Study: Bullying Common Among Teens

Maybe you were the one who got slapped around. Or maybe you did the slapping.

A new study says that, if you're a teen today, you're one of many who are on the giving or receiving end of bullying. And the younger teens have it worse.

Almost a third of teens, in fact, either are bullies or are bullied, a new study of 16,000 students found.

Researchers at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found that 30 percent of sixth- through 10th-graders are involved in bullying at school.

The frequency of bullying was found to be higher among sixth- to eighth-graders compared to ninth- and 10th-graders, and was more prominent among boys compared to girls.

The study, led by Dr. Tonja Nansel, analyzed surveys of almost 16,000 students throughout the United States and appears in the April 25 issue of Journal of the American Medical Association.

What Is Bullying?

Bullying was defined as when a teen's behavior is purposefully meant to harm or disturb another child, when it occurs repeatedly over time, and when there is an imbalance of power between the kids involved.

Types of bullying behaviors cited in the study included verbal belittling regarding religion, race, looks, or speech; hitting, pushing or slapping; spreading rumors; and making sexual comments or gestures.

The study also found that both the perpetrators and the victims are lonelier than most kids and do not have very good relationships with their peers.

"Bullying and being bullied appear to be important indicators that something is wrong, and children who experience either or both need help," said child psychology experts Dr. Howard Spivak of the New England Medical Center in Boston and Dr. Deborah Prothrow-Stith of the Harvard School of Public Health, commenting on the research.

Are Bullying and Later Violence Linked?

In light of recent school shootings, parents and educators have become concerned about whether bullying behavior or being the victim of one may contribute to more serious acts of aggression.

But experts disagree about predicting future violent behavior from earlier bullying tendencies.

Dr. Robert Findling, director of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University Hospital of Cleveland, believes "aggression is a very stable trait that is long-lasting."

Dr. Carl Bell, director of public and community psychiatry at the University of Illinois in Chicago, adds, "There is some link between bullying behavior and later violence, but we are just not certain how strong it is."

One commonly cited British study reported that individuals with a history of bullying had a fourfold increase in criminal behavior by the age of 24. The British study, however, examined only violent behaviors — such as beating up someone after school, and not the more benign behaviors like name-calling or giving someone the cold shoulder.

But some see bullying as part of the more normal aspect of children's behavior, not leading to excessive violence later on.

Dr. Eugene Beresin, director of child and adolescent psychological training at McLean and Massachusetts General hospitals, says, "School shootings are an anomaly, over-rated, exaggerated, and extremely rare … Bullying, however, is very common and has definite serious social effects … We should be much more concerned with bullying and self-inflicted violence."

Secret Service Questions Bullying in School Shooters

In fact, when the Secret Service recently attempted to figure out the "profile" of a child who acts out with gun violence, it found a student's tendency to become a "school shooter" cannot be predicted based on involvement in bullying activities.

Poor academic performance and psychological disorders also were not indicators of potential violent behavior. The Secret Service concluded, "The use of profiles is ineffective and inefficient."