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Confronting Bullying and Cyberbullying: ADL Policy and Program Recommendations

1)   Programs and Training Initiatives

  • The Federal government should require the adoption of an anti-bullying policy for school personnel and students in every state.  
  • We welcomed the December 16 Key Policy Letter from the Education Secretary and the Office of Civil Rights Deputy Secretary which highlighted components of effective anti-bullying laws, using examples from existing state laws.  That letter stated:

      “Though laws are only a part of the cure for bullying, the adoption, publication, and enforcement of a clear and effective anti-bullying policy sends a message that all incidents of bullying must be addressed immediately and effectively, and that such behavior will not be tolerated.”

    ADL has been at the forefront of responding to bias, bullying, and cyberbullying through a combination of education and legislative advocacy, including drafting a model state bullying prevention policy that requires schools and communities to approach the issue of bullying with proactive, responsive, and responsible measures. Several states, including Florida and Massachusetts, have recently adopted policies based on ADL's model.  The model is inclusive, comprehensive, and sufficiently protective of the First Amendment. 

     ADL believes a strong and comprehensive anti-bullying statute will:

    • include a strong definition of bullying, which includes cyberbullying;
    • address bullying motivated by race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, disability, sexual orientation and other personal characteristics;
    • include notice requirements for students and parents;
    • set out clear reporting procedures;
    • require regular training for teachers and for students about how to recognize and respond to bullying and cyberbullying.
  • The Department of Education, working with the Department of Justice and other federal agencies, should institutionalize and coordinate anti-bullying/cyberbullying prevention and response programs within their safe schools/healthy schools and school-related violence prevention initiatives. 
  • We welcome the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recently-launched Web page devoted to the issue.  We believe CDC anti-bullying resources for schools and parents are an excellent complement to its essential, ongoing violence prevention work. 

  • The Department of Education should provide training and technical assistance to teachers, principals, and school administrators on its excellent October 26 Department of Education Guidance on Bullying and Harassment.
  • The Anti-Defamation League strongly welcomed the Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) October 26 Dear Colleague Letter to thousands of school districts and colleges across the country clarifying their responsibilities with respect to student bullying and harassment.  The guidance demonstrates that the Department of Education takes bullying – and particularly bullying based on race, religion, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity – very seriously.  We believe the new guidelines represent a significant step forward in protecting children from bigotry and harassment.  We especially appreciated the fact that the OCR rightly interpreted the Federal civil rights law to protect students from anti-Semitic harassment.

  • As Congress works towards enactment of a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Schools (ESEA), the Administration should promote the inclusion of comprehensive and inclusive anti-bullying and cyberbullying initiatives as one of its ESEA priorities. 
  • Federal agencies should provide resources, fund, develop, and promote programming and training initiatives – including Webinars – for teachers, administrators, parents, students, state Attorneys General, law enforcement officials (school resource officers in particular) and others in the community on how to recognize and respond to bullying, harassment, and cyberbullying.  
  • Most school systems lack adequate funding for personnel to design, implement, and staff these prevention and response programs.  Anti-bullying programs and initiatives must address this significant barrier. Successful policies and programs are both proactive and responsive, and engage the community to action.

  • Using its expanded anti-bullying Web sites, and newsletters from the Department of Education and its Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools and the Justice Department and its Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention, the Federal government should make information available regarding effective bullying, cyberbullying and hate crime prevention programs and resources – and promote awareness of successful training initiatives and best practices.

    The Administration also should commend and highlight state and local efforts to carry out effective anti-bias education programs.

2)  Research, Reports, and Data Collection Initiatives

  • In conjunction with academic institutions, the Department of Education and the Department of Justice should fund research into the nature and magnitude of the bullying/cyberbullying problem in the United States, specifically its impact on both the social and emotional health of students and the impact on academic achievement.
  • Bullying can have a devastating effect on the lives of teenagers: 

    • According to an Associated Press 2009 survey, 60% of young people who have been bullied report destructive behavior such as smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, using illegal drugs or shoplifting (compared to 48% of those not bullied).
    • The same study indicated that the targets of digital abuse are twice as likely to report having received treatment from a mental health professional (13% vs. 6% of others), and nearly three times more likely to have considered dropping out of school (11% vs. 4% of others).
    • A 2009 study from the Cyberbullying Research center found that bullied students are 3 times more likely to drop out of school and 1.5-2 times more likely to have attempted suicide.
  • The Department of Education’s National Center on Education Statistics, the Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, and the Department of Health and Human Services – including the CDC  – should update and coordinate reporting requirements and data collection efforts on bullying and cyberbullying.  Possible reforms include:
  • The Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights and the National Association of Attorneys General should update their excellent 1999 report, Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime.
  • This detailed guide promoted a comprehensive approach to protecting students from harassment and hate-motivated violence and included sample policies and procedures from across the nation.  An updated report should integrate resources to address cyberbullying.

