Findings indicate high prevalence rates of having bullied others or having been bullied at school for at least once in the last 2 months: 20.8% physically, 53.6% verbally, 51.4% socially, or 13.6% electronically. After categorizing respondents into four categories (bullies, victims, bully-victims, and non-involved), we found that adolescents with higher parental support reported less involvement in all four forms of bullying while having more friends was associated with more bullying (bullies) and less victimization (victims or bully-victims) in physical, verbal, and relational forms, but this was not the case for cyber bullying. Socio-demographic differences in bullying varied across the four different forms.
Consistent with previous studies [14
], our results on parental support suggest that positive parental behaviors protect adolescents from not only bullying others but also being bullied. The protective effects were consistent for all four forms of bullying, with similar magnitudes of strength.
The negative relations between having more friends and victimization in physical, verbal, and relational forms supports the “friendship protection hypothesis” suggesting that friendship protects adolescents from being selected as targets of bullies [15
]. The positive relation between having more friends and bullying in the three traditional forms is consistent with previously reported lower social isolation in bullies [16
]. This may reflect a need among adolescents to establish social status, especially during transition into a new group [5
], and may explain the peaking of prevalence rates of bullying in all four forms during 7th
grade or 8th
grade, a period of transition to middle school ().
As previous studies found a high correlation between traditional forms of bullying and cyber bullying, some researchers have argued that cyber bullying is a “new bottle but old wine” [24
]. However, our results show a quite differe nt role played by friends on cyber bullying compared to three traditional forms of bullying. Unlike physical, verbal, or relational bullying, cyber bullying was not related to number of friends. This reflects a distinct nature of cyber bullying compared to traditional forms of bullying.
Our results show that boys and girls are aggressive in different ways; boys engage more in physical or verbal bullying, whereas girls use spreading rumors and social exclusion as bullying tactics. The gender differences in direct and indirect forms of bullying are consistent with previous studies [8
Age differences were consistent across the three traditional forms of bullying. Compared to 6th graders, 7th / 8th grades were less likely to be victims in all three traditional forms. Adolescents in 9th / 10th grades reported lower frequencies of physical bullying and also less physical, verbal, and relational victimization. Cyber bullying did not vary by grade, with the only exception being that the proportion of bullies was lower for 9th / 10th graders than 6th graders.
The racial differences in the three traditional forms of bullying were similar to previous studies [6
]. We found that African-American adolescents were more likely to be bullies but less likely to be victims. Hispanic adolescents were more involved in physical bullying. Our results show that higher SES may protect adolescents from victimization physically, but increased the risk of involvement in both bullying and victimization electronically. This is likely due to greater availability of computers and cell phones for adolescents from wealthier families.
There were several limitations to this study. First, the cross-sectional nature of the survey limits the ability to make causal conclusions. Longitudinal studies are needed to confirm the predictive effects of parental support and number of friends on bullying. Second, all data were student self-report. Testing information from multiple sources is recommended for future studies. Third, we used a cutoff point for the variables of bullying and victimization and did not examine the frequency of involvement in both behaviors. However, the lower frequency of cyber bullying suggested dichotomous classifications as the most useful categorization. And this categorization allows us to further obtain four distinct groups: bullies, victims, bully-victims, and non-involved. Last, we did not examine the association between cyber bullying and the traditional forms of bullying. Future studies are recommended on the relationship between cyber bullying and traditional bullying.
Nonetheless, this study extends the previous literature in at least four ways. First, we assessed cyber bullying among US adolescents using the same format as in the Olweus Bully/Victim Questionnaire, which has been used internationally to measure the traditional forms of bullying [20
]. Even though the two items did not assess every mode of cyber bullyings behavior, we included the two major electronic devices: computer and cell phones. Using equivalent time frame and response categories as the other bullying forms allowed us to make comparisons between cyber bullying and traditional forms of bullying. In a review on cyber bullying, Kraft [21
] found a wide variation in the prevalence from studies conducted in four different courtiers including the United States. For example, from findings of five studies conducted in the United States the prevalence rates of cyber bullying ranged from 6% to 42%. One of the reasons for the wide variation is the lack of a standard assessment format. Second, we examined the prevalence rates and correlates for four different forms of bullying behaviors: physical, verbal, relational, and cyber. Our results suggest the distinct natures of the four forms, especially between the cyber form and the other three traditional forms, in terms of their relations with other variables. Third, we examined the co-occurrence of bullying and victimization within the same person. It is important to identify bully-victims as a distinct group; for example, only bully-victims showed gender differences in the verbal form of bullying. And last, we used a large-scale nationally representative sample with sufficient representation from multiple age and racial groups. In conclusion, our results confirmed the important roles of parental support and number of friends, and suggest that demographic characteristic as well as different forms of bullying should be considered when examining or planning interventions on adolescent bullying.