Bullying in Elementary School, High School, and College

By Chapell, Mark S.; Hasselman, Stefanie L. et al. | Adolescence, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Bullying in Elementary School, High School, and College


Chapell, Mark S., Hasselman, Stefanie L., Kitchin, Theresa, Lomon, Safiya N., MacIver, Kenneth W., Sarullo, Patrick L., Adolescence


Research on bullying began in Europe in the 1970s, led by Dan Olweus (1978), who continues to be the foremost international authority on bullying. To date, almost all research on bullying done internationally and in the United States has focused on bullying in elementary school, middle school, and high school. A review of this research shows that bullying and victimization is most common in elementary school and becomes progressively less common by the end of high school (Nansel et al., 2001; Smith et al., 1999), with rates of bullied students decreasing from 14% of American 6th graders to only 2% of the 12th graders (Devoe et al., 2004).

Chapell et al. (2004) explored bullying in college in a sample of 1,025 undergraduates, and found that bullying is common in college graduates from high school to college, with 18.5% of undergraduates reporting having been bullied by a student once or twice, 5% having been bullied by students occasionally, and 1.1% very frequently. This finding is consistent with the growing empirical literature that has shown that adults bully adults in the workplace in the United States and other countries (Cooper, Einarsen, Hoel, & Zapf, 2003; Glendenning, 2001; Vega & Comer, 2005), including bullying of faculty in the academic workplace (Craft, 2002; Halbur, 2005; Lewis, 2004; Nelson & Lambert, 2001; Simpson & Cohen, 2004; Westhues, 2005, 2006).

One important area of bullying research that has not been well investigated is the stability of being a bully or being bullied from elementary school onward, and the primary purpose of the present study is to investigate the continuity of bullying and victimization from elementary school through high school and college. Sourander, Helstela, Helenius, and Piha (2000) conducted an 8-year longitudinal study tracking bullying and victimization in Finnish students from ages 8 to 16, and found that bullying at age 8 was associated with bullying at age 16, and being bullied at age 8 was associated with being bullied at 16. Schafer, Korn, Brodbeck, Wolke, and Schulz (2005) conducted a 6-year longitudinal study following German 2nd-3rd graders through 7th-8th grade, and found that bullying in elementary school but not victimization was likely to be continued at the later age. Olweus (1993) conducted a followup at age 23 of a longitudinal study with a small number of students who had been bullied between grades 6 and 9, and reported that, "The first important result to report is a lack of relationship between indicators of victimization in school and data on both direct and indirect harassment in young adulthood" (p. 330).

Schafer et al. (2004) conducted a retrospective study of 884 Spanish, British, and German adults, and found that 248 had been bullied at school; and of these, 71 had been victimized in both primary and secondary school. Smith, Singer, Hoel, and Cooper (2003) conducted a retrospective study in which 5,288 British working adults reported whether they had been bullied in school and whether they were being bullied at their jobs, and found a positive relationship between having been bullied in school and being bullied in the adult workplace. Those who had been both bullies and Victims in school were even more likely to be bullied as adults at work.

The second focus of the current study is to compare sex differences in the frequency of being bullies, victims, and bully-victims in elementary school, high school, and college. American male students have been found to bully and be bullied more than female students in elementary school and high school (Nansel et al., 2001; Seals & Young, 2003) and males were found to have consistently been bullied more than females in many national American studies (DeVoe et al., 2003, 2005). Chapell et al. (2004) found that American male college students bullied more than female students, but were equally victimized. Juvonen, Graham, and Schuster (2003) reported that in their sample of 1,985 American 6th graders, boys were over three times more likely to be classified as bully-victims than were girls, and Brockenbrough, Cornell, and Loper (2002) found that in their sample of 8,273 American middle school and high school students, males were six times more likely to be bully-victims than were female students. …

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Bullying in Elementary School, High School, and College
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