The Impact of Bullying and Victimization on Students' Relationships

By Demanet, Jannick; Van Houtte, Mieke | American Journal of Health Education, March-April 2012 | Go to article overview
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The Impact of Bullying and Victimization on Students' Relationships

Demanet, Jannick, Van Houtte, Mieke, American Journal of Health Education


Background: Bullying is antisocial behavior, in which people are willfully and repeatedly hurt. Bullies are perpetratots of this behavior, victims are those who are bullied, and bully/victims are students who both bully others, and are bullied themselves. Bullies, victims, and bully/victims are at risk for psychosomatic health problems. However, few studies have focused on their social health. Purpose: This study explores differences between non-involved students, bullies, victims and bully/victims in self-reported attachment to peers and parents, perceived support from teachers, and belonging to the school, in Flemish secondary schools. Methods: We use data from the Flemish Educational Assessment (FLEA), consisting of 11,872 students in 85 schools. Multivariate analyses of variance (ANOVA) were performed. Results: Non-involved students felt most attached to peers, parents, teachers, and school. Bullies matched the level of parental attachment of the non-involved, and are even more popular among peers. Victims are especially unsuccessful among peers. Bully/victims felt least attached to peers, parents and school, and least supported by teachers.

Discussion: Bullies appear to be popular among peers. Victims and bully/victims lack a number of important sources of support. Translation to Health Education Practice: The results of this study endorse peer-group level intervention initiatives. Furthermore, we support whole-school approaches that include all actors--including pupils, parents, and teachers--in combating bullying.

Demanel J, Van Houtte M. The impact of bullying and victimization on students' relationships. Am J Health Educ. 2012;43(2):104-113. Submitted June 10, 2011. Accepted October 7, 2011.


Bullying is defined as antisocial behavior, in which an individual bully or a group of bullies willfully and repeatedly hurts other people, either physically of psychically, and in which an imbalance of power exists between the perpetrator(s) and the victim. (1) Three groups of students are involved: those who are solely bullies, those who are solely victims, and bully/victims, who both bully others and are bullied themselves. (2-4) Although prevalence greatly differs between countries, studies showed that bullying and victimization are realities for many children, with percentages of students involved as a victim, bully or bully/victim ranging from 9% in Sweden, around 12% in England, to 25% in the U.S., and even more than 50% in Lithuania. (5) Importantly, most of the students involved experience bullying and/or victimization on a regular basis. (6,7)

Bullying is not a harmless game between students. Being involved in bullying episodes, either as victim, bully or bully/ victim, can threaten healthy youth development. First, studies consistently find that being victimized results in a multitude of psychosomatic symptoms, including depression, anxiety, feelings of tension and sleep problems. (8-10) Research has established as well that being a bully can result in some serious health-related consequences. Bullies are as vulnerable to feelings of depression as victims, (11,12) and are likely to have externalizing problems. (2,13) Moreover, bullies have poorer psychosocial functioning than others, resolving conflicts by aggressive retaliation rather than by pro-social actions. (14) Lastly, they are likely to engage in other problem behavior, such as alcohol use, smoking and substance use. (2,11,15) Bully/victims are usually considered to be an especially high-risk group. (2,3,16) Studies concur that they are most likely to be confronted with psychosomatic problems, including depression, problem behavior, poor school-functioning, poor social and emotional adjustment, (2,14,16) and even psychological and psychiatric disturbances. (17) It is worrying to note, then, that more than half of the bullying students are bully/victims. (2)

Whereas psychosomatic outcomes of taking part in bullying episodes have been adequately investigated, studies that explore the consequences for students' social health have been scarcer.

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