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Beyond Teasing: One-Third of Today's Kids Involved in Bullying

A National Snapshot continued...

Students were asked whether they had ever bullied another student, or if they were bullied in school, how frequently it happened, and what form it took -- whether they were belittled about religion or race, about looks or speech, if they were hit, slapped, or pushed, if they were the subject of rumors or lies, or if they were subjected to sexual comments or gestures.

Almost 11% of the children who completed the survey reported bullying other kids to some degree, and 9% said they bullied other kids once a week or more, which Nansel calls "frequent."

Similar numbers of children reported being bullied: 8.5% were bullied "sometimes" and 8.4% were bullied once a week or more. Six percent of the kids said they were both a bully sometimes and a victim at other times. Bullying seems to be more prevalent among boys, and it happened more frequently in grades six through eight. For girls, being bullied meant being the object of rumors and sexual comments.

The Bottom Line to Bullying

Both bullies and their victims have psychological and social problems that must be addressed, says Nansel.

"Bullies are more likely to have difficulty in school, to smoke and drink alcohol, but they do have a group of kids they get along with," she tells WebMD. "Those kids may be other bullies, but they have some sort of social group." For the victims, the problems may be loneliness and difficulty fitting in with peers -- which makes them easy prey.

So, what are the long-term results of all this bullying? How do victims and perpetrators fare as adults?

"Kids who are bullied have lower self esteem and higher rates of depression as adults," Nansel tells WebMD. "Youth who were bullies as kids are more likely to have criminal arrests in young adulthood."

As for the kid who is bullied -- and has also found someone he can pick on -- he may be at especially high risk because of his social isolation, anxiety, and aggressive tendencies. These kids are known for their anxious behavior and their aggression in starting fights -- and for finding ways to retaliate, she says.

Caring for the Crisis

Bullying is clearly at a crisis point, says Kathy Noll, who since 1998 has run a web site for the children's book, Taking the Bully By the Horns, which she co-authored with psychotherapist Jay Carter, MA, PsyD. "I must hear from at least seven different parents every day. Most often, their child is being bullied. They come to me for advice."

"We've seen the tragic results of extreme bullying, which appears to be a factor in some of the recent school shootings across the country," says David Fassler, MD, an adolescent psychiatrist and member of a work group on consumer issues for the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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