Highly publicized incidents of school violence in the late 1990s drew national attention to the problem of bullying in U.S. schools. Researchers studying school-associated violent deaths between 1994 and 1999 found homicide perpetrators were much more likely than their victims to have been bullied at school [1
]. The prevalence of bullying in the U.S. is high. In 1993, 56% of students in grades 8 to 12 reported bullying took place in their schools [2
]. Another survey conducted in 1998 with 6th
grade students estimated nearly 30% were directly involved with bullying in the past semester as perpetrators, victims, or victim-perpetrators [3
]. In addition to connections with other forms of youth violence, bullying has been associated with substance use, emotional disturbance, and physical health symptoms [3
]. Given these consequences, preventing bullying in schools is a public health priority.
Although personality and physical characteristics are associated with bullying perpetration and victimization, other modifiable factors deserve attention [6
]. Interpersonal and institutional settings within which adolescents have sustained social interactions also influence behavior and development [7
]. Research has supported the influential role of three such settings in the development of bullying behaviors: family, peers, and schools.
Adolescents’ family environment and interactions can affect bullying behavior through multiple mechanisms [8
]. Family violence shapes bullying behavior through the modeling of aggressive behavior and the establishment of pro-aggression norms. For example, both exposure to inter-parental conflict and adolescent physical punishment have been positively associated with bullying perpetration [9
]. Parental monitoring problems affect aggression through adolescents’ unsupervised time and affiliation with deviant peers [11
]. Bullies experience more lax or inconsistent parental monitoring than non-bullies, and victims experience more intrusive parental involvement than non-victims [13
]. Other features of family relationships, including low parental warmth, low family cohesion, low involvement with parents, and single parent family structure have also been positively associated with bullying involvement [16
Peer relationships are the most studied social determinant of bullying involvement, with the concepts of peer rejection and deviant affiliations prominently featured. Victims have fewer friends and are rejected by classmates more than non-involved peers, leaving them vulnerable to aggressive peers [20
]. Bullies likewise are disliked amongst classmates but are less socially isolated than victims, primarily due to popularity amongst other aggressive and deviant adolescents [22
]. Bully-victims have been found to be the most isolated and least well-liked [14
Adolescents’ relationship with school also affects bullying involvement. School bonding, defined as both affective attachment and academic commitment [24
], is related to both bullying perpetration and victimization, with possible bi-directional influences. Both bullies and victims report lower school attachment than non-involved peers [14
]; however, although perpetrators are found to have low academic achievement [3
], victimization appears related to both high and low academic achievement [25
]. School-level policies and practices, such as hall monitoring by adults and enforcement of rules against peer intimidation, are often key components in bullying prevention interventions.
As a frequent site of bullying episodes, schools are the target of most interventions. School-wide interventions, such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (BPP), have been recognized as the most effective strategies, affecting up to 50% reductions in bullying behaviors [16
]. The BPP and other school-wide programs take a multi-pronged approach, incorporating administrative (e.g., formation of a bullying prevention coordinating committee, and increased supervision of bullying “hot spots”), classroom (e.g., establishment and enforcement of anti-bullying class rules, and regular bullying discussions), and individual (e.g., direct interventions with identified bullies and victims, and their parents) activities [16
Despite the substantial impact demonstrated by these programs in selected settings, such results are inconsistent [27
]. One recent BPP evaluation found decreases in bullying for White students only [28
], suggesting this approach may not affect bullying among racial/ethnic minority students. Although some studies have explored racial/ethnic differences in bullying prevalence [3
], no study to date has explored whether correlates of bullying behavior vary by race/ethnicity. The purpose of this study is to address this gap by examining the relevance of perceived family, peer and school relations to bullying behaviors for White, Black and Hispanic adolescents using nationally-representative data.