors, at-risk youth may glamorize these behaviors. These youth may be further provoked to engage in suicidal or violent behaviors with the hope of gaining similar notoriety

Recent media attention also has spread many misconceptions about bullying that can affect our efforts to prevent it:

  • Bullying is often reported to be an “epidemic” or “on the rise,” but most statistics show that rates of bullying have been relatively stable over the last decade
  • Reports tend to focus exclusively on the “victim” of bullying,vilifying the “bully” without recognizing the impact bullying can have on those bullied, those who bully, and the entire community
  • The term bullying is often used to describe behaviors beyond those among children or teens; broadening the term dilutes efforts to effectively prevent the behavior

How can media safely report on bullying? +

Responsible reporting on bullying can help maintain awareness and promote positive efforts for its prevention and reduction. The media can take many steps to maintain awareness of bullying and its potential consequences:

  • Follow best practices on reporting on suicide, which include not sensationalizing the death, not reporting the methods by which an individual died, and avoiding imagery of mourning family members or funerals
  • Avoid suggesting that suicide or youth violence is caused by a single factor, such as bullying; this includes avoiding terms such as “bullycide”
  • Only cite statistics from valid and up-to-date sources
    • Consider citing federal statistics that are specifically designed to represent all children in the country.
    • Be clear about and double check sources of statistics. Some statistics may not have a clear source and may not be valid.
    • When reporting on statistics that come from “convenient samples” and are not representative, include qualifiers such as “of those surveyed.” For instance, when citing this report, use language such as “Of the 8,500 LGBT teens surveyed, 8 in 10 reported being verbally harassed.”
  • Ensure that suggested responses follow best practice; avoid suggesting strategies such as zero-tolerance or peer-mediation, which are known not to work
  • Focus not only on those bullied but also on those who have bullied and have changed, as well as on others who have positively intervened in bullying of their peers
  • Highlight ways parents and schools can prevent, rather than just respond, to bullying

References Used for this Page +

Huesmann, L.R. & Taylor, L.D. (2006). The role of media violence in violent behavior. Annual Review of Public Health, 27, 393-415.

O’Carroll, P.W., Potter, L.B., Aronowitz, E., et al. (1994). Suicide contagion and the reporting of suicide: Recommendations from a national workshop. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention MMWR.