What goes around comes around: Victimization leads to bullying

Posted on Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Bullying is a significant public health concern. It is associated with notable health problems and academic difficulties for children who get bullied and for those who bully them. Common knowledge suggests that children who are chronically bullied may eventually react with aggression towards their aggressors or others as a way of getting back or protecting themselves. A recent study published in the American Psychological Association's journal Developmental Psychology by professors John Haltigan and Tracy Vaillancourt from the University of Ottawa confirms that children who are bullied by their peers are more likely to become bullies than bullies becoming victims.

The study included 695 Canadian children who researchers followed yearly from grade 5 (aged 10 or 11) until they entered high school (aged 14 or 15). Each year, the children were asked how much they were bullied by their peers and how much they bullied other students. Participants and their parents were also asked to provide detailed information about their mental health well-being such as how depressed, anxious and hyperactive they were.

Results indicate that for most children, instances of bullying—whether as a victim or a perpetrator—were low for the duration of the study. However, for a subset of children, 6% of the participants, there was evidence that children started off as victims and then became bullies. This victim-to-bully group had higher levels of mental health problems than children who were not involved in bullying or who were bullies only. Similarly, children who had experienced higher levels of victimization but who did not bully others had higher levels of mental health problems compared with children not involved in bullying or who had bullied others only.

These results suggest that aggression does beget aggression and that there is a significant mental health cost associated with being the victim of bullying behaviour. Moreover, identifying children who are frequent targets of peer abuse and providing them with intervention services may help prevent the development of future bullies.

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