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Half of Kids Are Bullied, Study Suggests

Bullied Children More Likely to Report Emotional Problems and Physical Symptoms
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WebMD Health News

March 30, 2005 - The extent to which bullying played a role in last week's horrific Minnesota school shooting that left 10 people dead may never be known. Relatives told reporters that the troubled gunman was often teased by schoolmates, and pundits speculated that bullying may be the root cause of most episodes of school violence.

It is also more common than most people realize, according to new research from UCLA. Almost half of the sixth graders surveyed in a study reported being bullied at least once over a five-day period.

Children who were bullied were more likely to report depression and other emotional problems and physical symptoms such as frequent headaches and stomachaches, according to another report from the same research team.

Both studies were published in the March/April issue of the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology.

"Kids who were victimized reported feeling physically sick more," Adrienne Nishina, PhD, tells WebMD. "There were more excused and unexcused school absences, suggesting that kids who get picked on may try to avoid school."

Nishina says the findings dispel the common notion that bullying is a problem for only a small percentage of children. It is true, she says, that some children are picked on much more than others. But it is also clear that a large percentage of children are victimized.

One of the studies involved 192 sixth graders attending two ethnically diverse urban middle schools in Los Angeles. The students were surveyed at the end of the school day on five different occasions. In one school, 47% of the students reported being bullied on at least one of the days, and in the other school 46% reported being bullied at least once.

The most common types of bullying were name-calling and physical aggression such as kicking and shoving.

The children reported feeling equally bad, regardless of the type of victimization they experienced, Nishina says. Study co-author Jaana Juvonen, PhD, adds that the finding sends an important message to school policy makers.

"Many classrooms have rules about sexual harassment, but not about other forms of verbal bullying," she notes. "It's a bizarre and confusing message to send to kids that certain insults are OK, and others are not. [And] many schools have rules and interventions that target physical forms of aggression, but when there's name calling nothing happens."

The second study involved 1,900 primarily low-income sixth graders attending 11 Los Angeles public schools. Nishina, Juvonen, and colleague Melissa Witkow report that victims of bullying experienced more depression and physical illness and missed more school than kids who weren't bullied. Their school performance also tended to be poorer.

"The more bullying they experience, the more they dislike school and want to avoid school," Nishina says.

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