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Bullies, Victims at Risk for Violence & Other Problem Behaviors

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April 14, 2003

Bullying is not just a normal, if unpleasant, part of growing up, according to Federal researchers. Rather, children who bully other children appear to be at risk for engaging in more serious violent behaviors, such as frequent fighting and carrying a weapon. Moreover, victims of bullying also are at risk for engaging in these kinds of violent behaviors.

"It appears that bullying is not an isolated behavior, but a sign that children may be involved in more violent behaviors," said Duane Alexander, M.D., Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). "The implication is that children who bully other children may benefit from programs seeking to prevent not just bullying, but other violent behaviors as well."

The researchers conducted a nationally representative survey of bullying in U.S. schools. Their findings appear in the April Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. The research team included members from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). Both NIH and HRSA are part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

An objective of the research was to determine if bullying is related to other forms of violence-related behavior, said the study's first author, Tonja R. Nansel, Ph.D., of NICHD's Division of Epidemiolgy, Statistics, and Prevention Research. The study authors analyzed information from an NICHD-funded survey of 15,686 students in grades 6 through 10 in public and private schools throughout the United States. The survey included questions about whether students had bullied others, had been bullied themselves, had carried a weapon, fought frequently, or had been injured in a fight.

Before questions about bullying were asked, the survey provided a definition of bullying to the students. "We say a student is BEING BULLIED when another student, or group of students, say or do nasty and unpleasant things to him or her. It is also bullying when a student is teased repeatedly in a way he or she doesn't like."

The researchers found that boys across all age groups were more likely to be involved in bullying and violent behaviors than were girls.

Both children who bullied and their victims were more likely than youth who had never been involved in bullying to engage in violent behaviors themselves. However, the association between bullying and other forms of violence was greatest for those who bullied others. For example, among boys who said they had bullied others at least once a week in school, 52.2 percent had carried a weapon in the past month, 43.1 percent carried a weapon in school, 38.7 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 45.7 percent reported having been injured in a fight. By comparison, of the boys who said they had been bullied in school every week, 36.4 percent had carried a weapon, 28.7 percent carried a weapon in school, 22.6 percent said they were involved in frequent fighting, and about 31.8 percent said they had been injured in a fight.

Of the boys who had never bullied others in school, 13.4 percent carried a weapon in the past month, 7.9 percent carried a weapon in school, 8.3 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 16.2 percent had been injured in a fight. Among the boys who had never been bullied in school, 18.7 percent carried a weapon in the last month, 12.2 percent carried a weapon in school, 12.4 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 18.3 percent were injured in a fight.

Boys who bullied others when they were away from school were at the greatest risk for engaging in violence-related behaviors. Among the boys who had bullied others once a week while away from school, 70.2 percent had carried a weapon, 58.1 percent reported carrying a weapon in school, 44.8 percent said they fought frequently, and 56.1 percent had been injured in a fight.

Among the boys who had never bullied others away from school, 14.3 percent had carried a weapon in the past month, 8.4 percent had carried a weapon in school, 8.8 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 16.6 percent had been injured in a fight. Of the boys who had never been bullied away from school, 16.9 percent had carried a weapon in the past month, 10.6 percent carried a weapon in school, 11.2 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 17.9 percent had been injured in a fight.

The researchers wrote that bullying occurring away from school grounds may be more severe than bullying at school, where there is adult supervision and more protection against violence.

"Findings from this study suggest that programs designed to reduce violent behaviors should address less severe forms of aggressive behavior, particularly bullying," the study authors wrote. "Bullying, as a behavior that is inflicted with the desire to harm another, seems to be an important marker for violence-related behaviors."

The authors believe their study is the first to examine how bullying relates to other forms of violence. Previous studies, Dr. Nansel explained, have included youth from a small geographic area and looked only at how bullying relates to a single violence-related behavior.

In 2001, Dr. Nansel and colleagues at NICHD and HRSA conducted a survey that determined the extent of bullying in U.S. Schools. A release describing this earlier study has been posted at http://www.nichd.nih.gov/news/releases/Pages/bullying.aspx.

Dr. Nansel said earlier studies have concluded that the effects of bullying behavior carry into adulthood. People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self esteem as adults, and the people who bullied others when they were children are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.

"In this study, a strong and consistent relationship between bullying and violent behaviors was observed," the authors wrote. "This suggests that bullying is likely to occur concurrently with more serious aggressive behavior, and while prevalent, should not be considered a normative aspect of youth development."

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The NICHD is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the biomedical research arm of the federal government. NIH is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. NICHD celebrates its fortieth anniversary in 2003. NICHD publications, as well as information about the Institute, are available from the NICHD Web site, http://www.nichd.nih.gov, or from the NICHD Information Resource Center, 1-800-370-2943; e-mail NICHDInformationResourceCenter@mail.nih.gov.

 

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