3)  Media Literacy and Public Awareness Initiatives

  • The federal government should provide resources for parents and adult family members to inform them regarding the prevalence of bullying on social networking sites and through cell phone use.
  • Despite the prevalence and impact of cyberbullying, many adults are unaware of the problem due to a lack of fluency in new technologies, limited involvement in and oversight of youth online activity and strong social norms among youth against disclosure of online behavior. Therefore, it is critical to develop programming for teachers, parents and other critical partners on how to recognize and respond to cyberbullying. There is considerable misunderstanding about harassment, students’ free speech rights on the Internet, and when “kids will be kids” goes too far.  Current research indicates that less than one-third of parents are aware of available tools, such as parental controls, that can help them protect their children from online threats.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services should update Internet resources published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), including resources at both its kids Web site Stop Bullying Now, and its counterpart site for adults,
  • We welcome the anti-bullying resources available at the new, Web site, coordinated by several federal agencies.

  • Working with youth-oriented private corporations – such as Cartoon Network, MTV, Nickelodeon, YouTube and Facebook – the Federal government should promote programs and awareness of the nature and magnitude of the bullying/cyberbullying problem.
  • Facebook alone reaches 500 million registered users worldwide each month.  Public awareness and Ad Council campaigns and programming partnerships with corporations such as Facebook, MTV, Cartoon Network, and Nickelodeon can leverage their standing with youth to encourage young people to speak out against harassment and bullying and promote responsible online behavior. 

    For example, the Anti-Defamation League serves on the Advisory Board for MTV’s A Thin Line campaign, developed to empower youth to identify, respond to and stop the spread of digital abuse in their lives.  In addition, since 2010, ADL has partnered with Cartoon Network on its STOP BULLYING: SPEAK UP campaign, aimed at empowering youth to take action to reduce bullying.  The campaign has its own Web site, which features a variety of tools and links, including ADL educational resources   

  • The Department of Justice and the Department of Education should encourage state and local Bar Associations and lawyers and judges to involve themselves in assessing the nature of the bullying and cyberbullying problem at the state and local levels – and crafting appropriate, constitutional responses. 
  • We welcome the recent action by the American Bar Association to adopt a thoughtful and inclusive anti-bullying and cyberbullying Resolution. The Resolution puts the ABA on record in support of:

    • Adopting inclusive federal and state policies and laws designed to prevent and respond to bullying and cyberbullying;
    • Developing federal and state programs to identify targets and enhance appropriate interventions;
    • Funding programs, research, and evaluation that address prevention and response to bullying and cyberbullying;
    • Training, data collection, and appropriate notice of bullying incidents to the families of those involved;
    • Internet service providers and social networking platforms to adopt terms of service that define and prohibit cyberbullying and cyberhate; and
    • School districts to implement the October 2010 U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights “Dear Colleague” letter on bullying and harassment.

  • Consistent with the First Amendment, the Federal government should encourage Internet providers to clearly define prohibited hate speech and prohibit the use of hate in any Terms of Service agreement.  
  • No provider of Internet services, social networking, or user-submitted content sites should ignore the fact that these sites can become vehicles for promoting harassment and hate.  Web sites should establish clear, user-friendly reporting mechanisms for reporting hateful content and act quickly to remove or sequester hateful content once it is reported.

  • The Federal government should promote Internet media literacy – specifically programs to help develop students’ critical thinking skills for Internet, viral, and wireless communications. 
  • For most teenagers, Internet use is a part of daily life. We should promote civil discourse on the Internet and should teach young people how to identify risks and engage in critical thinking for Web-based research and communications.  Students should be trained on how to use electronic communications in a responsible manner, how to develop empathy for others and how to intervene safely and not be a bystander when confronted with bullying and harassment.

4. Public Advocacy Supporting Anti-Bullying and Hate Crime Prevention Initiatives

  • The Justice Department and the FBI should work collaboratively with civil rights and community-based groups and law enforcement organizations to ensure comprehensive and effective implementation of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA), with particular attention to the new requirement that the FBI collect hate crime statistics committed by and against juveniles.
  • The HCPA provides new tools to promote partnerships between Federal and state and local officials to confront hate violence.  The passage of the HCPA provides a teachable moment for the country on the impact of hate violence and bullying – and effective responses. ADL resources on the hate crimes and the HCPA can be found at

  • The White House should complement its upcoming Bullying Prevention Conference with a National Youth Bullying/Cyberbullying Summit.
  • The Federal Government should make every effort to engage young people in an advocacy role on these issues.  A “National Youth Bullying Summit” could help organize student leaders to promote discussions surrounding effective ways students can combat harassment and bigotry in their own school and to bring awareness to successful efforts nationwide.


Related Articles
Press Release:
ADL Offers Recommendations For White House Bullying Prevention Conference
ADL Letter to President Obama Regarding the White House Bullying Prevention Conference
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