October 2011

Bullying and Adolescent Health

National Bullying Prevention Month

Girl being bulliedOctober is National Bullying Prevention Month, a time to focus on an issue that was identified as a being a big "problem" among eight- to 15-year-olds in a national survey. Teens reported that bullying was a problem for them more often than racism, HIV/AIDS, or the pressure to have sex, and was as much of a problem as the pressure to use drugs or alcohol.1

Bullying can interfere with the important interpersonal relationships that support an adolescent's mental health and wellbeing. Bullying is defined as repeated interpersonal behavior that is intended to do physical or psychological harm.2 Increasingly, schools, communities, parents, and adolescents are acknowledging that bullying is not a rite of passage, but rather a practice that can be extremely damaging to children and teens.3 To help address the issue in schools, the U.S. Department of Education has released best practices upon which states can model effective anti-bullying policies. Also, in March 2011, the White House held its first Conference on Bullying Prevention to discuss how we can all work together to end bullying's status as an accepted practice, and create a safer environment for children and teens.

Bullying: Up Front and Virtual

Between 2001 and 2007, bullying has been on the rise and, in 2009, one in five high school students report that they were bullied on school property in the past year.4,5 Approximately eight percent of high school students admit to having bullied others, and about 6.5 percent of high schoolers are both bullies and victims of bullying.6 The risk of cyberbullying has also increased along with the growth of technology in the lives of adolescents. Cyberbullying ranges from repeatedly making fun of another person through email or text messaging to posting something online about them that they don't like.7 Of these, adolescents are most commonly cyberbullied via text message.8 In 2010, one in five adolescents said that they had been cyberbullied at some point in their lives, and about the same number admit to having been a cyberbully. One in ten adolescents had been both a cyberbully and a victim.9

Perhaps not surprisingly, there is often crossover between being cyberbullied and being bullied in person–victims of cyberbullying were more likely to get into a physical fight at school or to be the victim of a crime than were students who were not cyberbullied.10 Generally, boys are more at risk of being bullied physically while girls are more frequently the victims of Internet harassment and emotional bullying, such as social exclusion.11

Did you know?

Adolescents who bully others are more likely to have been physically hurt by a family member and/or to have witnessed violence in their homes.12 October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month—adolescents experiencing domestic violence in their home, their family members, and those that care about them can call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE for help.

Want to learn more about adolescent health?

Diverse group of teensThe Office of Adolescent Health is proud to introduce our newly redesigned website, which features tips, facts and information on federal resources and initiatives related to adolescent mental health, physical health and nutrition, reproductive health, substance abuse, and healthy relationships. Stop by www.hhs.gov/ash/oah to find:

  • The latest news about teen health and federal adolescent health initiatives
  • Evidence-based programs to reduce teen pregnancy and other risky sexual behaviors
  • Outstanding federal resources on adolescent health
  • Information tailored for parents at Conversation Generation, with tips and strategies on how to talk to teens about sensitive topics like sex and relationships
  • A national and state map with the latest federal statistics on adolescent health listed by topic and state

Connect with OAH through Twitter (@teenhealthgov) or add a badge to your site to help promote the adolescent health resources on the OAH website!

Additional Federal Resources: Preventing Bullying and Building Healthy Adolescent Relationships

  • OAH has resources on healthy relationships in adolescence, including how adolescents and those who care about them can help prevent or stop bullying.
  • StopBullying.gov, a special initiative from the Department of Health and Human Services, provides information from government agencies on how kids, teens, young adults, parents, educators, and others in the community can prevent or stop bullying.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Striving To Reduce Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE) initiative provides communities with the knowledge and resources to prevent youth violence, including bullying.
  • GirlsHealth.gov, a site from the Office on Women's Health, has bullying resources for adolescent girls, like "The different ways girls bully and the long-lasting hurt it can cause," as well as resources on adolescent bullying for their parents and caregivers.
  • Watch video, download audio, or read the transcript from the White House's Conference on Bullying Prevention here. Additional materials from the conference, including presentations like "Reducing the Effectiveness of Bullying Behavior in Schools" and "Effective Strategies in Combating Bullying" can be found here.

 1 The Kaiser Family Foundation and International Communications Research (2001). Talking with kids about tough issues. Available at http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/loader.cfm?url=/commonspot/security/getfile.cfm&PageID=13791
2 Child Trends Databank (2009). Bullying. Available at http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org/?q=node/370
3 Duncan, A. (2010). Secretary of Education Bullying Law and Policy Memo. Available at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/guid/secletter/101215.html
4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey - United States, 2009. Surveillance summaries: MMWR 2010; 59 (No. SS-5). Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf
5 See Child Trends Databank (2009).
6 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). Bullying Among Middle School and High School Students --- Massachusetts, 2009. MMWR 2011; 60 (No. 15);465-471. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6015a1.htm
7 Hinduja, S. and Patchin, J.W. (2011). Overview on Cyberbullying. White House Conference on Bullying. Available at http://www.stopbullying.gov/references/white_house_conference

8 U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics (2011). Student Reports of Bullying and Cyber Bullying: Results From the 2009 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey. Available at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2011/2011336.pdf
9 See Hinduja & Patchin (2011).
10 See U.S. Department of Education (2011).
11 See Child Trends Databank (2009) and Stop Bullying Now! What We Know About Bullying. Available at http://www.stopbullying.gov/community/tip_sheets/about_bullying.pdf
12 See CDC (2011).

Last updated: March 10, 2016