Psychologically distressed children more likely to be involved in bullying

November 07, 2005

CHICAGO - Bullying by elementary school children was associated with increased odds of lacking a feeling of safety while at school, having lower academic achievement, and feeling sad most days, according to an article in the November issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals.

According to background information in the article, "Bullying is defined as any repeated negative activity or aggression intended to harm or bother someone who is perceived by peers as being less physically or psychologically powerful than the aggressor(s)." In a 2000 survey of more than 15,000 U.S. students, researchers found the prevalence of bullying involvement among teens and preteens was approximately 30 percent. Concerns about the role of bullying in school violence, depression, and health concerns have grown over the past decade.

Gwen M. Glew, M.D., of the University of Washington, Seattle, and colleagues surveyed 3,530 third, fourth, and fifth grade students to determine prevalence of bullying and its association with attendance, academic achievement, suspension or expulsion, and self-reported feelings of sadness, safety and belonging. Students were classified as victims, bullies, bully-victims (those who were both victimized and bullied others), bystanders (children who did not bully others and were not bullied by others) and nonresponders.

Twenty-two percent of the children surveyed reported being involved in bullying, either as a victim, bully, or both. Six percent of the children reported being bullied "always," 14 percent said they bullied others, and two percent said they both bullied and were bullied. All three bullying-involved groups--either as a victim, bully or bully-victim--were significantly more likely than bystanders to feel unsafe at school. Among students who reported feeling as though they did not belong at school, their odds of being a victim were 4.1 times higher than those who felt they belonged at school; their odds of being a bully was 3.1 times higher than those saying they belonged. Bullies and victims were more likely than bystanders to feel sad most days. Both bullies and bully-victims were more likely to be male.

"The prevalence of frequent bullying among elementary school children is substantial. Associations between bullying involvement and school problems indicate this is a serious issue for elementary schools," the authors write. "The take-home message is that elementary school-aged children who are psychologically distressed are more likely to be involved in some form of bullying, and children who struggle academically are more likely to be victims and bully-victims."
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(Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. 2005; 159: 1026 - 1031. Available pre-embargo to media at www.jamamedia.org.)

Editor's Note:
This study was supported by a National Research Scientist Award Fellowship from the National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Md.

For more information, contact the JAMA/Archives Media Relations Department at 312-464-JAMA (5262) or email mediarelations@jama-archives.org.

The JAMA Network Journals

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