Without intervention, it is clear that bullies pose a serious risk to others during their school years and beyond. According to the 1998 National Institute of Child Health and Human Development survey, the most serious bullies in grades 6 through 10 (those who bullied others at least once a week both in and out of school) were seven times more likely than their non-bully peers to report having carried a weapon to school some time during the previous month. These serious bullies were also three-and-a-half times more likely to have been in a fight where they sustained an injury that required medical attention.
"It is not only important to change these behaviors for the sake of the victims, it is really important to do it also to try to get children with bullying tendencies to go in a more prosocial direction."
- Dan Olweus, 2002 OSDFS
Bullying is also an early warning sign that students may be heading down a path of continued and even more serious antisocial behavior. According to Olweus, among boys who were classified by researchers as bullies in grades 6 through 9, approximately 60 percent of boys were convicted of one crime and approximately 40 percent were convicted of three or more crimes by age 24, compared to only 23 percent and 10 percent respectively of boys who were not characterized as bullies.
In addition to the various ways in which school-age bullies are and continue to be dangerous to their peers and society at large, research also indicates that bullies report feelings of depression, suicidal ideation, and suicidal behavior. In a study by Swearer and colleagues (2001) on the psychosocial correlates of bullying and victimization, the bullies and bully-victims reported the highest levels of depression. An important note on this finding, though, is that the bullies in the study endorsed both extremes on the depression measure: While many indicated that they were depressed, many others indicated that they were not. It seems that some bullies, but not others, fall into a subgroup of aggressive children who are both aggressive and depressed.
Dangers of the Bully-Victim Status
Students who are both bullies and victims of bullies seem to be at particularly high-risk for short- and long-term problems since they experience the troubles associated with both groups. As bullies, they tend to smoke more than their peers and perform poorly in school. But, unlike other bullies, they also experienced problems typical of victims -- such as trouble developing friendships and loneliness. In fact, a report on school shootings conducted by the Secret Service revealed the following:
In the study mentioned above by Swearer and colleagues, the bully-victims were both more depressed and experienced greater physical symptoms of anxiety than the other subgroups. This is consistent with other studies that reveal the bully-victim group to be the most psychologically impaired of those involved in bullying.
Nansel, T. R., Overpeck, M., Pilla, R. S., Ruan, W. J., Simons-Morton, B., & Scheidt, P. (2001). Bullying Behaviors among US Youth: Prevalence and Association with Psychosocial Adjustment. Journal of the American Medical Association, 285 (16), pp. 2094-2100.
Olweus, D. (2002). Bully Prevention: Research and Strategies. Presentation audiotaped at the 2nd National Technical Assistance Meeting: Leave No Child Behind, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, Washington, DC, August. [A.V.E.R. Associates, 6974 Ducketts Lane, Elkridge, MD 21075; 410-796-8940].
Olweus, D., Limber, S., & Mihalic, S. (1999). Bullying Prevention Program. In D.S. Elliott (Series Ed.), Blueprints for Violence Prevention: Book Nine. Boulder, CO: Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence.
Swearer, S. M., Song, S. Y., Cary, P. T., Eagler, J. W., & Mickelson, W. T. (2001). Psychosocial Correlates in Bullying and Victimization: The Relationship Between Depression, Anxiety, and Bully/Victim Status. Co-published simultaneously in: Journal of Emotional Abuse, 2(2/3), 95-121 and R. A. Geffner, M. Loring, & C. Young (Eds.), Bullying Behavior: Current Issues, Research, and Interventions. Binghamton, NY: Haworth Press, Inc.
Vossekuil, B., Fein, R. A., Reddy, M., Borum, R., & Modzeleski, W. (2002). The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the Prevention of School Attacks in the United States. Available on-line at: www.secretservice.gov/ntac/ssi_final_report.pdf. Retrieved January, 2004.