April 14, 2003 - Bullying at school and at home may be a signal of more serious violent behavior to come, according to a new study. Researchers found that both bullies and their victims are more likely to fight, carry weapons, and participate in other violent activities than other youth.
The study, published in the April 2003 issue of the Archives of Pediatric Medicine, suggests that bullying should not be considered a normal part of growing up, but as a risk factor for more extreme violence in the future.
Researchers say bullying involves an intention to harm someone else and a feeling of power over the targeted individual, and that lack of regard for others may be a sign of a tendency toward more violent behaviors.
The study analyzes information from a 1998 survey of more than 15,000 American students in grades 6 through 10. The children were asked about how often they carried a weapon (such as a gun, knife, or club for self-defense), history of fighting, and if they were ever injured in a fight.
Nearly 30% of the children said they had been involved in bullying -- either as the target, the bully, or both. Occasional or frequent bullying in school was reported by 23% of boys and 11% of girls, and away from school by 14% of boys and 7% of girls.
The study found that both the bully and the person being bullied were more likely to engage in violent behaviors but the link between bullying and violence was strongest for the bully.
For example, bullies were consistently more likely to carry a weapon than their targets. About 50% of boys and 30% of girls who had bullied others in school reported carrying a weapon compared with 36% of boys and 15% of girls who had been bullied.
Researchers found weapon-carrying and injury from a fight were most strongly associated with bullying that occurred outside of school for both the bully and his or her victim. They also found that bullying, no matter what the location, was most commonly associated with frequent fighting.
In addition, the study shows that bullies who often feel threatened themselves pose the greatest risk of violence.
Researchers calculated that youth who are sometimes bullied both in and away from school are nearly 3 times more likely to carry a weapon compared to others, but those who are bullied sometimes and who also bully others away from school were nearly 16 times more likely to carry a weapon.
"It appears that bullying is not an isolated behavior, but a sign that children may be involved in more violent behaviors," said Duane Alexander, MD, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD), in a news release. "The implication is that children who bully other children may benefit from programs seeking to prevent not just bullying, but other violent behaviors as well."