The National Household Education Survey of 1993 revealed that approximately 50% of students in grades 6 to 12 use strategies to avoid harm at school. Not only being victimized, but even simply witnessing bullying increased the likelihood that a student used a strategy to avoid harm.27
Many lawsuits have been filed over school districts’ failure to protect students being bullied at school.28,29
DuRant et al30
reported a subgroup of students who have been victimized at school, are afraid to go to school, and carry weapons at school.
This study showed that bully-victims are more likely to endorse carrying a gun to school. There are many reasons why adolescents might want to carry guns to school and bullying has been confirmed as a common reason.31,32
In 2000, the US Secret Service reported that in 2/3 of the 37 school shootings that have occurred in 26 states since 1974, the attacker felt “bullied, attacked, threatened, or persecuted prior to the incident.”33
In many of those cases, previous bullying of the shooter has been confirmed.28,34
Cunningham et al35
revealed that of the rural American middle-school students surveyed who owned a gun and were considered high-risk (ie, carrying a gun to intimidate or command respect), the vast majority (83%) engaged in bullying. The study presented here suggests that we should be particularly concerned about children who are both bullies and victims, because they are much more likely to endorse carrying a gun to school. This is consistent with the literature that suggests that the bully-victim group is the most troubled.36-40
The symptom of frequent sadness is known to have high sensitivity and specificity for the diagnosis of major depression.41
Scales for depression in childhood universally include a question about frequent sadness and DSM IV criteria require a cardinal symptom of being sad nearly every day or experiencing loss of pleasure in usual activities for 2 weeks or more.42
In other words, being involved in bullying in any way (as bully, victim, or bully-victim) is associated with a key depressive symptom. This adds depth to the previous literature that supports a connection between bullying, suicide, and depression.1,43-54
Victims have significantly lower academic achievement in school than bystanders using an objective measure of achievement.4
Whether the lower academic achievement among victims preceded or was a consequence of being a victim cannot be determined from this cross-sectional study. Some literature has supported the idea that being bullied impairs concentration and subsequent academic achievement.3,55-57
A large US national survey found that those who perceive themselves as having below-average academic achievement are more likely to be bullies or bully-victims.3
In contrast, the results of the present study showed that victims’ grades were more likely to be lower than bystanders’. This may have to do with the different methodologies used—specifically, the fact that the present study used objective achievement data although the previous study did not.
A small number of studies has used actual attendance data to determine whether greater school absence is associated with being bullied in the middle and high school years (grades 7, 9, and 11). Smith et al from the United Kingdom reported that continued victimization is associated with lower school attendance. That study verified that some absences occurred out of fear of being bullied.58
Two studies by Nishina et al4
and Juvonen et al5
and from the United States found that absenteeism was predicted by self-reported victimization. The US National Center for Education Statistics reported in 1993 that of the 6504 middle school students surveyed, 455 (7%) skipped school to avoid being harmed by peers.27
The study described here found no association between involvement in bullying and greater school absenteeism.
A literature search revealed no previous works examining an association between bullying and disciplinary action at school including expulsions and suspensions, with the exception of one article reporting dramatic decreases in suspension rates after implementation of an anti-bullying intervention.59
In the present study, we found no association between being expelled or suspended and being involved in bullying.
Our study has several limitations. It was conducted in a single school district in the United States, limiting generalizability. In addition, students included their names on the surveys, and the determination of whether a child was a victim, a bully, or a bully-victim was determined solely by self-report. Both of these factors could potentially introduce bias. However, partly with the intention of minimizing any potential misclassification based on self-report, only more severely affected children were defined as bullies and victims for this analysis. It would seem unlikely (because of the negative social stigma attached to being a victim) that a child would report being sometimes, always
, or often
bullied if he or she truly was not.38
For bullies, however, some literature suggests that their social status may be above average or improved due to bullying.38,60
Because of this, some students might be inclined to call themselves bullies even if they truly are not. In addition, although there is literature to support that self-report is quite accurate after grade 2 and becomes more reliable as the children age, a combination of peer reports, teacher reports, and self-reports produces better estimates of children’s relational adjustment.61-63
Another limitation is that 21% of students did not participate in the survey. There are many possible reasons for not participating in a survey. When middle-school and high-school students are involved, as with this study, absenteeism, fear of retaliation, and lack of desire are some possible reasons for lack of participation. Unfortunately, we had no information on those students who did not respond to the survey.
Currently, various interventions are used to decrease aggressive behavior and increase social skills.1,19,20,64
In 2001, the US Surgeon General stated that hundreds of violence-prevention programs are being used in American schools without a full understanding of their effectiveness. Primary prevention programs focus on the whole school, whereas secondary prevention programs are aimed mainly at aggressive children. A 2006 Cochrane Collaboration review of school-based secondary violence prevention programs concluded that successful programs designed to reduce aggressive behavior have been implemented for students of all ages.21
The Centers for Disease Control is currently undertaking a randomized controlled trial of an intervention that has both primary and secondary components, but results are not yet available.
Second Step and the Olweus Bullying Intervention Program are examples of interventions that have some evidence supporting their effectiveness.1,19,20,64
The school district involved with the present study offered several schools the opportunity to try the Olweus Bullying Intervention Program developed in Norway. An extensive study of this effort by researchers at the University of Washington yielded mixed results that are awaiting publication.21
The next step for bullying researchers will be to focus on helping school leadership understand the importance of anti-bullying efforts, determining which interventions work best with which populations, and determining which aspects of successful interventions make them work.