Study: Harassment, Bullying Starts in Elementary School

In a first ever national study of its kind, the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) says more than 75% of students in the 3rd to 6th grade report that students at their school are called names, made fun of or bullied with at least some regularity.

According to GLSEN, “the report, based on national surveys of 1,065 elementary school students in 3rd to 6th grade and 1,099 elementary school teachers of K-6th grade, examines students’ and teachers’ experiences with biased remarks and bullying, and their attitudes about gender expression and family diversity.”

The thoughts and attitudes of 1,099 elementary school teachers, K-6th grade, were also included in the comprehensive study.

Among the study’s other key findings:

“The most common forms of biased language in elementary schools, heard regularly (i.e., sometimes, often or all the time) by both students and teachers, are the use of the word “gay” in a negative way, such as “that’s so gay,” (students: 45%, teachers: 49%) and comments like “spaz” or “retard” (51% of students, 45% of teachers). Many also report regularly hearing students make homophobic remarks, such as “fag” or “lesbo” (students: 26%, teachers: 26%) and negative comments about race/ethnicity (students: 26%, teachers: 21%).”

Most commonly students are bullied or harassed, “because of a students’ looks or body size (67%), followed by not being good at sports (37%), how well they do at schoolwork (26%), not conforming to traditional gender norms/roles (23%) or because other people think they’re gay (21%).”

Also included in the study was questions concerning Gender Non-Conforming Students. According to GLSEN, “Nearly 1 in 10 of elementary students in 3rd to 6th grade (8%) indicate that they do not always conform to traditional gender norms/roles – either they are boys who others sometimes think, act or look like a girl, or they are girls who others sometimes think, act or look like a boy.”

Sadly,”Gender nonconforming students are less likely than other students to feel very safe at school (42% vs 61%), and are more likely than others to indicate they sometimes do not want to go to school because they feel unsafe or afraid there (35% vs 15%). Gender nonconforming students are also more likely than others to be called names, made fun of or bullied at least sometimes at school (56% vs 33%).”

While a majority of elementary school teachers believe they are obligated to ensure a safe learning environment for gender nonconforming students (83%) and students with LGBT parents (70%), Less than half of teachers (48%) indicate that they feel comfortable responding to questions from their students about gay, lesbian or bisexual people.  That number drops even lower (41%) when dealing with questions regarding transgender people.

GLSEN has also released it’sReady, Set, Respect! GLSEN’s Elementary School Toolkit, which contains suggested lesson plans that focus on name-calling, bullying and bias, LGBT-inclusive family diversity and gender roles and diversity.

As we reported earlier this week, experts say the psychological scarring caused by schoolyard bullying is the equivalent to the damage caused by child abuse and does, in many cases, have a life long impact on the person being bullied or harassed.

According to GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard, The  new report ,”shows the need for elementary schools to do more to address issues of homophobia, gender expression and family diversity.”

A bill that would help curb school bullying and harassment in Idaho was sent to the State Senate for a hearing on Monday. The bill, presented by The Suicide Prevention Action Network of Idaho, would require individual schools to set specific policies for dealing with which a student  harasses, intimidates or bullies their classmates.

GLSEN will host a free webinar on the  Playgrounds and Prejudice study from 1:00-2:00 pm MST, on February 1st. Participants will also learn more about GLSEN’s elementary school toolkit, Ready Set, Respect! Register for the webinar here:


4 Responses to Study: Harassment, Bullying Starts in Elementary School

  1. Pingback: Latest Teen Suicide underscores need for Idaho’s Anti-Bullying Bill « The Idaho Agenda

  2. Wendi says:

    I have a child that has been bullied and harassed by a child in school. I went and asked for help with this issue that has been going on since November. The principal of the school pushed it off. I asked for guidance or avenues for me so that I could help my child and still got no where. This has been going on way too long. My child is in 6th grade. I took both my children out of school for a week to prove a point. It still did not help. The princpal the other day told me that maybe homeschooling would work better for my children. REALLY???? I own my home, pay my taxes for this district, and grew up in a public school myself. What is the deal with them not wanting to actually do something to protect my child and get help for the other bully? Come to find out the principal “Was a BULLY herself” and still is! What is wrong with society today? What happened to actually getting down to the bottom of the issue and moving on? Is it ignorance or laziness or both? What did I miss here? I hope that there is more protection in the schools for kids. They need to be focussed on their education and sports and being a kid. Kids can’t fight in school but here is the loop hole: they can bully and harass kids and get away with that. Who will stand for our children and help them to get through this crazy world. Things are so different than when I grew up. My child has a right to attend public school and public school has a responsibility to protect my child along with their education. We shall see what the public school shows for their responsibility for children.

    • jamestidmarsh says:

      @Wendi, What a horrible story and traumatic not only for you but for your kids as well. Have you thought about approaching the issue with your local school board? Is this in Idaho or another state? Shoot me an email at I maybe able to help you get in touch with some resources in your community.

  3. Pingback: Idaho’s Senator Chuck Winder blows More Hot Air « The Idaho Agenda

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