Bullying: All in the Family?

Bullying is a widespread public health problem that could be more closely linked with family violence than previously realized. (Image: Helder Almeida/iStockphoto.com)

Bullying may be more of a family affair than previously realized, according to a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

A first-of-its-kind statewide survey shows that children and teens in Massachusetts who were involved in bullying were 3 to 7 times more likely than their nonbullying classmates to have witnessed violence in their families or been physically harmed by a family member.

The 2009 Massachusetts Youth Health Survey asked 2859 middle school students and 2948 high school students whether they had bullied others or been bullied at school during the previous year.

Prior studies have linked bullying with alcohol and illicit drug use, poor academic performance, and mental health problems. However, few have examined whether family violence plays a role.

In today’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, investigators show that 44% of middle school students and 31% of high school students said they were involved in bullying episodes.

Compared with peers who were not bullies or targets of bullies, middle school students who were physically hurt by a family member were 5 times more likely to both bully and be bullied, 4 times more likely to bully others, and 3 times more likely to be bullied. Middle schoolers who saw violence in the family were 4 times more likely to bully and be bullied and 3 times more likely to be a bully or a bully’s target.

Patterns among high school students were similar, but those who had witnessed family violence were 7 times more likely to bully and be bullied than peers not involved in bullying.

The authors noted that classroom prevention programs alone often are ineffective against bullying. But 45 states, including Massachusetts, have passed laws requiring comprehensive programs to address bullying in all of their school districts.

Categories: Adolescent Medicine, Injury Prevention & Control, Psychosocial Issues, Public Health