A recent study from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development shows a significant decline in the rates of both physical and verbal bullying reported by American teenagers since 1998.

Study author Jessamyn Perlus and her colleagues conducted a series of four surveys of a nationally representative sample of students in grades 6 through 10 (averaging approximately 12,500 students per survey) over a 12-year period beginning in 1998. Students were asked about the frequency with which they had been either the perpetrator or the victim of bullying behaviors in school, such as teasing, insulting, or excluding classmates; spreading negative rumors; sexual harassment; and physical abuse. The study did not include bullying activities outside of school, such as cyberbullying.

The results of the study, published in the June 2014 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), suggest that bullying declined steadily from nearly 14 percent of students reporting incidents in 1998 to just over 10 percent in 2010. Declines were especially strong among boys and among middle school students; smaller but still significant declines were seen among girls and high school students.

Perlus is encouraged by the findings, according to an interview with U.S. News and World Report.  “In recent years, there has been more attention to anti-bullying efforts, such as prevention programs, and responses to bullying have been incorporated into school policies,” Perlus says. “We hope that these prevention efforts, and the additional attention and awareness of the problem of bullying, may be the reason for the decline.”

To read the abstract or download the full text of the study (American Public Health Association membership required for full text), visit the AJPH Web site.
As the new school year approaches, children and teenagers can experience a range of emotions, from the normal excitement associated with new teachers and activities to more serious or long-term anxiety about school.  Mental Health America, a national advocacy organization that addresses mental health and substance abuse conditions, offers tips to help children and teens adjust as they return to school.  Their suggestions include the following.

  • Know that your child’s mental health is just as important as their physical health.

  • Start the conversation! Talk to your child about your expectations as well as his/her expectations for the upcoming school year. Take time to listen to your child and discuss aspects of the new school year that he or she is worried about.

  • Remember to let your child know that it’s normal to feel nervous about the start of school.

  • Spend time each day talking to your child about what happened in school. Be open to hearing the good and the not so good. Give your child positive feedback about his or her new experiences.

  • Praise and encourage your child to become involved with school activities and to try new things.

  • Attend school functions and stay involved in your child’s education and engaged with school staff.

  • Be proactive in learning about how your child is developing not just physically, but socially and emotionally, as well. If you are aware of what’s typical for your child's stage of life, you will be able to tell more readily when things may not be right.

  • Know the signs of bullying.


For the full story or to locate additional resources for a healthy back-to-school season, visit the Mental Health America Web site.
A great deal of research over the years has focused on the devastating effects of bullying on the mental health of its victims. However, a recent study also suggests that children with mental disorders such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), and depression are much more likely to engage in bullying behavior toward others.

Lead author Dr. Frances Turcotte-Benedict, a Brown University masters of public health student and a fellow at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, presented the findings at the American Academy of Pediatrics’ national conference in New Orleans on October 22. Turcotte-Benedict and her colleagues reviewed data provided by parents and guardians on mental health and bullying in the 2007 National Survey of Children’s Health, which included nearly 64,000 children ages 6 to 17 years.

In the survey, 15.2 percent of children were identified as a bully by their parent or guardian. Children with a diagnosis of depression or ADHD were three times as likely to be identified as bullies; children diagnosed with ODD were identified as bullies six times more often than children with no mental health disorders. The study found no noticeable differences between boys and girls—both were at increased risk for bullying when a mental health disorder was present.

Traits associated with ODD, such as aggression and revenge-seeking, appear to be clear risk factors for bullying. The connection between bullying and ADHD may be less obvious. “Even though, by definition, these children [with ADHD] aren’t angry or aggressive toward their peers, they do display traits that would increase the likelihood of having impaired social interactions,” explains Dr. Steven Myers, a professor of psychology at Roosevelt University in Chicago, in an October 22 interview with the Huffington Post. “If you’re not really thinking through the consequences of your actions on the playground, you might not have the self-monitoring or restraint to hold back from bullying.”

“These findings highlight the importance of providing psychological support not only to victims of bullying, but to bullies as well,” concludes Turcotte-Benedict. “In order to create successful anti-bullying prevention and intervention programs, there certainly is a need for more research to understand the relationship more thoroughly, and especially, the risk profile of childhood bullies.”

What do you think? Should bullying prevention programs do more to address the mental health problems of the bully? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!