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In 2008, at least 20 percent of children ages two through 17 experienced one or more forms of bullying during the past year.


Bullying, defined as repeated interpersonal behavior, which is intended to do physical or psychological harm, typically between children with unequal power, can lead to other negative outcomes for both the bully and the victim.  Bullying can take different forms: physical coercion, hostile teasing or emotional bullying, and harassment over the Internet.  According to studies in both the U.S. and other countries, children who are bullied by their peers are more lonely and unhappy, have greater difficulty making friends, have more health problems, and show more internalizing behaviors such as anxiety and depression, than their non-bullied peers.[1] Some bully victims may become suicidal; according to one study, youths who were bullied were more likely to become suicidal than their non-bullied peers.  The difference was stark: males were four times more likely, and females were eight times more likely, to become suicidal.[2]

Bullies themselves are more likely to be involved in other problem behaviors, such as drinking and smoking, and to show poorer school adjustment, both in terms of academic achievement and in their perception of school climate.[3] Bullies’ anti-social behavior may persist into adulthood.  One study found that males who were bullies in grades six through nine were more likely to commit a crime in young adulthood than were their non-bully peers: nearly 60 percent were convicted of a crime by age 24, and 40 percent had three or more convictions.[4]Children themselves view bullying as an important problem, particularly at school, which is where most bullying occurs.  More eight- to 15-year-olds named teasing and bullying as “big problems,” than those who named drugs or alcohol, racism, AIDS, or the pressure to have sex, according to one report.[5]

According to children ages 12-18 who reported being bullied in the 2007-2008 school year, 79 percent of bullying occurred within the school, 23 percent on school grounds, eight percent on the school bus, and four percent somewhere else.[6] Targeting the victim’s physical appearance and stature is the most frequent type of bullying, followed by starting and passing rumors, hitting, slapping, or pushing, and subjecting victims to sexual comments or gestures.  Negative comments about the victim’s race or religion were named least often as the subject of bullying.[7]A 2009 survey found that only 36 percent of students who were bullied at school had notified a teacher or another adult at school about the incident(s), suggesting that most bullying goes unreported.[8]


Primary baseline data for this indicator come from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence, conducted for the first time in 2008.   For trend data, surveys by the National Center for Education Statistics show that bullying at school has been generally steady since 2005.  Twenty-eight percent of students, ages 12 through 18, reported being bullied during school in 2005, which is similar to the 32 percent in 2007, and the 28 percent in 2009.[9] Due to changes in the questionnaire, comparable earlier data are not available.

Differences by Gender

119_fig1In 2008, males were more likely than females to be bullied physically (e.g., being hit, slapped, or pushed), at 17 and 13 percent, respectively, within the past year.  Females were more frequently the targets of Internet harassment (3.4 versus 1.8 percent, in the past year) and teasing or emotional bullying (24 versus 21 percent, in the past year).  (Figure 1)  Trends for cumulative (lifetime) exposure are similar.  (Appendix 1)




Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[10]

During the 2009 school year, 30 percent each of white and black students ages 12 to 18 were bullied at school or cyber-bullied anywhere.  That is higher than that reported for Hispanic students (27 percent), and for Asian students (18 percent).[11]

Differences by Age

119_fig2The risk for being bullied peaks during middle childhood, with the highest rates occurring among six- to nine-year-olds for both physical bullying, and teasing or emotional bullying. Internet harassment was most common at ages 14-17.  Among children ages two to five, physical bullying is more common, while at older ages teasing or emotional bullying is more common. There is also a relatively small difference in rates of teasing or emotional bullying between six-to nine-year-olds and 10-to 13 year-olds (two percentage points), compared with rates of physical bullying (11 percentage points difference), suggesting that physical bullying drops off more quickly than emotional bullying. (Figure 2) 

State and Local Estimates

Bully Police USA has produced state-by-state estimates of children involved in bullying as bully, victim, or both. These estimates are modeled on prevalence data from a large Norwegian study.

International Estimates

According to a study including 25 countries, involvement in bullying varies dramatically across countries, ranging from nine to 54 percent. The share of children who identified themselves as victims ranged from five to 20 percent by country, with an average of 11 percent. The proportion identifying themselves as bullies ranged from three to 20 percent, with an average of 10 percent. Those classifying themselves as both bullies and victims ranged from one to 20 percent, with an average of six percent.[12]

Another study, Health Behavior in School-Aged Children, reports on bullies and bully victims in 39 countries by the following categories: age, gender, geography, and family affluence. (see page 191)

National Goals

Through its Healthy People 2020 initiative, the federal government has set a national goal to reduce bullying among adolescents, from 19.9 percent (on school grounds only) in 2009, to 17.9 percent in 2020.

