People who are repeatedly bullied as kids and teens are “significantly” more likely to go to prison, according to new research presented at the American Psychological Association’s 121st Annual Convention.
The study found that close to 14 percent of those who reported being bullied repeatedly from childhood through their teens ended up in prison as adults, compared to six percent of non-victims, nine percent of childhood-only victims, and seven percent of teen-only victims.
The study also found that more than 20 percent of those who endured chronic bullying were convicted of crimes, compared to 11 percent of non-victims, 16 percent of childhood victims, and 13 percent of teen victims.
Another finding of the study: Compared to nonwhite childhood victims, white childhood victims faced significantly greater odds of going to prison.
The results also revealed that women who were chronically bullied from childhood through their teens faced significantly greater odds of using alcohol or drugs, and had a greater likelihood of being arrested and convicted than men who had grown up as victims of chronic bullying.
“Previous research has examined bullying during specific time periods, whereas this study is the first to look at individuals’ reports of bullying that lasted throughout their childhood and teen years, and the legal consequences they faced in late adolescence and as adults,” said Michael G. Turner, Ph.D., of the Department of Criminal Justice and Criminology at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte.
Turner analyzed data from the 1997 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth, conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The survey included 7,335 kids between the ages of 12 and 16 as of Dec. 31, 1996.
His analysis identified four groups: Non-victims (74 percent); those bullied repeatedly before the age of 12 (15 percent); those bullied repeatedly after the age of 12 (six percent); and those repeatedly victimized before and after the age of 12 (five percent).
Accounts of repeated bullying were collected over several periods, Turner said. Legal outcomes were assessed when the participants were in their late teens or adults. The study followed the kids over a 14-year period from early adolescence into adulthood.
The study highlights the important role that health care professionals can play in a child’s life when bullying is not addressed by teachers, parents or guardians, according to Turner.
“With appropriate questions during routine medical checkups, they can be critical first points of contact for childhood victims,” he said. “Programs that help children deal with the adverse impacts of repeated bullying could make the difference in whether they end up in the adult legal system.”