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Why some kids suffer chronic bullying

Oct. 8, 2008
Courtesy JAMA/Archives Journals
and World Science staff

The chil­dren most likely to suf­fer re­peat­ed bul­ly­ing are those who are ag­gres­sive in in­fan­cy; who come from poorer fam­i­lies; and who ex­pe­ri­ence harsher par­ent­ing, a study has found.

The stu­dy, pub­lished in the Oc­to­ber is­sue of the re­search jour­nal Ar­chives of Gen­er­al Psy­chi­a­try, not­ed that some chil­dren fall in­to “chron­ic” pat­terns of vic­tim­iz­a­tion by their peers. As many as one in 10 youth are the di­rect tar­get of phys­i­cal at­tacks, hos­tile words and so­cial ag­gres­sion from peers dur­ing school years, the pa­per not­ed. 

The chil­dren most likely to suf­fer re­peat­ed bul­ly­ing are those who are ag­gres­sive in in­fan­cy; who come from poorer fam­i­lies; and who ex­pe­ri­ence harsher par­ent­ing, a study has found. (Image cour­tesy CT Dept. of Child­ren & Fam­i­lies)


“Peer vic­tim­iz­a­tion be­comes in­creas­ingly sta­ble over time, with the same chil­dren endur­ing such neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ences through­out child­hood and ado­les­cence,” the au­thors write. 

The con­se­quenc­es in­clude “de­pres­sion, lone­li­ness, low self-es­teem, phys­i­cal health prob­lems, so­cial with­draw­al, al­co­hol and/or drug use, school ab­sence and avoid­ance, de­crease in school per­for­mance, self-harm” and su­i­cid­al ten­den­cies.

Ed­ward D. Bark­er of the Uni­ver­s­ity of Al­a­bama, Tus­ca­loo­sa, and col­leagues stud­ied 1,970 boys and girls born in Québec, Mont­real, Can­a­da, in 1997 and 1998. 

Par­ti­ci­pat­ing chil­dren were as­sessed eight times be­tween the ages of 4.5 months and sev­en years. At each point, moth­ers pro­vid­ed in­forma­t­ion on fac­tors such as vic­tim­iz­a­tion, family ad­vers­ity, par­ent­ing styles, phys­i­cal ag­gres­sion and hy­per­ac­ti­vity. At age 7.2 years, teach­ers and chil­dren re­ported on vic­tim­iz­a­tion by class­mates.

Chil­dren who were ag­gres­sive at 17 months of age were more likely to be­come vic­tims in pre­school, the re­search­ers found. They al­so not­ed that harsh par­ent­ing and in­suf­fi­cient family in­come pre­dicted high­er vic­tim­iz­a­tion risk. “These re­sults sug­gest that early pre­ven­tive in­ter­ven­tions should tar­get both child- and parent-level risks and fo­cus on al­ter­na­tives to harsh and ag­gres­sive in­ter­ac­tions,” they wrote.


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The children most likely to suffer repeated bullying are those who are aggressive in infancy; who come from poorer families; and who experience harsher parenting, a study has found. The study, published in the October issue of the research journal Archives of General Psychiatry, noted that some children fall into “chronic” patterns of victimization by their peers. As many as one in 10 youth are the direct target of physical attacks, hostile words and social aggression from peers during school years, the paper noted. “Peer victimization becomes increasingly stable over time, with the same children enduring such negative experiences throughout childhood and adolescence,” the authors write. The consequences include “depression, loneliness, low self-esteem, physical health problems, social withdrawal, alcohol and/or drug use, school absence and avoidance, decrease in school performance, self-harm” and suicidal tendencies. Edward D. Barker of the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, and colleagues studied 1,970 boys and girls born in Québec, Montreal, Canada, in 1997 and 1998. Participating children were assessed eight times between the ages of 4.5 months and seven years. At each point, mothers provided information on factors such as victimization, family adversity, parenting styles, physical aggression and hyperactivity. At age 7.2 years, teachers and children reported on victimization by classmates. Children who were aggressive at 17 months of age were more likely to become victims in preschool, the researchers found. They also noted that harsh parenting and insufficient family income also predicted higher victimization risk. “These results suggest that early preventive interventions should target both child- and parent-level risks and focus on alternatives to harsh and aggressive interactions,” they wrote.