CHICAGO (Reuters) – Bullying is widespread in U.S. schools, creating a public health problem that impacts both victims and perpetrators later in life, a government study said on Tuesday.
“Being bullied is not just an unpleasant rite of passage through childhood,” said Duane Alexander, director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which conducted research on 16,686 students in public and private schools from grades six through 10.
“It's a public health problem that merits attention,” he said. “People who were bullied as children are more likely to suffer from depression and low self esteem, well into adulthood, and the bullies themselves are more likely to engage in criminal behavior later in life.”
The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, comes at a time when deadly school shootings in the United States have focused renewed attention on the roots and causes of violence.
Just last week, researchers from the same agency reported children who spend more time in day-care are more likely to turn into aggressive bullies by age 4 than those who spend less time in such settings.
Tuesday's study found that nearly one third of the students surveyed in the spring of 1998 reported they had experienced bullying, either as a target or as a perpetrator.
Ten percent of the children said they had been bullied by other students, but had not bullied others; 6 percent said they had both been bullied themselves and had bullied other children; and 13 percent said they had bullied other students, but had not themselves been bullied.
The survey was part of a U.S. contribution to the World Health Organization's study of school children in 30 countries who were questioned on a range of health-related issues.
The U.S. researchers defined bullying as a type of physical, verbal or psychological behavior intended to harm or disturb the victim that occurs repeatedly over time and involves an imbalance of power, with the more powerful person or group attacking the less powerful.
“Males were more likely than females to be both perpetrators and targets of bullying,” the study said. “The frequency of bullying was higher among 6th through 8th grade students than among 9th and 10th grade students.”
The authors said, “Effective prevention will require a solid understanding of the social and environmental factors that facilitate and inhibit bullying and peer aggression. This knowledge could then be used to create school and social environments that promote healthy peer interactions and intolerance of bullying.”
The report said school-based intervention programs in Norway and England have reduced bullying by 30 percent to 50 percent.
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