Childhood Bullying Often Leads to Violent Life: Report

Boys more likely than girls to be involved in bullying

Both childhood bullies and their victims are more likely to engage in more serious violent behavior like frequent fighting and carrying weapons, according to a National Institutes of Health (NIH) study.

"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."

In preparing the report, the authors analyzed information collected 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.

"Nasty and Unpleasant Things"
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."

Highlighted Findings
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.

      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."