In 2010, Attorney General Eric Holder launched the Defending Childhood initiative to address children’s exposure—as victims and as witnesses—to violence. He hopes to change our perceptions of violence and abuse, make the topic an issue on the national level, and address how abuse and violence affect children. He understands that violence can follow and wound children throughout their lives. We need to address abuse and violence and break the cycle as early as possible.
Early intervention is especially important with bullying. The National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence findings show that:
- 13.2% of children report being physically bullied within the past year;
- 21.6% of children said they were physically bullied during their lifetimes ;
- 21.5% of children age six to nine said they were bullied in the past year;
- 28% of children age six to nine said they were bullied at some time in their lives;
- About 20% of children reported being teased or emotionally bullied in the previous year; and
- Almost 30% of children said they were teased or emotionally bullied in their lifetimes.
Although many children are remarkably resilient, they react to violence in different ways. When exposed to violence, including physical bullying, children may experience lasting physical, mental, and emotional effects, including:
- Attachment issues,
- Regressive behaviors,
- Anxiety or depression, and
- Aggressive behaviors.
Such children may also be at increased risk of dating violence, further victimization, drug and alcohol abuse, poor academic performance, and trouble with the law.
To decrease violence in communities, the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) supports Defending Childhood demonstration sites that implement best practices in violence reduction. OJJDP currently supports eight sites, six of which incorporate a bullying component in their programs. Anti-bullying efforts include:
- Implementing an internal tracking system for violent incidents/ bullying in schools;
- Advocating for comprehensive, state-wide school bullying intervention and prevention legislation;
- Reviewing policies and practices for bullying and school discipline;
- Promoting healthy relationships;
- Implementing evidence-based bully prevention programs in schools ;
- Implementing mentoring programs for youth who bully; and
- Teaching teachers and other school staff ways to create a safe atmosphere for students and refer them to services when needed.
For too long we have accepted bullying, and the violence that it includes, as part of growing up. Through the Defending Childhood initiative, the U.S. Department of Justice is asking communities to change that perception and implement solutions to the problem.
We know that early intervention works to counter the effects of violence and bullying. The help we offer children can be critical to the course their lives will take. Our goal is a safe environment for our children so that they have the opportunity to develop into healthy adults.