Bullying is a significant public health problem because it is prevalent and harmful. Between 20% and 56% of young people are involved in bullying annually . Thus, in a classroom of 30 students, between 6 and 17 students are involved in bullying as a victim, perpetrator, or both (bully-victim). The specific rate of bullying victimization and perpetration varies according to age, type of bullying, time period over which bullying behaviors are assessed, and by subgroup. Younger (middle school-aged) children are more likely to be involved in bullying than high school-aged children . Verbal bullying is generally more prevalent than physical or cyber-bullying and bullying is more likely to occur over a longer time period—“ever” or over the “past year” as opposed to “the past few months” . Specific subgroups are more likely to be victimized. For example, bullying victimization is more prevalent upon lesbian and gay youth—60% report victimization during the past 30 days prior to the survey compared with 28.8% of heterosexual youth .
For young people involved in bullying in any capacity—youth who bully others, who are bullied, or who both bully and are bullied, this involvement is correlated with poor mental and physical health and engagement in other risk behaviors. Youth who are bullied are more likely to be depressed or anxious , have lower academic achievement, report feeling like they do not belong at school , have poorer social and emotional adjustment, greater difficulty making friends, poorer relationships with classmates, and greater loneliness . Bully-victims are more likely than those who bully, those who are bullied, or their uninvolved peers to report being physically hurt by a family member, to witness family violence, and exhibit suicide-related behaviors . Those who bully others are more likely to drink alcohol and use cigarettes, to have poorer academic achievement and poorer perceived school climate, but to also report greater ease of making friends .
Involvement in bullying can also have long-lasting, detrimental effects months or even years after the bullying occurs. Young people who are bullied are more likely than uninvolved youth to develop depression and anxiety and report abdominal pain and feeling tense over the course of a school year . One study examining the impact of bullying victimization of those who were between 9, 11, and 13 years of age when they were victimized found, that over a 7-year period, youth who were bullied were more likely to develop generalized anxiety and panic disorder as adults while bully-victims were more likely to subsequently suffer from depression, panic disorder, and suicidality . Another longitudinal study found that those who were perpetrators of bullying at age 14 were more likely to receive a diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder, to have low job status at age 18 years, and to use drugs at ages 27–32 years
Characteristics of Targets
There are two types of targets identified in the bullying literature (Olweus, 1993).
The first, and by far the larger subgroup, are passive targets. These children are generally
characterized as anxious, insecure, and unassertive. There is, of course, a reciprocal
relationship between these characteristics and being bullied. That is, for example, these
individuals may be insecure and anxious before being targeted, and these characteristics
are likely to increase as a result of the bullying.
A second, smaller subgroup of targets labeled “provocative” targets are
characterized by both anxious and aggressive behavior (Olweus, 1993). These children
may also be characterized as hyperactive. Frequently, they are bullied by and disliked by
an entire classroom of their peers. Provocative targets also often in turn bully other
children. Thus, they can be both targets and bullies.