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Bullying Highest in the Middle School Years

By Paul O’Reilly

A recent study released by the National Institutes of Health makes depressing reading as it shows the extent to which bullying still takes place among adolescents. The study, released online in the Journal of Adolescent Medicine, analyzed data from the World Health Organization’s 2005/2006 survey of human behavior in school-aged children.

The study defined four separate types of bullying: 20.8 percent of respondents reported being either perpetrators or victims of physical bullying in the previous two months; 53.6 percent were the victims of verbal bullying; 51.4 percent were the victims of relational bullying; and 13.6 percent were victims of cyber-bullying involving a cell phone or another electronic device.

The researchers defined physical bullying as hitting, kicking, pushing and shoving, or physical acts like locking a classmate indoors. Verbal bullying included teasing, saying mean things or calling someone names; and relational bullying was defined as spreading rumors or socially excluding others. The lower numbers associated with cyber-bullying could mask a cross-over with relational bullying, as the overwhelming majority of cyber-bullying incidents involve rumors and exclusion.

Bullying peaks during the middle school years, especially 7th and 8th grades. The study confirmed some widely held beliefs about bullies and bullying: boys are more likely to be involved in physical and verbal bullying; girls are more likely to spread rumors or ostracize a victim. Bullying tends to decline as children get older and become more comfortable with their personalities and social circles.

How many friends a child has plays a big part in determining hostile behavior, the researchers said. Kids with a lot of friends are at higher risk of becoming bullies, while those with fewer friends are more often victims. "This may reflect a need among adolescents to establish social status, especially during transition into a new group," the study said. "Friendship protects adolescents from being selected as targets of bullies."

Interestingly, the researchers didn’t see the size of a child’s social circle as a factor in electronic bullying, giving credence to the theory that the Internet levels the playing field for kids, providing information and communication tools to anyone with a cell phone or computer. However, affluence appeared to increase the risk of involvement in cyber-bullying, possibly because of the greater access to electronic devices.

While no foolproof way exists to stop middle-school bullying, the researchers concluded that good parental support helps children avoid abusive behavior. Parents serve as role models and kids who come from loving homes and feel good about themselves are less likely to want to harass someone and are less likely to appear weak to potential bullies.

Comment by Joe, posted 7/20/2009, 2:11 PM:

Read about what one school district did. I think we need more district like this. http://successascent-ii.blogspot.com/
Comment by Ayala, posted 7/14/2009, 10:52 AM:

My father, Izzy Kalman, offers an excellent, free manual to help stop being teased and bullied:


If you are having doubts about its effectiveness, here is an article that tells of a hopeless mother of a bullying victim who finally turned to my father's free manual to seek help for her son, and watched his bullying problems disappear instantly:

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