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Bullying: Is There a Link to Family Violence?

May 5, 2011

In a new study from Massachusetts, youth who said they had bullied others reported significantly more exposure to family violence than youth who said they had been victims of bullying.

Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students – Massachusetts 2009” from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that experiencing family violence was a contributing factor for those who described themselves as bullies or bully-victims (youth who had been both perpetrators and victims of bullying). In the past few years, numerous studies have confirmed an association between bullying and other risk factors such as substance use, poor academic achievement and mental health problems.

In the new study, nearly one in four middle school bully-victims (23.2 percent) reported being physically hurt by a family member and more than one in five (22.8 percent) reported witnessing violence. Among middle school bullies, 19.4 percent reported being physically hurt by a family member and 17.4 percent reported witnessing violence. In contrast, victims of bullying reported the lowest rates of experiencing family violence (13.6 percent) and witnessing family violence (14.8 percent). High school students reported similar findings.

In 2009, researchers surveyed 5,807 middle and high school students from 138 Massachusetts public schools. This is the first time the Massachusetts Youth Health Survey (available online) has included questions on bullying.

“These children are learning [violent behavior] in their families and behaving the same way in their social relationships with their peers,” said Elizabeth Englander, psychology professor at Bridgewater State University and Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center Director, commenting on the study in the Boston Globe.

The study defined bullying as being “repeatedly teased, threatened, hit, kicked, or excluded by another student or group of students.” It defined bullies as those who answered yes to these questions: “Did you a) bully or push someone around, and b) initiate or start a physical fight with someone.”

Overall, middle school students were more likely than high school students to be involved in bullying. More than one in four middle school students (26.8 percent) reported being victims of bullying, 7.5 percent acknowledged being bullies and 9.6 percent reported being bully-victims. Among high school students, 15.6 percent reported being victims of bullying, 8.4 percent acknowledged being bullies, and 6.5 percent reported being bully-victims.

Among the study authors’ conclusions: “As schools and health departments continue to address the problem of bullying and its consequences, an understanding of the broad range of associated risk factors is important for creating successful prevention and intervention strategies that include involvement by families.”

Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students – Massachusetts 2009” was featured in the April 22 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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