In 2011, 14 percent of children ages two through 17 experienced physical bullying, and 37 percent experienced teasing or emotional 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 itself 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. 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.
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. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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.
Data from the National Survey of Children’s Exposure to Violence are available for both 2008 and 2011.[i] There were no significant changes in any type of bullying between those two years. Other trend data from 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 at school in 2005, which is similar to the 32 percent in 2007, and the 28 percent in 2009 and 2011. Due to changes in the questionnaire, comparable earlier data are not available.
Differences by Gender
In 2011, males and females were equally likely to experience physical intimidation (e.g., being hit, slapped, or pushed), at 14 percent, each, within the past year. Females were more frequently the targets of Internet or cell phone harassment (eight versus four percent, in the past year), and relational aggression (teasing or emotional bullying, 41 versus 32 percent, in the past year). (Figure 1) Trends for cumulative (lifetime) exposure are similar. (Appendix 1)
Differences by Age
The risk for bullying peaks at different ages for different types of bullying. In 2011, physical intimidation was most commonly reported by children under 10 years: 18 percent among children ages two to five, and 16 percent among children ages six to nine, compared with 11 percent among children ages 10 to 13, and 10 percent among children ages 14 to 17. Relational aggression peaks later, with 22 percent of children ages two to five reporting it in the past year, compared with between 40 and 45 percent of older children. Internet and cell phone harassment was most common at ages 14-17 (14 percent, compared with less than five percent among younger children). (Figure 2)
Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin
During the 2011 school year, 34 percent of white students ages 12 to 18 were bullied at school or cyber-bullied anywhere. That is higher than the proportion of Hispanic students (24 percent), and for Asian students (16 percent). Twenty-nine percent of black students were bullied at school or cyber-bullied anywhere, a proportion which is higher than that among Asian students but similar to those for white and Hispanic students.
State and Local Estimates
State estimates on the proportion of children ages six to 17 who bullied peers in the past month are available from the Data Resource Center for Child and Adolescent Health.
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.
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)
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 Lawner, E. K., & Terzian, M. A. (2013). What works for bullying programs: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Child Trends.
Also, 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:
- Steps to Respect Bullying Prevention Program
- Positive Action Program
- Positive Parenting
- Resolve It, Solve It
- Linking the Interests of Families and Teachers (LIFT)
Also, see: the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program.
- Children's Exposure to Violence
- Victims of Hate Speech
- Unsafe at School
- Physical Fighting by Youth
- Dating Violence
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.)”
Physical intimidation is equivalent to physical bullying. Relational aggression includes teasing or emotional bullying (defined above), as well as peers telling lies or spreading rumors about the child, trying to make others dislike the child, keeping the child out of things on purpose, excluding the child from their group of friends, or completely ignoring the child. Cell phone harassment is categorized with Internet harassment, except it involves using a cell phone or texting instead of the Internet.
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 for 2011: Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2013). Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(7), 614-621.
Data for 2008: 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 I and II. http://www.unh.edu/ccrc/projects/natscev.html
Appendix 1 - Percentage of Children (ages 2-17) who are Bullying Victims, by Type of Bullying, Gender, and Age-Group: 2011
|Internet/cell phone harassment||6.0||8.5|
|“-“ Data are not available.1 Data are comparable to 2008 data on “Physical Bullying”.
Source: Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2013). Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(7), 614-621.
Appendix 2 - Percentage of Children (ages 2-17) who are Bullying Victims, by Type of Bullying, Gender, and Age-Group: 2008
|Teasing or emotional bullying||19.7||29.5|
|1 Data are comparable to 2011 data on “Physical Intimidataion”.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.|
[i] Trend comparisons rely on a slightly different measure than the one included in the appendices, in order to account for changes in definition between the two years.
Takizawa, R., Maughan, B., Arsenault, L. (2014). Adult health outcomes of childhood bullying victimization: Evidence from a five-decade longitudinal British cohort. American Journal of Psychology, 7, 777-84.
Copeland, W. E., Wolke, D., Lereya, S. T., Shanahan, L., Worthman, C., & Costello, E. J. (2014). Childhood bullying involvement predicts low-grade systemic inflammation into adulthood. PNAS Early Edition, 111(21), 7570-7575
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
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.
Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.
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.
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/
Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.
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
Finkelhor, D., Turner, H. A., Shattuck, A., & Hamby, S. L. (2013). Violence, crime, and abuse exposure in a national sample of children and youth: An update. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(7), 614-621.
Robers, S., Kemp, J., Rathbun, A., Morgan, R E., & Snyder, T. D. (2014). Indicators of school crime and safety: 2013. (NCES 2014-042 and NCJ 243299). U. S. Department of Education and the U. S. Department of Justice. http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2013/tables.asp Tables 11.1 and 11.5.
Hispanics may be of any race.
Robers, S., Zhang, J., Truman, J., Snyder, T. D. (2014). Op. cit.
Nansel, T. R., et al. Op. cit.
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.
Personal correspondence with Anne M. Shattuck, M.A., researcher at the Crimes Against Children Research Center.
Child Trends Databank. (2014). Bullying. Available at: http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=bullying
Last updated: December 2014