More information available here. (See goal IVP-35) 

What Works to Make Progress on This Indicator

See Child Trends’ LINKS database (“Lifecourse Interventions to Nurture Kids Successfully”), for reviews of many rigorously evaluated programs, including the following which have been shown to be effective:

Also, see the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.

Related Indicators


Physical bullying is defined as “a peer picked on child (for example, by chasing, grabbing hair or clothes, or making child do something he or she did not want to do). Teasing or emotional bullying is defined as “child was  scared or made to feel really bad because child was harassed by a peer (for example, by name calling, having mean things said, or being told that he or she was unwelcome.  Internet harassment is defined as “someone used the Internet to bother or harass a child (including posting messages or pictures.)"[13]

Data comes from telephone interviews conducted with a randomly selected child in the household, or if the selected child was younger than 10, with the adult caregiver "most familiar with the child's daily routines and experiences."

Data Source

Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormrod, R., Hamby, S., & Kracke, K. (2009) Children's exposure to violence: A comprehensive national Survey. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/ojjdp/227744.pdf

Raw Data Source

National Survey of Children's Exposure to Violence.



Appendix 1 - Percentage of Children (ages 2-17) Who Are Bullying Victims, by Type of Bullying, Gender, and Age-Group, 2008

Past Year Lifetime
Physical bullying 13.2 21.6
Males 16.7 25.9
Females 12.8 22.4
2-5 yrs. 19.1 20.4
6-9 yrs. 21.5 28.0
10-13 yrs. 10.7 19.9
14-17 yrs. 8.0 28.5
Teasing or emotional bullying 19.7 29.5
Males 20.6 30.6
Females 23.5 35.5
2-5 yrs. 13.5 14.6
6-9 yrs. 30.4 38.4
10-13 yrs. 27.8 39.6
14-17 yrs. 15.8 38.4
Internet harassment 1.8 2.5
Males 1.6 2.3
Females 3.4 4.5
2-5 yrs. 0.0 0.0
6-9 yrs. 0.0 0.0
10-13 yrs. 2.6 3.2
14-17 yrs. 5.6 7.9
Source: Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormrod, S., & Hamby, S. L. (2009). Violence, abuse, and crime exposure in a national sample of children and youth. Pediatrics, 124 (5), 1411-1423.


[1]Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R.S., Ruan, J. W, Simons-Morton, B., Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying behaviors among U.S. youth: Prevalence and association with psychosocial adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 16,2094-2100. Retrieved from http://jama.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/abstract/285/16/2094

[2]Kaltiala-Heino, R., Rimpela, M., Marttunen, M., Rimpela, A., and Rantanen, P. (1999). Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: school survey. British Journal of Medicine, 319, 348-351.

[3]Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.

[4]Olweus, D., Limber, S., & Mihalic, S. (1999). Bullying prevention program. In D. S. Elliott (Series Ed.). Blueprints for violence prevention: Book nine. Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.

[5]The Kaiser Family Foundation and International Communications Research (ICR) (2001) Talking with kids about tough issues.Retrieved from http://kff.org/hivaids/kaiser-family-foundation-and-children-now-national/


[7]Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.

[8]Robers, S., Zhang, J., Truman, J., Snyder, T. D. (2012). Indicators of school crime and safety 2011. (NCES 20122-02 and NCJ 236021). U. S. Department of Education and the U. S. Department of Justice. Available at: http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2012/2012002.pdf

[9]Robers, S., Zhang, J., Truman, J., Snyder, T. D. (2012). Op. cit.

[10]Hispanics may be of any race.

[11]Robers, S., Zhang, J., Truman, J., Snyder, T. D. (2012). Op. cit.

[12]Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.

[13]Finkelhor, D., Turner, H., Ormrod, R., and Hamby, S. L. (2009) Violence,abuse, and crime Exposure in a national sample of children and youth. Pediatrics, 124 (No. 5). Retrieved from Crimes Against Children Research Center http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/pdf/CV193.pdf.


Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2012). Bullying. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=bullying


Last updated: December 2012