Emerging research suggests being bullied during adolescence can lead to serious adverse consequences.
As reported at the annual Pediatric Academic Societies meeting, three studies found that high school students subjected to bullying and other forms of harassment are more likely to report being seriously depressed, consider suicide and carry weapons to school.
“Teens can be the victim of face-to-face bullying in school, electronic bullying outside of the classroom, and dating violence,” said Andrew Adesman, M.D., senior investigator of all three studies.
All three studies were based on data collected by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as part of its 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System. The format includes a biannual questionnaire of teens in grades nine to 12 in all 50 states. The sample provides a representative opinion of high school students in the United States.
In a study on bullying based on the CDC’s survey of high school students in the United States, Dr. Adesman’s team reports that depression and suicide are much more common in teens who have been the victim of bullying in school and/or electronically.
The study is the first to compare risks from different forms of bullying with investigators discovering those that were bullied both online and at school had increased risks.
“Although cyber-bullying may not pose the same physical threat that face-to-face bullying does, it can be far more hurtful since it can spread like wildfire throughout a student body and take on a life of its own,” Adesman said.
Tammy Pham, the principal investigator, said it was very important to create more effective strategies to prevent bullying in all forms.” “Students need to feel safe both in and outside of school,” she said. “More needs to be done to reduce bullying and the huge toll it takes on youth.”
In a second study of bullying, investigators found that bullying, physical dating violence, and/or sexual dating violence were each associated with teens not attending school or carrying weapons to school.
“Tragically, teens who were victimized in more than one way were especially likely to carry a weapon to school or skip school altogether,” said Adesman.
Alexis Tchaconas, the principal investigator of this study, said that bullying and dating violence were more common than many might expect.
“The CDC reports that 11 percent of high school students experience dating violence, and 20 percent report being bullied,” she said. “Greater prevention efforts are needed to protect the mental health and physical well-being of our teens”.
The third study focused on teens who were victims of bullying in the past 12 months and investigated whether there are gender differences in the association of carrying a weapon to school.
On the one hand, boys were overall more likely to carry a weapon to school than girls, regardless of victim status. On the other hand, girls who were the victims of bullying were more than three times as likely to carry a weapon as girls who were not victimized; by contrast, male victims were less than twice as likely to carry a weapon compared to male non-victims.
“The prevalence of school bullying has serious implications for the safety of all students — both the victims of bullying and the non-victims,” said Pham, the principal investigator of this study.
“Girls who have been victimized are much more likely to carry a weapon; unfortunately, the CDC data does not tell us if this is for their own protection or to seek revenge,” said Adesman, the senior investigator. “Effective strategies need to be developed to eliminate bullying if we want our teens to be safe and enjoy their adolescence.”
“Bullying and dating violence are too important to ignore as risk factors for suicide – the third leading cause of death in teens,” Dr. Adesman said when asked about the important lesson from these studies.