Demographic Differences in the Prevalence, Co-Occurrence, and Correlates of Adolescent Bullying at School

Article excerpt

Few studies in the United States have had samples large and diverse enough to systematically examine demographic differences in different dimensions of adolescent bullying. The term bullying includes a range of behaviors that are repeated over time (1) (eg, hitting, excluding from group activities, and spreading rumors). Adolescents can experience bullying as a perpetrator and/or victim. This study examines the prevalence, co-occurrence, and correlates of different dimensions of bullying and explores how they may vary by age, gender, and ethnicity. By identifying inconsistent findings in the research literature and testing them on a large, diverse data set, this article will help guide future efforts to understand the universal and particular aspects of adolescent bullying.

DEMOGRAPHIC DIFFERENCES

Age

Research has fairly consistently indicated that bullying decreases over time for middle and high school students. (2-5) This downward trend in bullying is supported by similar national trends in physical fighting. (6) Still, some studies have found that bullying and victimization increase with age. (7) One explanation is that, while bullying does tend to decrease in general from early to late adolescence, the prevalence rates temporarily peak in the middle school. Thus, increases may be found based on the grade levels chosen for comparison. Consistent with previous research, we hypothesize that the prevalence and co-occurrence of both bullying and victimization will decrease overall with age, regardless of sex, or ethnicity.

Gender

Previous research suggests that bullying is more common among males than females. (8-10) However, numerous studies have found no gender differences, and some suggest that results may be influenced by gender role stereotypes and how aggression itself is measured (see Underwood et al (11) for a review). Nonetheless, the general trends in male and female bullying behaviors are reasonably well supported. As such, we expect that males will bully and be victimized more than females.

Ethnicity

Whereas physical fighting appears to be more common among African American (39.7%) and Hispanic (36.1%) than white (30.5%) high school students, (6) ethnic group differences in bullying are less well established. Notably, few studies have had samples large enough to include comparisons of more than 2 ethnic groups. Some research has suggested that the bullying-ethnicity relationship may be more dependent upon specific racial dynamics (1)--dynamics that may be school or community specific and not necessarily apply to ethnic groups as an aggregate. Given the sparse number of studies on the topic, we assume a null hypothesis: there are no ethnic group differences.

Correlates

Adolescents victimized by bullying can experience sociopsychological harm (12,13) including higher levels of depression. (2) Bullying is also associated with other problem behaviors in general, (7) such as substance use. (14) It is not clear, however, how these associations vary across different dimensions of bullying behaviors. The co-occurrence of aggressive behavior and substance use, for example, may both reflect a broad personal orientation toward antisocial behavior (15) or could be 1 way that adolescents cope with victimization and peer rejection. (16,17) Guided by the limited literature in this area, we hypothesize that perpetration will correlate with substance use and that victimization will correlate with depression. Accordingly, this article aims to fill a gap in the literature by examining a large, ethnically diverse data set with consistent measures and a systematic statistical approach. Doing so may help reconcile inconsistencies in previous research and guide future research efforts.

METHOD

Data were collected using the Primary Prevention Awareness Attitude and Use Survey (18) (PPAAUS). The PPAAUS was developed by the Safe and Drug Free Schools Consortium of Franklin County, Ohio, to assess adolescent risk behaviors and their determinants to guide public health policy in the county. …