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Media Guidelines for Bullying Prevention

Media coverage of social issues has a profound impact on how communities understand and address problems. Research and expert opinion suggest that certain trends in media coverage of bullying have the potential to do harm. This section offers help to journalists, bloggers, the entertainment creative community, and others who are developing content about bullying.

What the Public Needs to Know About Bullying

  • Although concern about it is growing, bullying isn’t an epidemic. In fact, national rates have decreased slightly in recent years.
  • Bullying does not cause suicide; it’s only one of many factors involved.
  • Bullying can affect any young person, but there are characteristics and circumstances that put certain youth at higher risk.
  • Each bullying incident is a complex interaction. While there might be one “ringleader,” the bystanders often are involved.
  • Cyberbullying is not nearly as common as people think.
  • Some prevention strategies seem to help, and researchers continue to learn about what works.
  • All fifty states have anti-bullying legislation. And, when bullying is based on a protected class and sufficiently serious, it can also be discriminatory harassment that violates federal law.
  • StopBullying.gov provides information on what bullying is, what cyberbullying is, who is at risk, and how you can prevent and respond to bullying.

Best Practices

Reporting on bullying poses challenges for journalists and other content creators. It involves reporting accurately on situations with complex emotions and cloudy details. Accurately informing the public is increasingly important as research suggests that certain trends in media coverage have the potential to do harm. Here is a list of best practices to assist journalists and other content creators:

  • Question which stories about bullying to run
  • Get the entire, balanced story and present it accurately
  • Use knowledgeable sources and reputable resources
  • Include information that many stories miss
  • Use nuanced, accurate journalism to make the world safer for our youth
  • Consider the standards that will shape your coverage of bullying issues before news breaks

This section also features examples of balanced and accurate coverage on bullying.

Question which stories about bullying to run

When considering a piece on bullying, ask a few key questions:

  • Does the behavior actually meet the definition of bullying?
  • How will this coverage affect the children and families involved?
  • Does the story reflect reality?
  • Will this coverage help audiences better understand how they can contribute to preventing bullying?

Get the entire, balanced story and present it accurately

  • Try to talk to everyone involved, including bystanders and the young people accused of bullying.
  • State the facts.
  • Cover bullying as a public health issue.
  • Remember that bullying affects people’s lives and emotions.

Use knowledgeable sources and reputable resources

Sources make the story. So does accurate information. Without these, journalists and other content creators risk their coverage misinforming the public and doing more harm than good.

  • Find an expert. A bullying prevention expert can help ensure you have the facts about this complex problem. Other sources—principals, teachers, guidance counselors, parents, students—can round out your piece by relaying their own experiences. See a checklist of characteristics in the Expert Help section.
  • Use verified statistics and research-based facts. A web search will reveal lots of misinformation about bullying. The Facts About Bullying section offers up-to-date information for your review.

Include information that many stories miss

Analysis of media articles has shown that certain elements of bullying stories are often missing, including:

  • Information about those who bully. This can be very difficult to obtain, but at least represent what generally is known about youth who bully, including the many risk factors they face, the negative effects bullying has on these youth, and the facts that youth who bully are not all alike and some are also bullied themselves.
  • Effects of bullying. Explain the multitude of problems associated with bullying—not just suicide—such as absenteeism, drug and alcohol abuse, and depression. Many of these effects can last into adulthood. Also include effects on the school and the community.
  • Specific ways for individuals to help. Instead of general advice (e.g., “support your children”), or focusing on prevention through anti-bullying legislation or policies, offer specific action steps your audience can take. See prevent bullying for tips.

See more about oversimplifying bullying stories in What to Avoid.

Use nuanced, accurate journalism to make the world safer for kids

Without information about prevention, media coverage implies that bullying has no solution, a misrepresentation of the current state of the research. Audiences are left with only a sense of hopelessness. Consider the following approaches:

  • Give practical advice on how to prevent bullying tailored for your audience.
  • Highlight successful bullying prevention initiatives. Though no “silver bullet” approach has been identified, plenty of schools and communities have made progress.
  • Discuss new prevention research. Just as with other public health issues, keep the public informed of progress and setbacks documented in peer-reviewed journals.
  • Point to prevention resources. See the list of resources available on StopBullying.gov. For stories that discuss suicide, mention the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
  • Stress the positive actions, reactions, and interventions by the school or others.

Consider the standards that will shape your coverage of bullying issues before news breaks.
Be prepared for fast-breaking stories with ethical guidelines already in place.

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